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Remember the video of the guy who stood at a busy intersection offering everyone free hugs? The Free Hugs campaign was started by Juan Mann on December 1, 2004, when he began giving out hugs in the Pitt Street Mall in central Sydney.

That little video not only notched up millions of YouTube views, but also started a movement, known as the Free Hugs Campaign.

What exactly makes a simple, amateurish video like that go viral? And what are the qualities that define viral content – the holy grail for marketers who want to promote a brand or product on social media?

Although there are no guarantees for making your content go viral, I believe that, like the Free Hugs video, virality is created by a number of factors that work together to appeal to a large portion of humanity.

Here are the 7 qualities that I believe viral content must have.

1. Has global appeal

Like the concept of free hugs, a viral creative must appeal to a large portion of humanity. It must transcend boundaries of race, creed, gender, income and religion to appeal to humans at a very basic level.

2. Triggers a primal human emotion

Content goes viral because it triggers a very primal emotion in human beings. Love, compassion, laughter – these are all emotions that touch a primitive chord in us, making us want to share the content with other humans.

Fear also triggers a primal response, but I believe people are less likely to share a message that triggers negative emotions than one that triggers positive feelings.

3. Is humourous/moving/entertaining/fun

Viral content has a number of emotional triggers that make people want to share it with others. Content that elicits laughter, moves you to tears of joy, is inspiring, or is just plain fun and entertaining is content that gets shared.

Fun and entertainment, in particular get a large number of shares and eyeballs. Just check out how many views those videos of cute cats doing silly things get online.

4. Makes us believe in the goodness of human nature

We all want to believe that people are good at heart. That is why content that demonstrate a person’s compassion, heroism or attempts to create peace between warring factions gets a whole lot of love.

5. Makes the sharer look good to his/her network

We all want to look good in front of our friends and fans. Ever read one of those little Zen quotes or stories that seem to get so many shares? People love to share them, not only because it makes them think, but also because it makes the sharer come across as wise and profound to his/her audience.

6. Tells a story

Stories have been used for thousands of years to promote ideas and concepts. They have a very basic appeal and are engaging enough to make people want to read them in totality and share them with others.

7. Plays on popular memes

If you’ve ever seen or created an image based on the “Grumpy Cat” meme (the cat who hates everything and everyone), you know what I mean.


Content based on popular memes gets shared very quickly and widely because people immediately relate it to something else they have seen online. Just make sure your brand message has some relevance to the meme you use, or it will backfire.

Now that you know the 7 qualities of incredibly viral content, put on your thinking cap and work on your own ideas to take your brand or business further than it has ever gone before.