I was recently providing support to some folks crafting an online action page at Change.org, and they were hoping it would go “viral.” The issue was important (to them and also to me), the timeliness was there… if something is important, and you know there are folks who care deeply, is that enough to make it wildly popular? Not quite. You can’t make anything “go” viral — only users can do that themselves. But you can create the conditions in which something online can go viral.

Unlike a YouTube video — in which “viral” means a million viewers — for you, viral may mean that a few hundred people view it and pass it on. But if you want to create emails or online action pages that people are more likely to forward or share, first ask yourself three questions before you hit “publish” on an action page or “send” on an email call to action. 

1- Can anyone in my target audience glance at this and take in the most important information right away?

This means that there is not much scrolling involved, no jargon, and both the problem and solution have been boiled down to a fairly simple, obvious form. Your page at Change.org, for example, should summarize the issue in three paragraphs (max), and the email they are sending to a decision-maker should be similarly short. Your photo should help make the point. The reason you’ve selected the target should be obvious. Everything on the page should be simple and direct.

2- Is there a benefit that someone gets by sharing this? Will the reader seem smarter, more generous, or more “in the know” if they share it with their own network of professional or personal contacts? Will it help other people in their network? Will they get a chance to win a prize? Will they get a warm fuzzy feeling? Think about it from their perspective — in their busy lives, why is this worth the time it would take? is there even a slim chance it would make them look naive/flaky to forward it? Because then they won’t. 

3- Is this easy to share? Make it easy to share — there’s a reason that those “share” buttons linked to Facebook and Twitter are turning up all over the place — one or two clicks should be all it takes.

Here are a couple other folks with great yet simple insights into what makes something online “viral:”

Seth Godin’s “What Makes an Idea Viral?” For those of you who are seeking a marketing guru to follow, Seth Godin may fit the bill.

Frogloop’s What Makes a Campaign Go Viral? Frogloop is a great blog on nonprofit communications and the online world.

Bottom line though: you don’t decide if something is viral  — a bunch of other people do. So plan around them, and you just might get lucky. 

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