Interruptive one-way marketing tactics using traditional legacy outlets and even newer digital mediums are being shunned more and more by consumers. The slow decline of traditional print and broadcast advertising along with the rise of online adblockers prove outbound methods are losing their efficacy, regardless of the channel. So how can brands reach today’s consumers?

Cue content marketing. Brands are turning to this inbound method for better reach and engagement with their target audiences, realizing that creating a profound emotional connection with consumers improves familiarity and trust. Relevant and compelling content of value targeted to a buyer throughout all stages of the buying cycle converts leads into sales, but the biggest challenge confronting content marketing is creating quality and engaging content.

Seasoned content marketers begin to develop a sense for why some content fails and other content succeeds. Constantly evaluating campaign performance to refine production and promotion practices based on the data is key to earning links and social shares. Over time, it becomes clear certain elements can increase the potential to go viral.

To determine what factors were the most important in creating campaigns with the ability to break through the noise of mediocre content, Fractl recently partnered with Moz to conduct a meta-analysis of 345 of our own content marketing campaigns produced over the past three years to identify the commonalities of our biggest wins. When looking at the relationship between the number of placements, visual assets, and formatting, we found four key elements for creating successful campaigns.

Evoke an Emotional Response

The greatest differentiator between the top performing campaigns and all others was the emotional impact. In particular, research shows specific emotions that fit into the surprise and anticipation segments of Plutchik’s wheel are extremely common in highly viral content.

  • Campaigns securing over 100 placements were three times more likely to feature a strong emotional hook than less successful campaigns.
  • A third of the campaigns that garnered at least 20,000 social shares included a strong emotional hook, with half of those campaigns seeing over 100,000 shares.
  • In our Perceptions of Perfection campaign, the drastic alterations of a single woman’s photo to fit a country’s standards of beauty caught the attention of audiences through surprise and helped the campaign earn nearly 600 placements.

Placement Success

Mass Appeal Earns High-Quality Coverage

According to the data, there’s a high correlation between high average domain authority and content topics with mass appeal. It may seem straightforward, but often the obvious is overlooked and narrow-focused content is created that is not promotionally viable to a range of publications.

  • Some verticals may have an advantage when it comes to appeal and link quality. Campaigns for travel, entertainment, and retail clients often have a higher than average domain authority per placement.
  • It’s important to note not only does the type of link determine the quality, but so does the site’s influence. Two of the best performing campaigns with over 1,000 links were initially linked as nofollow on high-authority sites.
  • For example, an initial high DA nofollow link led to dozens of top-tier outlets across the globe picking up our Truth About Hotel Hygiene campaign, comparing hotel cleanliness and star rating. By revealing some unsettling statistics about a widely discussed topic relevant to travelers around the world, publications with an international reach like The Independent and Huffington Post quickly picked up the study.

Spark Discussions through Rankings and Comparisons

By drawing comparisons or creating rankings, viewers are naturally engaged as they often choose and defend a side. Producing content that generates discussions and fuels debates drives social shares as well as additional press.

  • Close to half of the campaigns earning 20,000 or more social shares were centered around a comparison.
  • Further, nearly one out of every three comparison campaigns were deemed a major success with over 100 links.
  • Ranking the three most popular smartphone assistants, our Comparing Cortana campaign earned over 12,000 social shares thanks to the pride and loyalty of smartphone users. Siri beating its top competitors attracted Apple devotees while sparking debates among Android and Windows users.

Pique Interest with a Geographic or Pop Culture Connection

Content that ties in a geographic angle or pop culture reference is primed for targeting a dedicated audience open and willing to share content with their network while resonating on a surface level with an even broader audience.

  • Nearly a third of campaigns with over 100 pickups featured either a geographic angle or pop culture tie in.
  • The geographic angle in particular proved to be successful in gaining attention not only with local and regional news outlets, but also on social media. Over a third of campaigns that captured thousands of social shares featured a map asset. In fact, 42% of the campaigns with over 20,000 shares included a geographic hook.
  • By featuring each state, our Most Instagrammed Location campaign appealed to both local and national publications, earning well over 300 pickups across the country ranging from Time and the “Today” show to local news stations.

Social Success

As brands continue to prioritize an inbound approach, content will continue to be produced at an accelerated rate. While there is no formula to guarantee a viral campaign, taking into consideration these four elements throughout the production process can help content marketers consistently create compelling campaigns that stand out against the competition.