As a graphic designer I have been making flyers, posters, artwork and more for hundreds of clients for what feels like forever. It is the goal of every designer to have their work seen by people, to be admired whether for the subtle way you changed a font to make that text pop or that amazing illustration you spent hours working on in your free time. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, everyone wants their projects to explode and to feel like an instaSUCCESS. Kudos to those that have tried and failed. Only a handful of times have I seen my work go viral and for the most part it wasn’t because it was graphic design. The work I have had go viral (which I will not share here because that is not what this is about) were images I created on the fly with no real goal in mind, they were created for the purpose of doing something for myself or for a good laugh with friends.
Ideas float in the air like webs. We all have good ideas (we also all have bad ideas and there is nothing wrong with that) but what do we need to do to make our ideas explode?
The following are some ideas and things that I have seen help others as well as some things I have done myself. I am also going to list some things NOT to do in the following paragraphs so please pay close attention. Please think of this as a shorthand guide, I’m sure there are dozens of books out there that are a great read on the subject and who knows maybe one day I will write one but for now this is your five minute breakdown on what it takes to go viral.
1. EMOTIONAL APPEAL. – No one likes a bad apple. If you are going to make something and you want it to go viral remember that one of the most important aspects of marketing and design is that it appeals to your viewer on an emotional level. This is one of the reasons animals have had such amazing luck going viral as well as laughter (everyone loves to laugh) and ads that make people feel good about themselves. Check your feed, I bet you have half a dozen images right now with kittens, sloths, puppies each written with a message or as a funny meme all because they make you FEEL. Emotions can range from happy to sad (though sad images usually are not as viral they can create a call to action such as ‘Invisible Children’). Focus on Curiosity, Amazement, Interest, Astonishment, Admiration, Uncertainty, Humor, and you are almost always guaranteed to get great feedback. Make your reader question themselves. People share emotionally charged content because it relates to them, it helps them make sense of their experiences and deepens that social bond that they have to the world (even if it is all digital).
2. DON’T BE GENERIC. – You can take a picture of your dog or cat and post it online if you want and yes there is always a chance that it will stand out among the hundreds of thousand other dog and cat pictures out there but your pet will not be the next ‘Grumpy Cat’ (You should still post pictures of your pet though because people WILL love them). If you want your images to go viral they need to be UNIQUE, they need to lead the crowd and be worthy of being shared. Make something that others wouldn’t expect to see.
3. TRIGGERS – Make something that is memorable. Something that you find interesting that is at the top of your mind and the tip of your tongue, something others might not expect. This kind of goes back to number 1 but it is worth mentioning again. People react and share when something appeals to them emotionally.
4. SOCIAL / PUBLIC AWARENESS – Did you just make something awesome? Does it have a call to action and feel emotionally appealing. Share it with your friends, tag them in the image ask them to share it and do the same with their friends. Social media is one massive network and we there is only six degrees of separation between all of us. People are more likely to share something when they see others are sharing it as well. As a designer I am always trying to go against the crowd and make something new but it is important to remember that we are social creatures each of us wants to look good and feel like we belong even if that means following the crowd and social trends.
– Your message should also provide INSTANT GRATIFICATION.
5. NARRATIVE – People love stories. If you wrap your image in a short story or a narrative that reads from left to right (or right to left depending on where you are) then people will be more willing to listen. Talk about your brand as a part of a larger calling. What does your brand, your message do for the world? If it makes us laugh that’s great but if it does more then that if it makes people feel like they are making a difference that they are sharing something important that others need to know then you are more likely to go viral.
6. BAD TIMING – This is one of those things that corporations pay marketers and social media partners for. Time of year, day of week, time of day (time zones), events, these are all things that can make or break your message. This is something you have to think about for yourself, who is your audience, what is happening in the world right now, will others pay attention to your message while this and that are happening. Timing is everything.
7. DESIGN – This of course is my favorite part. Please remember though just because something is sexy doesn’t mean it will go viral (then again sex does sell and if you want to go that road you can but most people will ignore your message simply for the images). Location of elements in an image will determine how likely a user will be able to see it. If your image is being displayed in certain social media platforms the image may become cropped or someone may not be able to make out what the image is at all if it is too large or too small. Good designers can usually play with these fields of vision and make it so a user will want to click through an image to see the entire thing (think about narrative and having to click through to see the second part). Guide the users eye. Use effects and contrast only a subtle amount to make text or images pop. Bold text and colors tell users where to look. Big items draw users attention more then small items.
Use color to your advantage.
Red – Energy, Danger, Love
Orange – Enthusiasm, Fascination, Creativity
Yellow – Happiness, Intellect, Energy
Green – Nature, Money, Healing
Blue – Stability, Trust, Loyalty
Purple – Power, Nobility, Luxury
Black – Power, Elegance, Formality
White – Light, Goodness, Innocence
8. DON’T GIVE UP – If you make the most awesome image and it doesn’t go viral don’t give up. Maybe you released it at the wrong time or something happened the next day or someone else was given the spotlight before you were. Don’t give up. Some images take years to go viral, videos especially. Many of the most popular videos today were created years ago or thought of years ago and only now have they found new life. Your ideas may just need time to grow. Many messages start out with a grassroots campaign before ever coming into mainstream or even tapping on the glass that is public awareness. The more people share your image over time the more popular you will become. Success is not guaranteed overnight. If you are truly feeling desperate though facebook, twitter, and many other social media sites have ways that you can pay money to promote your posts and visibility to more people. Unsurprisingly many YouTube stations and videos, Kickstarters, IndieGoGo campaigns, and even small businesses use this kind of advertising to increase their popularity.
Utilizing all of these tools and this guide I know you can make the most awesome image, message possible and find success online. A great thing to remember though is that success is what you make it. It doesn’t matter if your message is seen by a hundred people or a hundred thousand as long as you are happy with what you are putting into the world and you are making a difference then that is what makes you awesome. Remember to keep your content and your designs fresh and never give up on your art.