There is nothing quite like the feeling you get from seeing a Facebook post go viral. It’s a high that you will keep chasing, trying to recapture the excitement you felt, every time you hit refresh, and felt your heart beat a little faster with every new surge of re-shares.

The rise of social media marketing has revolutionized the advertising industry and created a new, complex layer of consumer engagement.

Potential

On the plus side, the cost-benefit ratio of social media marketing is hard to ignore. Setting up an account is free, and even if you do pay to promote your page on Facebook, it’s nowhere near as expensive as launching an affiliate style online marketing campaign. Additionally, pay-per-click advertisements on Facebook are geo-targeted, which means that Facebook automatically sorts content and delivers it to users based on the person’s location (basically making your life as a marketer easier). You also have the opportunity to instantly deliver your content to large amounts of people. The benefits are clear, and it’s no mystery why so many businesses are falling over themselves to jump onto the social media marketing bandwagon.

I should say, that before jumping onto a Facebook page, content teams should outline what their goals are for their social media marketing efforts. For the project I was involved in, our goal was to create viral content, and increase conversion rates. The methods I outline here may not be advisable for a company whose goal is to create trust or simply increase brand awareness.

Note, these tips are slightly controversial, and may not be the right fit for every company or brand

How to Create a VIRAL Facebook Post

1) Know Your Audience

One of the biggest mistakes that people managing a social media campaign make is posting content they would like. It could be the case that your target audience (i.e. the people “liking” your page) are the complete opposite of you in every possible way. Get a sense for the kind of content which elicits a strong emotional reaction from people, and make a list.

For example, I manage a successful Facebook social media campaign for a background check company. I quickly learned that our demographic responds very positively to criminals being punished. The more heinous of a crime, the stronger the audience reaction would be. After taking the time to get to know our target audience we quickly identified that content which incited anger in people had a much higher engagement level than other types of content we tried.

For our viral post, we settled on a story about a sex offender who was caught by the girl’s dad and beaten up. For us, this narrative was a perfect fit for our demographic. It had a strong family element, the worst kind of criminal possible, and a vigilante kind of justice which our audience responded strongly to. People were outraged by the sex offender’s crime, but also satisfied by the father’s ability to “get revenge.”

2) Pick Your Picture

Viral content is almost always a picture. Posting articles on Facebook can achieve some measure of popularity, but images perform better 99% of the time. Pictures immediately catch the eye and instantly convey a message. In the fast paced, scanner-friendly world of social media, few people are looking for in-depth articles to read. Memes that are specifically tailored to your audience will usually get you a solid number of shares and likes. I like to use the website Quickmeme to create memes out of funny pictures I find.

For the above mentioned viral post, we went straight for shock value and used a mugshot of the sex offender showing his face after he had been beaten up by the dad. The combination of a winning narrative and a shocking picture that a person couldn’t help but look at if it came up in their news feed, helped us launch this viral post.

3) Write Gut Wrenching Copy to Go With Your Picture

Good ad copy should evoke a strong emotion from people. As a social media marketer, you should think of your status updates as mini ads, and put as much work into them as you would into writing ad copy. First, decide what emotion you want people to feel. You are the one leading them, and if you don’t know where you’re going, nobody will follow.

The copy we wrote for our viral picture was “This is what happens when a peeping tom gets caught by a dad of the 15 year old girl of whom he was peeping. Like and share if you’re glad Dad kicked his BUTT!” I know what you’re probably thinking, that copy sounds horrible, right? We do a lot of split testing, and have found that in this kind of direct marketing, copy which is a little of, and that even has some small grammatical and capitalization errors somehow performs better than elegant, beautiful sounding copy.

Again, this is dependent on your demographic, but overall, according to our testing direct marketing web copy should written at about a 7th grade reading level. I know, as a writer this was hard for me to accept, but hundreds of split testing results can’t be wrong. Keep your copy simple, yet also powerful so it creates a strong emotion in the people who see it.

Overall, we’ve recreated this formula and seen success time and time again. For me, the most difficult thing to put into practice is keeping it SUPER simple. Whenever I try to be ironic or creative, my posts and copy fail miserably. When it comes to creating VIRAL social media content, remember the three S’s—simple, straightforward, and shocking. You’d be amazed at far this will get you.

This guest post was written by Jessica Ruane, who is a freelance copywriter and social media marketing consultant. To read more of her work, follow her main client on Twitter or check them out on LinkedIn.