In the hyper-socialized age of digital media, a piece of web content is only as valuable to an advertiser as it is to the consumer. If the content itself is compelling enough to consumers that they will willingly share it with their networks, it will certainly be of value to the advertiser as an inbound marketing tool. This can be highly beneficial to small businesses that do not have the budget to spend on large-scale paid media campaigns.
There are two main factors that will determine if a piece of content has potential to go viral. First, it has to be valuable enough for people to want to share it and secondly, it must provide the ability to be easily shared. Content that provides real value to its target audience and exudes a compelling message has the potential of reaching millions of potential customers if it has the right sharing optimization. Alternatively, that same content can fall flat despite its inherent value if it doesn’t effectively influence sharing. In order for content to be easily shared, it must be social-friendly and contain not only the right content to go viral, but the right mark-up to position it in its best light on social media platforms.
For a piece of content to get its initial seeds in Facebook, the page itself must make it as simple as possible for visitors to share without having to think. In fact, data shows that content pieces that include sharing buttons are shared 7x more than those that don’t. Well-placed social sharing buttons, such as a Like or Share button, are a great way to allow visitors to share the content on Facebook with a single click. It is best to include both of these buttons (Like and Share) in close proximity to one another in order to give users the option on how they want to present your content.
It’s not enough to simply include sharing buttons on the page. The placement of those buttons can have a huge impact on sharability. For articles, right between the headline and first paragraph and again below the last paragraph are ideal placements for social sharing buttons. Similarly in the case of an infographic, placing the sharing buttons directly below the headline and again directly below the infographic will produce best results.
Additionally, a social call to action near the sharing buttons is important. Depending on the type of content, the call to action can be general (i.e. “Share this article with your friends”) or specific (i.e. “Have Facebook friends interested in [topic of content piece]? Help them out by clicking ‘Share’!”).
Open Graph Mark-Up
It is important to have a high level of control over the look and feel of a Facebook post when someone decides to share your content. The preview of your content as it appears on Facebook is paramount for reaching viral status. Just as the page itself has to be compelling for visitors to share it, the preview - including the title, description, and image has to compel Facebook users to interact with it.
Gaining control over the preview of your content, when shared by others can be achieved with open graph markup. Without open graph markup, Facebook will default to the title tag and meta description of a page as the snippet of text in the preview and choose the first image on the page from the top left. This is not always ideal for positioning the content to be shared further. While a page that is search engine optimized may already have title tags and meta descriptions capable of influencing aggressive sharing, the image that displays in the Facebook post must be considered.
For example, if a website contains a hero image in the header that spans the width of the page, a cropped section of that image will be the default in the absence of open graph tags. If there are multiple images on a page, Facebook will allow the user sharing the content to select an image by scrolling through them, but this functionality is not necessarily clear to the user. Moreover, you typically will want to determine which image should be included in the preview as opposed to leaving it up to the user. This is where og:image tags are extremely useful.
Here is a list of open graph tags that should be included in the <head> code of every content piece:
- og:title - This tag should be used to specify the desired headline within the Facebook preview of the page. This should be concise and compelling. Don’t waste valuable og:title space on including your brand name as the og:site_name tag is used for that.
- og:description – This tag should be used to succinctly describe the page in 2-4 sentences. It should give users a reason to click-through to the page or re-share the Facebook post. Be sure to include a call to action that guides users to do just that.
- og:image – Use this tag to specify the URL of the image that should be displayed in the Facebook preview. The ideal image size based on current Facebook content previews is 1200x630. Images should have an aspect ratio of 1.91:1.
- og:site_name – This is where you can include your brand name, which will display below the description in the preview. Use the actual brand name (i.e. Wordtracker) as opposed to the domain name (i.e. Wordtracker.com)
- og:url – This tag specifies the canonical URL of the content page.
In addition to these most important open graph tags, there are others that can also be leveraged to provide benefit based on the content type. Facebook offers a debugging tool to ensure your open graph tags are correctly implemented.
Test and Measure
Testing different creative and messaging for social sharing is as important as testing that of paid media. By understanding the content types, the messaging in the title and description, and the image usage that receive the most shares, future content pieces can be better optimized for sharing. It is important to always be tracking shares, re-shares, and click-throughs to the content page.
All in all, in order for any piece of content to have the potential to go viral, it must both provide a real value to its target base and be fully optimized for sharing. Especially when a great piece of content is developed, special attention must be paid to how easily sharable it is within social media and how it displays when it is shared. Otherwise, it can be a huge opportunity lost.