The Effectiveness of Viral Marketing: Create and Measure Viral Content

Every business owner, blogger, and marketer strives to create something that goes “viral.” But what is the effectiveness of viral marketing, and how do you measure it? How do you create content that’s more likely to go viral?

    What makes content go viral?

    When a piece of content is rapidly and profusely shared online, it is referred to as viral content.

    In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger, marketing professor at Wharton, analyzes why things go viral. He identifies six key “STEPPS”:

    1. Social currency: It makes people look cool/better/smarter to share the content.
    2. Triggers: The product/service is kept top of mind via repeat exposure and environmental triggers.
    3. Emotion: It makes people feel strong emotions such as happiness, awe, fear, etc.
    4. Public: It’s as public as possible, so people are more likely to have conversations about it and imitate it.
    5. Practical value: It has an actual practical value, such as self-improvement or saving time and/or money.
    6. Stories: It’s wrapped in an interesting or funny story.

    One example from Berger’s book is the Blendtec videos, which humorously tell the story of a blender.

    Should you try to create viral content?

    Remember the folktale of the tortoise and the hare? Viral content is like the hare: it can provide a huge boost to your brand or profitability immediately. However, the “tortoise” — a thoughtful, long-term approach to regularly creating and distributing quality content — often wins the race.

    Don’t expect each piece of content you create to go viral. That’s a recipe for disappointment and burnout. Instead, strive to create the highest-quality content you possibly can on a recurring basis. Over time, this tortoise-like approach will boost your site’s search engine rankings and help you to hone a sustainable content creation strategy.

    Measuring the effectiveness of viral marketing

    How do you measure the effectiveness of viral marketing? Return on investment (ROI). Divide how much you earned by how much you spent.

    Granted, there may be a long-term payoff that makes immediate ROI hard to measure. When measuring the effectiveness of viral marketing, it’s important to note that your definition of “viral” may be quite different from a large national brand’s definition. When you’re starting out, having 100 people share content you created may meet your definition of viral.

    Analyzing and improving your odds

    While platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to see analytics/data on how your content is performing, what about the content on your website?

    If you use a platform like, robust analytics tools are right at your fingertips. For instance, you can use Stats to gain insights into how each blog post, page, category, or tag is performing on your website over select time periods. This information will help you see patterns in the types of content that are and aren’t performing well, so that you can modify your efforts accordingly.

    WP Stats

    For example, let’s say that your stats show that out of the 50 blog posts you created last year, two are by far the most popular. With a Premium (or higher) plan, you can use a tool like Publicize to reshare those popular articles across your social media accounts with specific hashtags that are likely to attract a wider audience.

    If you have an email/newsletter subscribe form on your site, you’ll also want to:

    1. Send your subscribers new content you create as soon as it comes out.
    2. Periodically create roundup emails to re-broadcast your most popular content. (Ex: “Check out our top 5 most popular articles of 2019!”)

    Stay dedicated to a consistent, quality-focused content marketing approach (tortoise) while regularly analyzing your results. Soon, you’ll make some viral “hares” to help run the race toward your success!


    Aaron von Frank

    Cofounder and CEO at, a USDA certified organic heirloom garden seed subscription service. Writer at, Edible Upcountry Magazine, and other media outlets.

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