Everyone loves a good surprise. Although some people claim to hate them, most of us enjoy stories with startling plot twists, unlikely heroes and improbable meet-cutes that turn into true love. Our natural penchant for the unexpected might explain the appeal of instantly-viral content. You know the story: An unassuming brand creates a great article or graphic that inexplicably goes viral and amasses a cult following with little or no promotion. While achieving instant popularity with your content is certainly possible, the likelihood of overnight success is becoming increasingly improbable.

Your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it inhabits an ecosystem of distraction where every second of audience attention is fiercely contested. Gaining instant virality without savvy promotion is mostly a stroke of luck or genius; not strategy. While both luck and genius make great assets, they are difficult to maintain and nearly impossible to scale. Unless you’re already equipped with a massive network of loyal fans and followers, building a solid online audience base can seem like climbing Everest. Smart marketers understand that finding and building relationships with audience influencers is a great promotion strategy that encourages viral content sharing. Simply publishing content and hoping for the best is a recipe for disappointment, but with solid research, testing and perhaps a little luck, you can develop a promotion strategy that gets your content seen and shared.

DISCLAIMER: Any discussion regarding content promotion can’t begin in earnest without addressing quality. If you haven’t nailed down your content development process and you aren’t consistently creating unique value for your audience, then stop what you’re doing and make that the top priority. No amount of promotion or amplification can compensate for content that is off-target and non-differentiated, so make sure your content fulfills this basic objective first.

The first step in finding your influencers is knowing what to look for. Traditionally, influencers were viewed as information gatekeepers. Small groups of people or brands controlled access to critical information that they chose to release – or withhold – at will. Technological advances in the past few years have turned this model on its head. Open access to information is almost a birthright today, and influencers’ role within the broader network has shifted from gatekeeper to trusted travel guide. Modern influencers don’t build reputations on information and power alone; successful influencers add respect, relatability, and responsiveness to their mix of differentiating attributes. When identifying influencers, find people and brands that frequently engage in dialogues with others in their network. Targeting influencers who have an army of followers is great, but look for influencers who also reply to questions, share insights from others, and generally exhibit a high level of engagement and responsiveness.