Posted 11.09.2012

Creating Viral Content for Your Audience

Creating Viral Content - Amy & Darrel

Darrel and I led a breakout session at the LifeWay Women’s Forum on (as the name suggests) creating viral content for your audience. This is a summary of our talk. I’ve also tried to link to some additional resources, if you want to dig a little deeper. So, whether you attended our breakout session or not, hopefully this post will help challenge you in how to create viral content for your own audience. Regardless, what will make our breakout (and this post) even more successful, is your feedback. So, if you have questions or comments (or musical anecdotes), please feel free to jump down to the comment section below and share!

NOTE: Since this content was originally shared at a Women’s Ministry conference, it does slant towards ministry. However, the concepts can be applied across the board.

Examples of Viral Content

We’ve all been sent a link before, to a popular YouTube video, whether it’s Charlie Bit My Finger or The History of Dance. We love these videos! We laugh and pass them on to our friends. But, what makes some videos flop and other videos, like the History of Dance have over 200 million plays?!

Well, some of it is a little bit of luck and fairy dust, but some of it, you can actually control. Surprised? Here are some examples of blog post titles that have a viral impact.

Examples of Page Titles

What do you notice? A lot of these topics are controversial, spark intrigue, or offer practical application.

The New York Times

The New York Times did a study where they took their previous 3 months of content and analyzed what was the most popular content. This is what they found:

Happy Content
Sad Content

Happy content is more likely to be viral than sad content. We like to be happy. We like to smile. We want things to make us feel better, not worse.

Purple Cow

Your content needs to be unique. Take cows, for instance. Cows are boring. They’re big, fat, slow. They just stand there and eat. But, if you saw a purple cow?! Now, that would cause you stop, take a minute, and check out this purple cow. In fact, I’d bet you’d even pull our your iPhone and take a picture with this unique purple cow. You’d probably post the picture on Facebook or Instagram. “Look at me. I’m with a purple cow.” Why? It’s just a cow…but it’s unique.

Seth Godin actually wrote a book about the purple cow…but, I know we’re all busy. So if you don’t have time to read the book, Fast Company wrote an article on Seth’s book that might be worth a read, instead.

This stuff just fascinates me, because it’s all human behavior study. Here are a few more articles if you’re an over achiever:

So, we know it needs to be happy, not negative, and unique, but how do we do that?

Awe, Arm, Accessible

Well, we need to create a sense of awe. Blogs that have intrigue. Take the blog post titles we listed earlier, “How to Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days.” Well, there’s a sense of awe, there, right? 10 Days? Really? That’s all? Hmm. Awe and Intrigue.

Second, we need to extend to extend an arm. Help people out. Looking at that same blog title about Turning your Marriage around. Now, that’s practical. It’s something that can help me. It’s applicable. OK!

Third, it needs to accessible. “10 Days” Really? That’s doable. I can do 10 days.

Now, we know what we need to gear our posts towards. But, actually coming up with the content? A lot of times, I’ll mind map.

Mind Map

A mind map is simply a brain dump of ideas. You put the main idea in the center and branch out from there. You’d be surprised how quickly you can come up with content. The important thing is to write everything down: good ideas, bad ideas. Unfiltered. I’ve found that a lot of times, I may have a bad idea, I know it’s a bad idea, but until I acknowledge it by writing it down, it won’t get out of my head. Writing it down, gives me the freedom to move on. Besides, a lot of times, I’ll look back and see that bad idea, but it will trigger a great idea.

Cover of the USA Today

Another great place to go look for content is newspaper. Just read through the headlines. Take this newspaper, for example, front and center. “Why grown kids come home.” Well, that’s a blog post! You can help women know what to do when their kids come home. They were empty nesters and now, they’re not. How do you encourage your kids when they’re trying to find jobs and nothing’s available? How do you set boundaries with them? Their adults now, but they’re under your roof. That’s 3 posts right there! You’re welcome. :-)

Fill in the blank post titles

Another tool? Fill in the blank.

  • The 10 Best Kept Secrets for Reaching Young Women
  • The 10 Best Kept Secrets for getting Younger and Older Women to Connect
  • The 10 Best Kept Secrets for Reaching your Community
  • Two of my favorite blogs about…well…blogging are Problogger and Copy Blogger. They have some great posts on writing titles, what works and what doesn’t work.

    This is all great, but how do I actually get my content out there?!

    Content Distribution - Ways

    Well, I don’t think this will come as any surprise to anyone else. The easy answer: the usual suspects.


    Your Blog

    But, if we all know how to distribute content, why can’t we all do it and do it well? Well, there’s a secret. The ultimate secret. Drum roll please.

    Content Distribution: The Ultimate Secret

    Your audience! Disappointed with my answer? Let me explain. Let’s take another look at all the avenues for content distribution I listed earlier.


    What is Pinterest? Out of the 6 listed above, this is the new kid on the block. Pinterest is for pinning things you’re interested in. It’s all image based. If I see a picture of a shirt I like, I’ll pin (or post) it on one of my boards (or collections). I can see all my friends’ pins. If you spend any time on the site, you’ll quickly find there’s tons of craft ideas, recipes, fashion, and home decorating tips.

    How and when do my friends get on Pinterest? Via the computer, phone, or iPad. Typically, it’s a way of decompressing or procrastinating.

    So, what does this mean for us and distributing our viral content? Well, I’m probably not going to post my prayer requests on Pinterest. But, I might pin a recipe for a dish that I brought to a Bible Study. Or I might pin books that I think the ladies in my ministry would enjoy. But, if I know my audience, their purpose for being on the site, then, that changes how I use that avenue to distribute my content.


    I know ladies that live on Facebook! If that’s where your community is, go there. Instead of forcing people to come to you, why not go to them?!

    My dad is a hard core runner. He’s run in 14 something FULL marathons. Crazy, I know. He didn’t use Facebook very often until he joined a running group. They’ve been able to take something that’s very individual and make it a team, group sport. They post about their runs, how well they went, and challenges that they encountered. They talk about training, what to eat, stretches, and what clothes to wear for various weather conditions. And most importantly, they encourage each other. Pretty cool.

    There’s no reason why your group can’t do the same thing (well, not about running, but you know what I mean…) But, the important thing to remember is that Facebook is all about community, it’s about relationships, give and take. We’re not longer allowed to just pump information out.


    Twitter is event driven. A lot of it is about what’s happening right now. I’m limited to only 140 characters.

    First, ask yourself, is my audience even on Twitter? If I’m working with senior adults, they might not even know what Twitter is. But, if I’m working with college students. Totally use Twitter!

    If Twitter is about being in the moment. Let’s take the National Day of Prayer as an example. Set up a Twitter account and Tweet every hour on the hour something to pray about.

    You host a women’s event at your church, tweet at the event about what’s happening. People that are there can respond to their experience. Instant feedback! Or, the people that couldn’t come, see what they’re missing, so they’ll attend next year.


    YouTube is all about video. So, post videos! Interview friends about their experiences, tell stories. Mix up the mediums you use to communicate.


    You may think email is old fashioned. But, there are plenty of tech people that I know that have gone “old school” and pulled back out the email lists. Why? Because sometimes email is easier to check than consciously remembering to go to a website to check for updates. It comes to me. I don’t have to go to it. The people that get your email, are getting it because they asked for it. You have their permission! What a wonderful opportunity!

    Your Blog

    This one may seem the most obvious. But, your site is an excellent way of distributing your content. AND the great thing about it, is you own it. It’s great to post things on Facebook, but read their policies. As soon as you upload it, it’s no longer yours!! They can do whatever they want with it. They can use your pictures in advertisements. They can delete it, hide it, move it. Crazy, I know. BUT, if it’s on your blog, you don’t have to worry about any of that.

    Don’t feel like you are limited to only one avenue. Use as many of these services as your comfortable managing. Post something on your blog and repost it on Facebook or Twitter. Nobody is stopping you.

    Content Distribution: How do we measure success?

    We’ve talked about all these things, but how do we know if we’re actually doing it right? We won’t know what success is, unless we define it on the front end. Well, here are a couple of measuring sticks:

    Like Button

    Look at the Like Button and Comments. How many people are responding to the content you post?

    On Twitter, I repost a lot of design and programming links. However, I have my Twitter and Facebook account linked, anything I tweeted would automatically appear on my Facebook page. My friends kept complaining, “I try and read what you post, but I have no clue what it means! It’s all over my head!” So, within the past week, I disconnected the two accounts. I was surprised. The last 4 posts that I’ve made on Facebook have gotten more comments and likes than almost anything else I’ve posted. Plus, I’m getting far more consistent results. Some of that has to do with the fact that I’m keeping my audience in mind when I post. But, I know I’m being successful, because I can look at the like and comment count.


    Another option is a service called bity. It serves the same purpose as tiny url, but it allows you to track your links. How many people clicked on your link? What time of day did they click on it? What country are they from?

    All these things, help you understand what content you’re posting is successful, what types of content people are interested in, and from there, allow you to really hone in on your niche.

    Additional Resources

    Just for fun, here are a few additional resources:

    So, now I want to turn the tables a little bit. What has worked for you? What trouble (or successes) have you run in to? Comment below.

Posted 07.13.2010

My Blogging Workflow

As I’m continuing to challenge myself with the direction of my blog, I’ve tried to do a better job on the planning side. Unfortunately, you don’t get a chance to see that side of things. So, I thought I’d share what works for me.


I keep a Numbers grid (Excel for Mac) that I update at least once a week that tells me what I need to post everyday. It has 8 columns: the date, the day of the week, and a column for each category on my blog. Once I’ve published a post, I’ll change the background color of the cell to yellow so I can keep track of what I’ve accomplished.

For a while, I tried planning a month out, but the problem? I’d find things that I’d rather write about sooner. Or, things I planned to write about at the end of the month were already obsolete. Remember, it’s just a plan.

Content Audit

I’ve talked about this before. In Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, she talks about developing a content audit: going through your site and keeping track of all the content that you’ve posted. It’s been great for several reasons

  • Big picture for what’s on my site
  • Reference when I’m linking between my blog posts
  • Knowing what content needs to be updated

This grid is huge! I have 11 columns. Then, there’s a row for every page (right now I’m at 160).

  1. ID Every page has an ID
  2. Date The date that the post was published
  3. Title The title of the post
  4. Link The page URL
  5. Summary This is to help me remember the content that’s on each page
  6. Category These are the categories (i.e. My Life, Programming, Photography, Design, Finder’s Keepers, Web 101 — obviously your cateogries will look different) associated wtih a given post
  7. Type Your grid may or may not need this column. I have all my posts organized by the type of post (i.e. link, post, movie, picture, post, or quote)
  8. Notes These are reminders to me of what I need to go back and update. For example, I have a whole series on jQuery. I want to go back and create a series page and link all those pages together. My reminder lives here.
  9. Tags This is a list of tags for each post
  10. Meta Keywords This is for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If you were at Google, this is a list of all the keywords that I think you might use to find my post
  11. Meta Description When you’re at Google and the summary of site appears next to my link, this is where it’s pulling that from

It’s a lot of work to keep this updated. Honestly, I still have a lot of gaps that I need to go back and fill in. It might be contrary to what Kristina Halvorson suggests, but I update this once a week when I do my scheduling (I think she recommends updating it everytime you write a post).

Brainstorming for Future Posts

I use a free Mac program called MindNode. There’s also a web site (MindMeister) that achieves does the same thing, for all you PC people.

MindNode allows me to create a mind map with all my post ideas. I’ll add to this throughout the week as I think of things. (Usually ideas will come while I’m writing or while I’m reading other blogs.)

When I get ready to schedule, I’ll pull out my mind map.

Writing blog posts in Markdown

Markdown is an abbreviated coding language. Hopefully I didn’t scare anyone, because the people I probably scared are the people that would love Markdown the most.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball created Markdown.  He explains it as

a text to HTML conversion for web writers

It’s probably easier that I **show** you, instead of just **telling** you.

Normally, if I wanted a link and I were coding it in HTML, I would type:

<a href="">Visit my site</a>

but, with Markdown, I just type this instead:

[Visit my site]( 

I like to code as much as the next person, but Markdown is so much easier to read! Haven’t sold you yet? Here’s the HTML for an ordered list:

	<li>Item one</li>
	<li>Item two</li>
	<li>Item three</li>

But, Markdown is simply:

* Item one
* Item two
* Item three

If this interests you, you can look at John Gruber’s site for a complete list of Markdown syntax or if you’re interested in learning more about HTML, I’ve written a post, A Crash Course in HTML…in English.

Writing blog posts in Notational Velocity

I generally write my blog posts in Notational Velocity. It’s a VERY generic text editor, similar to Notepad if you’re a Windows user or an even more dumbed down version of TextEdit if you’re a mac user. I love it for a couple of reasons.:

  • I can search (bar at the top)
  • It syncs. I have my personal laptop and work laptop syncing through Dropbox. I also have my personal computer (only) syncing with my iPhone and iPad through SimpleNote. This means, no matter where I’m at, I can work on a blog post draft. If I’m going through my RSS feeds at lunch and find a link and think “That would be great for today’s five post,” I pop open Notational Velocity, quick copy and paste. When I get home, everything syncs automatically, I can pick up right where I left off.

As soon as I’ve finished writing, I’ll copy and paste the post into TextMate. Then, go to *Bundles > Markdown > Convert Document to HTML. * It will do exactly what it sounds like it will do, converts everything to HTML, adding in all my tags. Then, I copy and paste everything into Expression Engine. This might be too cumbersome for some, but it works for me. —that’s the important part. Find something that works for you.

If you’re interested in this setup, here are a few links that can help:

NOTE I have a special build of Notational Velocity. Steven Frank forked the code to create a third pane for MarkDown.

NOTE If you’re syncing your computers with Dropbox, you can only have one of your computers sync with SimpleNote, otherwise you’ll create an infinite loop and you’ll end up with duplicate posts.