Lessons From Top Viral Content of 2016

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Having one piece of viral content can be a game changer. It take you from from standing room only to center stage before you know what’s happening. The problem is going viral isn’t easy. But maybe some stats and insight will give you an edge.


Buzzsumo helped with that by analyzing the viral content trends for 2016. And from them, what becomes obvious is that the most basic recipe for going viral is:

Have the right topic in the right format on the right platform.

For example, breaking news gets a lot of shares on Twitter whereas work-related content gets the most play on LinkedIn.

Other lessons to learn from the most viral content of 2016:

Facebook boosts your chances of going viral.

Certain types of content do well on particular platforms, but overall, posting on Facebook is a key component for going viral. Of the social media platforms, Facebook was the one most likely to set a post on fire, BuzzSumo revealed.

Facebook’s popularity probably has a lot to do with that. According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of all U.S. adults are now Facebook users.

Writing about research boosts chances of going viral on Facebook.

What’s surprising, at least to me, is that most of the top viral posts on Facebook are about research (Not celebrity life. Say whaatt?!). The most viral piece for 2016 was the article “New Alzheimer’s Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function.” It racked up over 5 million shares on Facebook and another 3,500 on LinkedIn.

But if you’re a writer, and you think all those shares mean you’ll have a lot of people linking to your article, think again. The Alzheimer’s article only got three links. Most people linked directly to the report.

Pinterest is the place to go for food and health.


Pinterest is also a powerhouse for viral content, especially items related to healthy living. Posts about food are a winner. The article “27 Healthy and Portable High-Protein Snacks” was shared over 2.2 million times, and nearly all of them were on Pinterest.

Pinterest users also like to share exercise content. Fitness Magazine’s “Abs Workout: Our Top 10 Exercises” was shared 1.9 million times, and 1.8 million shares were on Pinterest.

Offer inspiration on Pinterest.

People like to be inspired and they really like when it’s a visual experience. Life Hack scored with this winning combination at least twice last year. One of its posts, “100 Inspirational Quotes That Summarize The Wisdom About Life,” included an image for each quote and it was shared 3 million times on Pinterest.

According to BuzzSumo:

List post + promise of personal improvement in headline = a winner

4)Create quizzes.

The numbers reveal that people like to share quizzes. For example, the “How Sensitive Is Your OCD Radar” quiz on Playbuzz, got 3.4 million Facebook shares. It was also shared over 6,000 times by Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ users.

The thing about quizzes is that people will happily share them but few people link to them.

5) Get personal about politics.

Were you taught it’s best to keep your opinion to yourself? Well, not if you want to boost your chances of going viral with political pieces.

Political content got a lot of buzz  last year and Donald Trump was one of the hottest topics. That’s not shocking considering it was an election year and he was a primary candidate and winner.

What’s probably more surprising, however, is that the most viral content in the category was “An Open Letter To My Friends Who Support Donald Trump,” which was published by The Huffington Post. That piece got the most shares from Facebook users (2.2 million), but it drove a lot of activity across an array of platforms, including LinkedIn (989) and Google+ (513).

This and other popular posts revealed that writing laced with personal views gets more shares than hardcore journalism. Even for a top tier news provider like the New York Times, the most popular post in 2016 was a piece written by Op-Ed columnist David Brooks.

Overall, from the data, it appears people get most fired up about content that inspires them and content that offers hope and advice for self-improvement. And when people read the news, the pieces they find most engaging are those offer perspective and create a conversation about what’s happening.

In a nutshell:

Big personality, strong opinion, images & list post format boost chances for going viral post.

Now that you have some winning recipes in your content cookbook, get to work.