Content Marketing
Measuring the Success of Virality

Measuring the Success of Virality

June 2, 2016
3 min read

 By Jennifer Johnson, Marketing Manager at Alexa

Content marketing is no longer the new kid in town: Not only do 3 out of 4 marketers prioritize an inbound approach regardless of their size or budget, but companies plan to allocate nearly a third of their total marketing budget to content marketing this year.

The good news for brands is that content marketing has consistently proven it is more effective than traditional advertising routes. However, the increase in popularity also means that more brands are producing content at an accelerated rate. A guaranteed way to break through the noise is to generate the next viral hit, but is that easier said than done?

Not necessarily. The team at Alexa recently analyzed four viral hits that collectively earned more than 2 million social shares to get a better understanding of the relationship between the number of placements and a content’s topic, visual assets, and formatting. Key metrics they looked at included the number of social shares, rise in global traffic rank, increase in reach, and boost in page views.

Each one of these stories included one element that has proven viral success. Below I’ll identify what these characteristics are and highlight specific benefits that your brand can expect from future campaigns that deliver similar results.

  1. Emotional

Keep in mind that audiences have a desire to make a personal connection with what they see online. Consider the anti-bullying song, “Love Yourself” by Khari Toure. After learning his young daughter was being bullied at school, the musician wrote a song with a powerful anti-bullying message and produced a video that featured his daughter and a cast of children from their community.

Publishers began picking up the story immediately. Bullying is already a highly emotional topic, so by including a video that featured youngsters singing the self-love anthem, publishers were able to add an additional layer to the story that encouraged their audiences to share. A great example is this placement on Within a week of publishing, the site’s page views doubled, and within a couple of months, the site’s global ranking jumped by 43 percent.

  1. Pop culture-focused

Another easy way to earn someone’s attention? Make a pop culture reference, and a great way to do this is through the power of celebrity. capitalized on the familirity of SNL alum Amy Poehler by publishing a listicle of her most empowering quotes.

The site’s audience ate it up, and by presenting the content as a list, the post was easy to digest and share. For, not only did this mean more than 7,600 Facebook shares, but within only a few months, the site’s global rank increased by 22 percent.


  1. Shocking

Research proves there is a strong correlation between an element of surprise and social shares, so when possible, produce content that will disprove an easily held assumption. Take this short film shared by AT&T for the “It Can Wait” campaign. The video reveals the horrific consequences of using a smartphone while driving. The article itself didn’t include a ton of additional content because the campaign’s core message was sobering enough and the video served as a powerful standalone.

The post resonated with a lot of people, earning more than 958,000 Facebook shares and 3,800 tweets, and within a few months, the site’s global ranking increased nearly 30 percent. Even at four minutes long, this shows the value of producing something unexpected for your target audience.

  1. Polarizing

Finally, another way to generate high virality is to produce something controversial that will promote discussion and encourage people to share. hit a home run with this controversial opinion piece. In “No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong,” Jeff Rouner penned a brief but passionate stance about how someone could just be flat out wrong. The language is intense, with Rouner telling his readers they “are going to venture out into the world and find that what [they] thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and [their] feelings.”


Regardless of whether or not they agreed, people definitely cared. The post was shared more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and for anyone who’s been on the social network, this shouldn’t be surprising – who hasn’t seen a seemingly endless thread between two people arguing over their news feed? Rouner’s inclusion of hot-button issues like Planned Parenthood also helped fuel discussion, ultimately revealing the strong potential of going viral through content that centers around typically black-and-white issues.

Final thoughts

When coming up with campaign ideas, marketers should continually ask themselves one simple question: Would I want to share this campaign with my friends? Although there is no one-size-fits all formula, your content should tell a compelling and relatable story, and its success can have a profound impact on shares, traffic, and search rankings.

Jennifer Johnson is the Marketing Manager at Alexa. With a knack for syntax and passion for building connections, she drives daily content strategy to bring you the latest and greatest happenings within Alexa and the wide world of web analytics and marketing.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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