How we predict what goes viral on Facebook

July 12, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

What are the secrets to going viral? We share how to predict the top stories, outshine your competition, and learn your audience inside and out. 

Going viral is the elusive, holy grail of content creation. You put hard work into a story, video, or epic meme, and hope that the internet masses will appreciate your work for the masterpiece it is.
As we all know, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Is there a way to simply just, go viral? We wanted to figure it out. 

First, where do we have the biggest chances of going viral? Facebook is a live wire for your content to reach levels of virality. Of course, there are ways to go viral on Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and the like as well. But Facebook offers an enormous audience and with its friends and family algorithm, you’re more likely to reach more and more people as your audience starts sharing. 

Consider the Dodo, LittleThings, NowThis, and of course, Chewbacca Mom. Their success is rooted in Facebook’s snowball effect. 

But how can you know what will go viral on Facebook? How can you give your content every chance for success? We looked at three ways, backed by our data, to help you go viral across your audience, industry, or if you’re feeling lucky, the whole world.

1. What are the top trends and stories about to go big?

What gets people buzzing on social media? It’s worth taking a look at the top engaging posts already to find trends that can extend to your own content. Let’s look at the top travel Facebook posts from publishers in June. 

We can see some trends that are driving engagements right now. Videos are highly successful, for one. Content around castles does well, as does content around exotic travel locations and animals. If we were a travel-focused publisher, this can help us make informed decisions about what content we should produce.

Here at NewsWhip, we can use Spike to take the guesswork out of the equation.

While in ye olden days, content creators may have used buzzy, hyperbolic words in headlines, photoshopped the most eye-catching visuals, or sacrificed interns to a pagan marketing god, today’s machine learning advancements make it easier than ever to predict what will go viral.

NewsWhip Spike predicts how much engagement the post will achieve over the course of the day, based on early signals from a post’s reception in the first hours after its publication. If a post is 30 minutes old, Spike can predict what its Facebook interactions will look like in two hours’ time.

Take a look at this 30-minute view into our news category. In just two hours, these posts are predicted to have tens of thousands of interactions.

Editors and reporters alike can use these predictions to figure out a story’s viral potential. With these signals, we can see early in the day which posts across are likely to be trending across Facebook by lunch. We can have a better idea of how our content will perform, as well as competitors’ content in our space. We can figure out how to plan our own promotion and placement, based on these predictions. 

Predictive insights make day-to-day content creation easier through creating actionable insights and signals. 

We could look at these insights across Facebook, or hone in on a specific keyword, vertical, or region. What are the stories that will perform the strongest in travel?

Outdoors-focused travel posts seem to be resonating strongly with this audience. If we were a travel publisher, that’s could be a strong insight to tailor our own day’s content creation around. 

2. What are the top formats on social media?

Delivering the right story to your audience also depends on how you deliver it. Again, look to both Facebook in general for best practices, and your target audience.

What are the top engaging content types that you see again and again for your audience? Is the post best done as an external link, a photo, a video, or something else?

You may have an idea with this for your own content, but it’s worth learning how your competitors are engaging your target audience as well. As we saw above, the top travel posts of June were primarily native videos.

We could use Spike again to predict the types of Facebook posts that will drive large engagements. Or we could take a historic view to analyze publishers side by side. In NewsWhip Analytics, we can match up any Facebook Pages that we’d like. Let’s look at five Facebook Pages for travel publishers and their content output vs. shares driven in June 2017.

We can see that while all of these Facebook Pages are producing a majority of link posts, the bulk of shares come from video content. INSIDER travel saw nearly 100 percent of its shares come from video posts in June. Its video posts saw more than 40,000 shares on average, compared to its link posts’ average of 14 shares per link post. 

INSIDER travel also drove the most engagements overall of these publishers at nearly 3.3 million engagements in June, so it might be worth experimenting with video content to increase our own viral potential.

3. What does your audience crave?

What are the themes that resonate with your audience? It’s likely you already have a good idea. Dive deep. What are the captions that work? The visuals? The subject matter?

INSIDER travel’s top posts came from showing viewers something out of the ordinary. These videos, then shared, were able to reach more and more people across Facebook, opening the publisher up to a much broader audience. 

INSIDER travel’s top post of June was shared nearly 500,000 times. That’s 500,000 more chances to appear in the news feed and reach each of these people’s social networks.

Other way to go more viral is by honing in on the audiences themselves. Some publishers are seeing success by dividing their content into verticals on Facebook. These highly focused Pages can drive more engagement by delivering the right content to the right audience.

According to Digiday, a story on HuffPost’s introvert Facebook Page drove five times the amount of shares than it did on HuffPost’s lifestyle Facebook Page.

Tools like NewsWhip Spike and Analytics make it easy to see all your social engagement analytics in one place. If we look at INSIDER’s Facebook Pages and their engagements in June, we can see that INSIDER’s food vertical drives by far the most Facebook engagements.

For its other verticals, INSIDER might want to branch out into creating food content that overlaps into the niches of travel, decor, art, and science. 

The most passionate of readers around those topics may be more likely to share, and then, we are organically reaching that person’s entire network on the platform. Shares from friends and family are much more likely to be seen than from a publisher or brand, so it’s worth experimenting.

Go viral

We’re emerging on a new era, where going viral with one’s audience can be achievable through data-driven insights and knowing your target followers inside and out.

By looking to the data with what’s engaging with your audience, you can discard what doesn’t work and focus on the stories and formats that resonate. Once you create the content that is going to get them sharing and commenting, tagging other users, your content can do better against the algorithm. 

The secret formula of going viral is constantly evolving. It means understanding the landscape on Facebook, the content that is likely to succeed right now, the right formats to deliver your content, and what your audience is hungry for.

Take a trial of NewsWhip Spike and see what stories are predicted to go viral for your audience


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