My social media brand is pretty distinctive: Family, food, and explosive chainsaw duels. I tend to get a few hundred likes on my posts, with a few climbing into the thousands and a handful nailing the 5 or 6 figure mark. I average a few million impressions per month, which is pretty decent for an 11k follower account.
People ask me all the time, what’s my secret? And it’s actually pretty simple.
Most people target the wrong side of the brain.
I’ll take authors as an example here, since I coach so many of them. Most authors write something called copy, which is basically a marketing blurb for a product. When you grab a paperback and flip it over to read the blurb on the back, that’s copy. Traditional publishing followed a standard format for their copy: List the character’s name, say what they do, mention their world. Mention how their world changes. Mention some new danger they’re facing. Ask whether or not the character will survive.
After a while, readers got bored of this format. The massive glut of new content on Kindle didn’t help, as readers are constantly seeking their new binge. And people don’t want entertainment that makes them think. They want to FEEL.
So many authors, and social media users as well, set out to make their audience THINK. They try to be clever and witty and appeal to the left side of the brain, the logical side. They explain why their product is rationally superior. They try to make people think.
This might work for a small subset of the market, particularly overly-rational people disconnected from their emotional side. But the average reader (or customer) doesn’t have this level of rationality. People are programmed to FEEL, and if you don’t make them FEEL, they will quickly move on to the next thing that makes them FEEL and impulse-spend their money on THAT guy’s product instead.
So if you want to make viral content, you need to learn the difference between making people THINK and making them FEEL. And the absolutely best viral content combines these two, a sharp FEELING that also includes just a touch of wit, a sly wink that makes your audience FEEL something while also providing value so they want to share it with their own audience. Bonus points if they can share it with their own audience while adding their own thoughts to it, enhancing the message and letting them leapfrog off your value.
So how do you tell when you’re on the right FEELING side of the brain instead of the left THINKING side? The right side is a primal howl, a gut impact. It inspires an emotion of some sort, a neurological alteration that gets your blood pumping.
Consider the old glossy magazine ads of the 80s and 90s aimed at teenage boys. They usually had some hot blonde chick wrapped around a dude in huge armor and a giant gun. Maybe the dude had a skull mask. There were probably random explosions in the background. Even without text, the message came through and the viewer was already sold before they even knew what the product was. It may as well have read something like:
“Look at this crazy badass. There’s death. And a gun. IT’S DEATHGUN. Everything is exploding. Who’s that chick? Probably a cyborg lady. Buy this product NOW.”
And the hormonal teenage boy was already flying down the stairs on his way to the store to buy DEATHGUN. And as much as we want to roll our eyes at a cheesy name like DEATHGUN, we’d at least tune in to see what it’s about. Because cheesy hormonal right-brain content snags our attention at a primal level.
People take their own content far too seriously. They strive to be left-brained and logical. They try to come up with the best takes, the sharpest explanations, the most brilliant content.
And that’s cool. People do like smart things, but ONLY when the smart things make them FEEL. Smart things without feelings alienate most readers and cause them to shove the smart person aside. Scientists are extremely smart, but people tend to laugh at them for being devoid of feeling even as the same scientists cure the latest plague. Scientists who make people FEEL make a killing, like Elon Musk and his flamethrowers. People like smart, but only when it makes them FEEL.
So how do you combine the two? Open your viral content with a question targeting the core audience’s needs. Poke them right where it hurts and remind them of the pain they experience in their specific problem. For depressed people, for example, depression medication often hits hard with something like, “Are you tired of losing out on time with the people you love?”
“We have the solution.” (Cue cheesy upbeat music).
The audience feels hurt, then watches someone find hope. By the end, the actress (usually) is smiling and engaging with her family and friends.
The best viral content follows marketing patterns, because they’re one and the same. Both must make the audience FEEL. Providing value after that is the key.
Tweak your overly-logical copy by including punchier words that you’d use when writing pulpy fiction. Cold clinical descriptions you’d read in a textbook will cause people to skip right by, but writing descriptions that read like the BAM! WHAM! BLAMMO! sound effects from old Batman comics will grab attention like a neon stripper sign.
I tend to open my marketing content with a question or statement that targets a feeling. I also section my posts up into one big paragraph, a second paragraph, and then a final shorter line. Too many posters obviously striving for viral content have seventeen lines that take up half the feed, and this looks obnoxious. You won’t want to look like a try-hard.
Here’s one of my recent big posts:
2 years ago I was
Size 40 pants
1 book published
On blood pressure meds
Size 34 pants
Doubled my income
About to publish book 9
Where are you now? Where do you want to be in 2 years?
Time passes either way. Will you improve?
You can see I broke my rule about only 3 paragraphs, but in this case I wanted to emphasize the last two questions on their own. I also reversed the formula, asking the FEELING questions at the end. I did this because I opened with a list of things that made people FEEL. Mentioning your own weaknesses is shocking to people, even more so when you have a larger audience. Followers eat this stuff up because feeling comfortable with who you used to be shows immense confidence in who you are now.
This entire tweet is nothing but FEELING because people can see the first part and say “Wow, he was terrible. This kinda reminds me of some of my own weaknesses.” Then they see the second paragraph and say “Wow, he made great changes! I wonder how he did it?” Then the three follow-up questions, each emphasized on their own line but building on each other. Every word in this tweet was tuned to maximum FEELING.
But a lot of people are out here writing the same idea while phrasing it something like, “I have made significant strides in my personal improvement journey. I suggest you take yours seriously. You can also make changes.”
When you aren’t sure how to tweak your post, remember DEATHGUN. Remember that people want to feel, and appearing overly serious, trying to look smart, makes you look boring and uninteresting. You need to hook the right side of the brain and catch the audience’s attention before you can engage the left side. Make some smart points in the midst of making people FEEL.
This is the ultimate secret to viral content.
For an example of writing copy that makes you feel, check out the description on this course I just launched.