“You don’t need to write a book to change the world with your ideas. A good blog post can reach more people in one month than the typical book reaches in a lifetime.” This is a common refrain of mine as I speak at writers’ conferences.
I had the chance to prove my theory true this month as a blog post on my personal blog about courtship went viral and sparked a nationwide discussion. The blog post titled Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed received over 160,000 comments, likes, and shares on Facebook and nearly 1,000,000 pageviews.
In this blog post I will walk you through the blog recipe that I used.
7 Ingredients for a Viral Blog Post
1 Cup Novelty
For a blog post to get people’s attention in the first place, it needs to be fresh. If it looks like the “same old same old” readers will ignore it. One way to make your post novel is to pick a provocative headline, but a provocative topic is even better.
Another way to do this is to break a pattern of thinking.
For me, what was novel about the post was that I publicly mentioned a trend that up to this point has been kept very quiet. The trend was that courtship marriages are starting to end in divorce. This is something most homeschoolers thought were isolated incidents in their community. Finding out it was part of a wider trend broke a pattern of thinking.
1 Cup Resonance
For a post to stick with someone, it needs to resonate with their existing worldview. You can’t be so foreign they ignore you or so similar you lack novelty. The tension between the novel and the known is the essence of resonance. The post resonated most strongly with single, 20-something, courtship-minded women who had never been asked out on a date. The post addressed a primary pain point for them and offered them hope in the future.
One of the most frequent statements shared along with the post was “I have felt this way for a long time.”
A blog post can’t change a reader’s worldview. But it can show how a reader’s current thinking and worldview conflict.
2 Cups Controversy
Controversy helps with Social Media. Many of the people sharing the post actually disagreed with it. It was not uncommon to see someone post a four or five paragraph rebuttal on Facebook along with a link to the post. The rebuttal made people curious to read the post themselves. The angrier the rebuttal, the more curious people become.
Controversy can turn your most bitter enemies into your marketing allies.
Controversy helps search rankings. There have been dozens of blog posts responding to and rebutting the post. Most of those blog posts contain a link to the original post, which has boosted the post’s Google Rankings. “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed” currently ranks on the first page of Google for the word “Courtship.”
Controversy can spread the post offline. The post has sparked an offline debate about whether courtship is a viable system for helping single adults get married.
As we James L Rubart likes to say on the Novel Marketing Podcast, “Love me. Hate me. Don’t ignore me.”
The temptation is to give in to fear and tone down your writing as to not make waves. But those waves are what will cause your idea to spread. It can be hard to see people attack you and your ideas. Realize those attacks may be exactly what your ideas need in order to spread.
1/2 Cup Curiosity
For an idea to spread, it needs to make people curious. Creating a curiosity gap that only your post can fill can be great marketing. This is why you may have scrolled down to read the fourth ingredient of this post. Curiosity can be like a mental itch where reading your blog post is the only way to scratch that itch. Is your mind blown yet?
My goal with the post title “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed” was to make readers curious to see if courtship was really flawed —and, if so, why.
Some tips for making people curious about your post:
- Use Numbers – Lists make people curious
- Put Question Words in Your Title (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How)
- Break a Pattern of Thinking.
- Read 5 Keys for Magnetic Blog Titles
1 Cup Shareability
For something to spread like a virus, it needs to be easy to share.
So to make it easier to spread the blog had:
- buttons at the top and bottom where people could share the post with one click.
- a list of “Tweetables” that made it easy to quote on Twitter.
- an image and meta description that would appear on Facebook etc.
If you want something to go viral, shareability is sometimes more important than brevity. The post on courtship was a lot longer than my typical posts. I could have broken the post into multiple mini posts. But I decided that putting the entire idea in a single URL weaponized the idea into its most viral form.
2 Tablespoons of Ask
I ask at several points for people to share the post. Once I ask readers to share the post on Facebook and in another place I ask readers to share the post with their parents. Asking someone to share a post increases the likelihood they will share it. This is an important principle that is easy to overlook. One of the most retweeted phrases on Twitter is “Please RT”.
Think of this like salt. You can overdo the ask, but without it your post can be a bit bland.
If you want an idea to spread, ask people to spread it. As my dad always says, “You have not because you ask not.”
1 Tablespoon of Timing
Good timing can help a post go viral. Several recent sexual scandals among the biggest proponents of courtship have caused people to question the system. So people are not as confident about the teachings of those men as they were this time last year.
This is Not The Only Viral Recipe
At the same time my post was spreading around Facebook, people were posting videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge uses a different viral recipe.
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Recipe:
- 1 Cup Novelty – Dumping a bucket of ice water on your head is pretty novel.
- 1 Cup Celebrity – Celebrities participating in the challenge have have given the phenomenon credibility.
- 1/2 Cup Cause – People are more willing to take action to promote something if its for a good cause. The specific cause was not that important to the spread of this idea. The cold water challenge was initially linked with cancer, not ALS.
- 2 Cups Social Proof – Your mom may ask “If all of your friends dumped a bucket of ice water on their heads would you do it too?” The answer for many people is “yes”. Never underestimate the power of peer pressure.
- 1 Cups Ask People are asked individually and publicly to participate.
- 3 Tablespoons Timing – The ALS IBC would not have spread in the Winter. It also helps that the news has been so negative this summer with three wars, race riots, an earthquake and the death of Robin Williams. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge brought levity and laughter to an otherwise dark summer.
- 1 Tablespoon Controversy – The ALS foundation funds research based on destroying human embryos in order to find a cure. This controversy helped generate extra buzz.
There are many ways to help something go viral. What viral recipes have worked for you?
- Want your blog to go viral? Here is a recipe that will show you how. Click to Tweet
- Controversy can turn your most bitter enemies into your marketing allies. Click to Tweet
- A blog can’t change a reader’s worldview. But it can show how a reader’s current thinking and worldview conflict. Click to Tweet
- Don’t be afraid to be controversial. Love me. Hate me. Don’t ignore me. Click to Tweet
- Creating a curiosity gap that only your blog post can fill can be great marketing. Click to Tweet
- If you want something to go viral, shareability is sometimes more important than brevity. Click to Tweet
- If you want an idea to spread, ask people to spread it. You have not because you ask not. Click to Tweet
Ice Bucket Photo Credit: Kymberly Janisch
It’s funny that you say the ice bucket challenge would not have spread so much in winter – I live in New Zealand, and it is winter here, yet the ice bucket challenge has been a major topic of teen conversation both here and in Australia, mostly in June/July.Winter didn’t stop it. However, while my daughter knew it was linked to charity, she didn’t know which one.
On courtship … The idea has always struck me as romantic but not practical, so the divorce figures are not altogether surprising (saddening, but not surprising). It’s a topic people have strong views on, and one that affects both single people and their parents, and that controversy has certainly helped virality. Even I’d read the post (back when a mere 100,000 had, and when there were only thousands of comments, not tens of thousands).
Good post. Sharing!
Great tips. Thanks for sharing these. Why does the ask always feel awkward. Need to get over that.
Yes- I enjoyed that post on courtship. Nice way to break it down- gives us lots to think about.
This is a cool “recipe”! Things I was mostly aware of, but am looking to better apply to my writing. I was especially glad for the encouragement on making some waves. I often feel like it is hard to find a balance in writing with wisdom and kindness and just coming off as snarky and opinionated. The first will always attract a greater number of people and leave a longer mark while the latter will be quickly forgotten if not altogether ignored. …but the point is that it IS okay to give people something provocative to think about.
Thanks for the tips.