A 10-Step Guide to Going Viral

Planning to go viral is like preparing a meal. Like any good dish, you need to follow a recipe for maximum success. Thanks to my research and personal experience, I’ve crafted one recipe for going viral.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 6.20.17 PM


Before I begin, here is a link to my Buzzfeed article that broke 4,000 views.


1. First, gather the right ingredients.

IMG_9585You can’t go viral without the right ingredients—in this case, I mean good content. Remember the Katie Gold Patent Pending 3 Rs: ROFL, Relatable, or Relevant. People like funny content that they can relate to, and it’s even better if the topic is currently trending. The more Rs your content checks off, the better.

Another, probably more legitimate, source suggested the main reasons people share things on social media are to: Give offers or discounts, advise with helpful hints, warn about potential dangers, amuse with entertaining content, inspire with images and quotes, amaze with pictures and facts, or unite and be part of the tribe.

My ingredients took 7 months to compile. My recipe includes 22 Instagram posts that I carefully curated to include every single caption from All Star by Smash Mouth. All Star has been the subject of many memes and mash-ups lately—my favorites being this, this, and this. It makes people laugh, and anyone can relate to the best Shrek soundtrack song. ROFL, Relatable, Relevant. Check, check, check.


2. Get your Mise En Place.

So, you have the content, now how do you present it? Let me tell you a little secret:

  1. People
  2. Love
  3. Lists.

When there is so much chaos in the world, lists simplify that. It gives you control of your world again. It’s easier to digest an article that is broken up into list form. People feel like they’ve mastered the subject because they’ve been provided with an easy-to-read list of, for example, the 30 most important facts about Brett Eldridge. And if you include the number of items in the list in the article title, people know how long the article will be before starting.

While the All Star lyrics are not exactly conducive to a numbered list, they were perfect for a list-style article. People knew what they were getting into: the pictures captioned with the lyrics to All Star, nothing more, nothing less.


3. No one will eat your food if it sounds gross.

It’s all about the title. No one will click on your link unless the title is catchy. According to studies, the optimal number of words in an article title is eight. Apparently, to formulate the optimal headline, Buzzfeed editors brainstorm 50 different titles for each article. Also, make sure the thumbnail is essentially a call-to-action.

I knew that once I shared my Buzzfeed article, the [Community Post] disclaimer would cut off some of my title, so the good stuff had to come first. The final title was, “I Used All Star By Smash Mouth To Caption My Instagrams For The Past 7 Months.”



4. Spice it up. No one likes boring food.

Beautiful, high quality pictures, please! Almost 40% of readers bounce off an article before even reading the first sentence, and most visitors stop after reading 50% of an article. In our fast-paced environment, images tell a story without making us read. Posts on Facebook or Twitter with images get twice as many shares as posts without images.

My post is about Instagrams, so that was convenient. I made sure that my photographs actually matched the All Star lyric captions, and sometimes I would add a few filler words to make it more subtle.


5. Surprise me. I’ve had this dish before. What makes it new?

Posting something unexpected makes people look twice. There’s so much content out there that it can be hard to be original. If your article seems shocking or controversial, it breaks through the clutter.

There’s a lot of All Star clutter out there. But as far as I can tell, no one has used the entire song as their Instagram captions. I had that going for me. I also had the fact that after 7 months, some people still hadn’t noticed the trend in my captions (!!!). For those people, it was shocking and exciting to see I had pulled it off for this long. 


6.Would I want to Instagram your dish?

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 6.32.12 PM

Clickbait titles drive clicks, but will they drive shares? Is it too outrageous? People may not want that shocking content all over their Facebook wall.

This is something I struggled with. While fans of Shrek memes and All Star would be willing to share my post, the normal, non-meme-y people would not be so apt to let Aunt Sally know that their friend Katie grammed an homage to Smash Mouth.


7. Don’t give me so much food that I get tired of eating it, unless it’s really good.

Keep your post short and sweet. Videos are ideally less than 30 seconds, and the 10 is the optimal number of items in a list. The majority of articles are short, because they are easier to digest. But, if you have good enough content to seem intellectual, longform content will get more shares.

I considered making a video of my posts set to the song—but that would’ve been a 2+ minute video.


8. Okay, now that you’ve formulated the recipe and created the dish, it’s time to dig in. How do you feed as many people as possible?

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 6.20.28 PM

You need yeast to make the dough rise. Similarly, you need a strong base of loyal followers to kick off the process. Once they share it, their friends will share it too.

If, like me, you’re a nobody from the suburbs, you need to call on your “like squad” to activate and start getting your content out there.



9. Sometimes normal yeast doesn’t work. Go for the GMOs.

Want an extra boost? Call on an influencer. Getting one influencer will have a multiplier effect that will boost your post to true virility. Reaching out to an influencer might be more effective if you’ve been a long-term follower of theirs, and understand the best style to reach out to them.

This is where I was so close to taking my content from kinda viral to truly viral. I tweeted @jamesnielssen, my favorite All Star-focused memester with almost 58K followers. He liked my tweet and followed me—then I slid into his DMs. My very best attempts were futile, unfortunately, as he rarely shares others’ content. No response to my last message.



10. Make it at the right time and place. People don’t want to eat dinner in the morning at a bar.

The optimal day to post content is Tuesday. Pay attention to when your small group of followers seems the most active, and post then. Choose the right platform for your audience, too. Does your content appeal to Facebook’s population, or Pinterest’s?

I got a little hasty with my post, sharing around 4:00pm on a Thursday. It could have been worse, but it was definitely not strategic. I shared on Facebook first—which, while it generated the majority of shares, was piecemeal. There was no clear origin of the article—unlike a singular Tweet, which racks up retweet count from one origin. Unfortunately, my Tweet never really caught on.


Now, no recipe is perfect. Results may vary. And every chef can improve. My area for improvement: Reddit. I know that Reddit would eat up my All Star homage, but I don’t quite understand it. If you know Reddit, give me some advice in the comments!

If you don’t know Reddit or are just a generous person, toss my article a retweet. Maybe with your help, I’ll truly go viral.


  1. Very cool post! Love your Buzzfeed article, too. It took a lot of planning and creativity to set up all those photos and the hard work definitely shows.

    I think another big reason for going viral that plays a part in all of your steps is simply doing something creative and unique. People aren’t interested in reading the same old thing, but when you do something different, something exciting, people pay attention. They love it and they share it and they come back for more. It’s so easy to search the Internet for a specific topic and get thousands or even millions of results, but the things that stick out as being a little bit different and a little more exciting (like your article!) are the things that get the clicks. Awesome job.

  2. Great post. Already the title and design of your blog caught my eye, and I’m sure your Buzzfeed article will capture even more views right now. I saw it a few weeks ago and really liked it! It was interesting that you pointed out that Tuesday is the optimal day to post content. I did not know that (I would have assumed the weekend). Also saw that Linkedin and Pinterest’s best days for sharing content were Mondays, so this was surprising, too. I think that having the right audience and choosing the right platform to share and spread content are among the main pieces to successfully going viral, and I think you have provided some great tools here.

  3. Yet another fabulously creative post. Nice work! Of course, truly going viral involves a whole lot of luck. The most popular post on our class blog took off about a month after it had been originally written, eventually getting over 10K views!

  4. Great post! The Shrek soundtrack might be one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time, but that’s a different conversation…I really enjoy your thought-out steps and planning it took you to generate so many views, and I agree with your point on lists. I find myself clicking on more articles and posts that start with numbers, such as “10 Ways to Find Your Dream Job.” I took a class teaching inbound marketing best practices, and indeed, making lists in blog posts is a way to attract more awareness from customers. I also find it humorous in a sense that there is an ideal day to post because as an average user of social media, I presume that people are on their devices and social media everyday. But I guess there is an optimal time to post, and maybe I’ll start posting my social media content from now on Tuesdays. I’m impressed with the dedication and effort of your Instagram posts, and I’ll be sure to retweet you! Thanks for sharing!

  5. lenskubal · ·

    Great post! I found this blog post very interesting because the topic has fascinated me for years. It’s incredible to see the videos and Internet sensations that go viral. Sometimes, the rhyme and reason can’t easily be pinpointed, but your guide to going viral really highlighted some of the tools and steps one can take to become famous. Going viral seems to involve a ton of luck, but I think many of these steps you touched on could just speed up the process if your piece is “viral worthy.” It was cool to compare some of your steps with certain tendencies I’ve noticed to do as a consumer. I really appreciate your thought out, and diligent research into this topic.

  6. clinecapen · ·

    Really awesome post Katie! Thanks for sharing your experience it has a lot of insights about going viral and things I’ve never thought about, like the importance of day and time when posting. Your advise on lists and title length is really helpful. I loved your use of pictures and the format of this post made it easy to follow.

  7. alexisteixeiraa · ·

    Really enjoyed reading this post and loved the personal tie in. I think it is really cool that you were able to share your own insights into something that a lot of people are interested in. Each section was cleverly titled and well explained — overall loved the format and the content!

%d bloggers like this: