How to Create a Viral Idea in a Boring Vertical

How To Create a Viral Idea in a Boring Vertical

As much as we love variety, let’s face it: Some things are just plain boring. This can feel especially true when you’re working with multiple clients – some days you’re offering endless ideas about comic book characters and movies; the next you’re trying to make any inch of linoleum seem cool. It’s a daunting task, but it’s not impossible.

You can successfully create viral content within boring verticals; however, it requires you to conduct a focused research strategy and curate a very specific outreach plan. It all comes down to who will link to it and who will share it.

Here, we’ll walk you through five steps to improving your chances of creating content that will not only reach your niche audience but land your content on the screens of potential consumers.

1. Research what’s performing well in your niche and create unique ideas through lateral thinking.

A great place to begin ideation: Learn what your audience already finds interesting. This will help you understand the bigger picture of what people want. From there, you can break down the topic into smaller themes that you can use as the basis for your ideation. Gather all you can about the topic area – including articles that are currently earning a lot of shares along with any that have done well in the past.

You’ll want to visit sites that allow for advanced search options; this will help you narrow your queries by keywords and social shares. Some popular sites include:

  • Google: This is where most people begin with ideation. Using the query “viral + keyword” (“keyword” being whatever topic you’re exploring) is the easiest place to start. The initial list of links delivered is a great place to search for ideas; it also provides a snapshot of which sites could be included in a list of potential targets for promotion. You can also narrow your search further via the Advanced Search option as well as with the use of supplementary Google tools, including Google News and Google Trends.
  • Reddit: Begin with a simple search using two or three keywords concerning your topic. For this instance, we searched “finance.” Right below the search box you’ll find a list of popular subreddits. These are niche communities discussing your primary topic, and they’ll help you identify narrower themes.
Reddit search for finance

Reddit search for “finance”

  • BuzzFeed: This site dominates in social shares, so it’s a great resource when you’re looking for currently trending stories. Enter two or three keywords about your topic in its search box and review the returned list of stories. BuzzFeed also easily lets its readers know whether a topic is trending by including a special icon near the story (see below); trending items are also readily available on the site’s homepage in the lower right-hand corner.
Trending on BuzzFeed

Trending on BuzzFeed

After exploring these strategies, you’ll begin the actual ideation process. This is where you and your team can explore the different content ideas that will fit within each of the subcategories, helping you to determine which topics could truly go viral.

Keep in mind, some of the most shared content has an emotional appeal, and a lot of the time your audience wants to be surprised. Make sure you deliver. Coming up with this sort of idea requires lateral, outside-of-the-box thinking. What are some ways to do this? Run an idea through one or more of the following concepts:

  • Negate – Take an assumption and present data that prove the opposite. For example, if everyone assumes the divorce rate is on the rise, provide data that show the decline.
  • Reverse – Look at an idea from another angle and present it in a different way. For instance, instead of providing the benefits of eating organic, show how many pesticides could be left in your system after a year of eating non-organic.
  • Distort – Take something everyone can identify with and present it in a new way. For instance, show how much fuel and how many people it takes to make a single plane trip.
  • Hope – Present an idea that everyone would enjoy and explore its potential benefits. For example, say consumers all suddenly had access to self-driving cars: What would people be able to do with all the extra time?

Throughout the ideation phase, be sure to keep everything organized in a shared document – e.g., a spreadsheet. (Some useful column labels include “idea owner,” “target audience,” “theme,” “possible asset,” and “campaign description.”) This organization will give everyone a better understanding of each possible campaign idea, which will help you when vetting your ideas (more on that later).

Example of ideation doc

Example of ideation doc

2. Review what your competitors are doing to learn what’s working and what’s falling short.

Competitors: They’re out there, and often you’re after the same audience. Keep in mind, competitive analysis is crucial if you want to stay ahead of the curve – without it, you could be missing out on game-changing opportunities; so once you’ve exhausted your research, take the time to find out what your competitors are up to. Identify their latest campaigns via a quick online search. You’ll learn which ideas soared and which ones missed the mark. This will help you narrow your idea and determine the best possible assets.

Once you’ve determined their highest-performing campaigns, look at specific pickups. This will help you in three ways:

  • You’ll find inspiration for your campaign assets.
  • You’ll be able to create a list of targeted sites you’ll want to go after during your promotions cycle.
  • You’ll learn what your target audience liked and didn’t like through each article’s comments section, which will help you create new angles.

3. Use social media to find out what your target audience is sharing.

Your goal is to create content that gets shared, and social media is the best place to learn what people are engaging with. Start by visiting the social media sites of your targeted publishers. See what they’re posting on their networks and which stories are earning the most shares. Checking the share buttons or links below each post is an easy way to do this.

Example of Facebook shares

Example of Facebook shares

You’ll also want to note the feedback in the comments under each post. Perhaps people want to know more about a specific angle? Make sure your new campaign helps them find the answer.

It’s also a good idea to search within the specific social networks. For example, Twitter can offer insight on what’s currently trending with your topic along with who are the key influencers in your vertical. After an initial keyword search, Twitter will deliver the top tweets, live tweets, and accounts that directly involve your topic, and any photos or videos related to your topic.

Twitter search for finance

Twitter search for “finance”

It also presents you with “More options.” This feature allows you to filter your results even further while also allowing you to save your search for future reference.

Facebook makes it easy to determine who’s sharing within your niche along with the latest trending stories. Simply type your keyword in the search box and you’ll be redirected to a page that allows you to filter by the top accounts and pages.

A new Facebook feature also allows you to filter trending stories by different verticals – specifically politics, science and technology, sports, and entertainment. Even if your niche vertical isn’t listed, it’s a great way to see which stories are trending in high-performing verticals and connect your idea to one of those stories.

Facebook search for finance

Facebook search for “finance”

4. Build a list of target websites and determine any patterns in their top-performing content.

The good news about a boring vertical? You’ll usually have an idea of the specific publishers you’ll want to target. Use this to your advantage during the ideation phase through tools like BuzzSumo, where you can search specific publishers to see what stories are high-performing within their audience.

For example, finance topics can be very niche, and a great target that you would already have in mind is the Wall Street Journal. Searching its URL within BuzzSumo will give you the top-performing articles on the site.

BuzzSumo search for WSJ

BuzzSumo search for WSJ

From here you can look at each article and identify any particular patterns. Were infographics used more than dynamic assets? Did certain numbers perform better than others (i.e., maybe “eight ways” did better than a “top 10” list). These are all insights you can use to amplify your asset.

Additionally, you can directly contact editors of a targeted publisher and offer them the opportunity to collaborate. Editors and writers are the gatekeepers for content, and they understand what their audiences want. Offer them a few ideas and address their feedback. This is not only a great way to ensure your content will be shared, but it’s also a means of guaranteeing a placement.

BuzzStream includes features that can help you organize this feedback from editors. For example, in the main dashboard of a contact, you can quickly add a note on which projects they’re open to along with any feedback on particular assets that do well with his or her audience.

BuzzStream note feature

BuzzStream note feature

5. Once you’ve created a list concepts, have at least four other people provide feedback before choosing the final idea.

A good rule of thumb: Include at least 10 ideas within your vertical before vetting. Once you’re ready to compare each idea, you’ll want to get feedback from at least four people who are familiar with the client – these should be associates who know the parameters the content needs to meet and have a good understanding of what gets content shared. Ask them to assign a score (1–10) to each idea based on the following factors:

  • Whether the idea closely aligns to set parameters.
  • The idea’s originality.
  • Whether the idea is newsworthy.
  • The idea’s emotional appeal.

Once the list is tallied, present it to your client to determine which idea is most viable after considering both the cost and timeline.

A viral hit isn’t impossible in a boring vertical, but it does take some work. Remember, there’s no such thing as boring ideas but rather uninspired content. With some creative thinking and strategic research, you’ll be able to create a campaign that compels your audience to share.