Over the last couple years I’ve been fortunate enough to grow the presence of a few online communities to just shy of half a million followers. During that time we’ve had a number of posts go viral and a few posts break the million “like” barrier on Facebook.

I’ve been able to use these pages as a testing ground for engagement and as a determination on what posts are more likely to go viral. Here are my top six characteristics of viral posts:

It has a great CTA. A Call to Action (CTA) is something that’s present in a large majority of viral social media posts, most commonly in Facebook posts. An example of a CTA would be “share” if you agree with this. It provides a way for people to place their stamp on an issue or story. Allowing people to simultaneously share your content and also show their support for it is the perfect way to increase engagement and virality. Create the mechanism for their interaction.

It evokes emotion. If you’ve spent any amount of time on the Internet you’ve likely come across a video of a man returning from Afghanistan and having his dog happily greet him by jumping into his arms. This video has more than 17 million hits on YouTube and received most because of its familiarity of a man and his dog. In my experience, positive emotion almost always trumps negative emotions. Try to find a way for people to create a sentimental bond with your content they’ll gladly share it with others.

It’s new. The shelf life for any post on Facebook or Twitter is a few days -- if you’re lucky. Try to repost it later and you’re probably not going to get anywhere near the interaction level you had the first time. People that spend a lot of time on social media see a lot of recycled material and this impacts their engagement in a big way. If you’re able to find new ways to present information instead of staying with the familiar, you’ll be more likely to get something to go big. 

It’s timely. In today’s news cycle things happen quickly. If you’re able to get a quality post up within minutes of a major news story your post has a much higher chance of being circulated to greater numbers. Two great ways to help you stay out in front of breaking news or events are to follow a large number of major news organizations on Twitter (they typically are first to report) and make it a habit to check Google trends once a day to see what people are searching for. In other words, being first has major benefits.

It’s hilarious. If you can get someone to “laugh out loud” at your post, they’re probably going to want to share it with their friends. The right humorous post can simultaneously allow people to share something of value with others and help define their beliefs to others. We recently posted a simple graphic that displayed the following text: The best way to teach your kids about taxes is by eating 30 percent of their ice cream. It received more than 5,000 shares in less than 24 hours. It makes a political point about taxes and does so in a humorous way in which most people can relate.

It tells a story. One of the best ways to get something to go viral is to present it in story format. Think about how many times you told a “story” just today. Take the viral post “A sweet lesson on patience” that received over two million “like.” This post tells the story of an elderly woman and her ride in a taxicab on her way to hospice. It’s a longer story than what would normally be shared on social media but it’s so powerful that the majority of people that actually read it couldn’t help but share it with their friends and family. 

It’s a simple formula: Compelling story + a great point = a viral post.

Aaron Windeknecht is the New Media Manager for Campaign Headquarters and creator of “The Comical Conservative” Facebook page.

Tags: Grant Shapps