The Social Observer

The Social Media Marketing Blog by SNHU Students

Viral Content Success is Rare, but Simple Actions Can Increase Share Probability

In terms of YouTube success and viral content, Tay Zonday doesn’t rank top. With just over one million subscribers, Zonday’s channel features videos of him singing songs he’s created on topics dear to him: Skyrim, The Lion King, and a cover of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”

Zonday, though, enjoyed viral status in April 2007, after uploading a four minute, 53 second video of an original song called “Chocolate Rain.”

The production quality wasn’t great, but the video became the “blueprint of what a funny video should be.” It came down to the “keyboard, the title of the song” and Zonday “moving away from the mic to breathe in,” according to a Vice article examining the pop culture aspect of the viral sensation in 2017. It was a serious endeavor for Zonday, despite the masses wondering of what the heck “Chocolate Rain” truly meant.

The video, which has accumulated 122 million views since, gave the Internet a spread-worthy sensation before we truly understood the concept of virality.


Image from

It’s not hyperbole to say everyone wants a viral moment. It’s also not the day-to-day reality of social media marketing. Why?

There is no equation to make content go viral.

In fact, viral content is the exception. Getting top hits and becoming the topic of water-cooler conversation isn’t standard. In an analysis done by BuzzSumo of more than 500 million articles, the average post got eight shares.

So instead of wishing for viral success, content creators and digital marketers should aim to provide value-filled, shareable content.


Keep language lively: Capture the reader. Don’t save the best content for the end, or the reader may never get there. Each paragraph should give you reason to move to the next. 

Tell stories: Don’t think of social media as a disjointed array of stuff. Each piece of content should serve to give insight into how your company can bring value to customers.

viral content get more likes
Image from

Leverage images: Posts with images do better. Studies indicate “people only remember 10% of what they hear once 72 hours have passed” but “pairing a relevant image with … material” can increase that number, according to Online Logo Maker. Find royalty-free stock images from places like Freepik and Pexels. Better yet, use Canva to build your own.

Provoke reaction: Did you hear Laurel or Yanny? Was “The Dress” white and gold or blue and black? A simple audio clip or photo can get the Internet talking. Ask a question. Link to a survey. It’s win-win. Your content can help ignite conversation, but also provide valuable information on the pulse of your readers.

Be real: Part of the appeal of Zonday’s song was his authentic nature. He wasn’t pretending to be someone else. Don’t oversell the product or what your company represents. Stay grounded.


Image from

In “Content Rules,” authors Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman compare the process of cultivating audience to building a campfire. A good foundation goes a long way, as does fuel and proper conditions. Adjusting the fire is necessary to “keep it interesting.”

Good content “shares a resource, solves a problem, helps your customers do their jobs better, improves their lives,” according to Handley and Chapman, and can help readers figure out what they’re missing.

But it takes work. Your content may never burn at the level of “Chocolate Rain,” but developing a good foundation will help increase shareability.

You may not get it right the first time. Don’t get discouraged. Listen to your audience, reflect, and evaluate.

More resources from The Social Observer

Category: Social Media Marketing 101