10 Social Media Posts that went Viral (and spread like wildfire)

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So you want to go viral. Going viral means that your message has “infected” or made an impact on a lot of people. As a result, it gets shared over and over again.

Hands down, social media is the BEST place to go viral. The fact that people are closely connected on Facebook or Twitter makes sharing a breeze.

Put out content that resonates with their hearts and the next thing you know, it becomes a hit.

Now, the biggest question: How do you actually go viral?

I have to be honest with you… there is NO ONE ANSWER to go viral. But I can tell you 3 things that will help you in your efforts:

  1. Know your viral coefficient. Read: the viral theory explained
  2. Test a combination of strategies to see what works. (see the examples in the next section.)
  3. Persistence… just don’t give up!

I’d love to give you ideas that can help in your efforts. So, I compiled a list of 10 examples of actual social media viral content.

10 Examples of Viral Social Media Posts

1. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m sure you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The campaign was started to increase awareness and support to the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis despite the fact that it affects only a small portion of the population.

The mechanics of the challenge was to pour a bucket of ice and water over your head and challenge a friend to do the same within 24 hours. This viral marketing campaign sparked donations for the A.L.S. Association amounting to $115 million.

Reasons for going viral:

  • It took place during the summertime. Nobody wants to bask in ice water in winter, right? Summer also meant people had more time for fun and excitement.
  • Celebrity participation attracts more participants. Think about social proof.
  • The campaign itself was for a cause. We want to take part in selfless acts that “change the world” because it makes us feel good about ourselves!
2. Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Facebook Thumbs Up

Cadbury wanted to thank their fans after reaching 1 million likes on their UK Facebook page. To celebrate the win, they built an enormous chocolate “Facebook Like button” in 2 days. It weighed as much as 24 baby elephants.

They streamed the video so fans could see them work in real-time. Never did they expect their video would go viral on Facebook. Fans cheered the Cadbury team. They were also given the chance to have their own Cadbury chocolates added to the growing sculpture.

This resulted in 40,000 more followers!

Reasons for going viral: 

  • Live streaming is raw and authentic and people love that. This strategy got fans interacting with the Cadbury team in real-time.
  • Facebook’s “Like” button is universally accepted. 4 million likes happen every minute. Creating something people can immediately relate to is likely to go viral.
3. Nicholas Kusmich’s “Charity:Water” Campaign

In 2017, Nicholas Kusmich set out on a journey that would boost the sales of his $4 book on Facebook advertising. To get as many eyeballs to his product as possible, he used our very own viral marketing tool UpViral.

First, Nic created a landing page where he explained the book. He stated that 100% of the sales will be donated to communities worldwide in need of clean water. Every book buyer also gets a $197 worth of bonus.

Nic made a contest out of the campaign. He would incentivize people who brought in the most customers through a personal invite link (using UpViral). The reward was $10K worth of bonuses.

Reasons for going viral:

  • He promoted his landing page to his Facebook group which had over 25 thousand members.
  • People were enticed by the incentives ($197 free training for buyers and $10K worth of bonuses for contest entrants). This prompted them to share the campaign over and over again.
  • Through UpViral, every visitor that participated was given a unique invite link. New contest entrants used this link to spread the message and bring in more people repeatedly. This unique link also tracked referrals and incentivized those who did well!

4. National Geographic’s #PlanetOrPlastic Campaign

NatGeo just caught the world’s attention with their June 2018 magazine cover that featured something that looked like an iceberg. Look closer and you’ll realize that it’s actually plastic.

This image raises awareness to one of today’s biggest problem: 18 billion pounds of plastic ending up in the ocean. NatGeo’s Twitter followers immediately spread the magazine image and other images that convey the impact of plastic on the environment.

Reasons for going viral:

  • Plastic is a pressing issue and it affects everyone.
  • NatGeo used striking imagery to trigger emotional reactions.
  • They used a campaign hashtag #PlanetOrPlastic that was in line with the present issue. It encouraged people who cared about the campaign to create user-generated content.
5. Metro Trains’ Dumb Ways to Die 

Find yourself singing to the tune of “Dumb Ways to Die?” If there’s a company that hit bullseye when it comes to great advertising, that’s Metro Trains.

In 2012, Metro Trains Melbourne took it upon themselves to promote safety around trains in a really creative and engaging way. Because in the past, people never really took safety information at the stations that much.

With the help of McCANN Melbourne advertising agency, the viral marketing video was created. As of today, it garners over 168 million YouTube views and 1.3 million likes.

Reasons for going viral:

  • Dumb Ways to Die uses storytelling. It cites real-life examples of how carelessness can lead to catastrophic events.
  • Although this campaign is advertising, it isn’t obvious!
  • The jingle stuck in people’s heads. It’s catchy and rhythmic.
6. TOMS One Day #WithoutShoes Campaign

How do you feel about posting an Instagram photo of your bare feet? Feels kind of awkward, unless you have a good reason for it.

TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie came up with a superb idea:

Offer Instagrammers the opportunity to give a pair of shoes to a child in need. All they have to do is share a barefoot photo and use the hashtag #WithoutShoes. The best part? No purchase was needed!

Reasons for going viral:

  • TOMS was a company that had a mission. That alone attracted people who want to help.
  • The rules were very easy!
  • It was made clear what the benefits of the campaign were: To prevent disease, help them walk comfortably, and complete their school uniform.
  • Celebrities like Zendaya and Chelsea Handler participated in sharing and spreading the word.

7. Barbie’s Imagine the Possibilities

Mattel’s Barbie experienced a sales decline in 2014. People have been tired of their stereotypical doll figure. Juliana L. Chugg joined the company and had a mission to change how the world thinks of Barbie.

The goal was to show millennial parents that through Barbie, little girls can imagine themselves as anyone they want to become. The video got 4 million views, 18K shares, and a truckload of praise.

One mother on Facebook commented, “That moved me a little lol that was just like me n now my little girl.”

Reasons for going viral:

  • The roles that the little girls played were universal – veterinarian, professor, coach, businesswoman, and museum guide. They elicited familiar feelings.
  • Barbie used a surprise twist. As an adult, wouldn’t you find a little girl as your substitute teacher adorable?
8. Worldwide Breast Cancer’s #KnowYourLemons

Stats show that about 1 in 8 women is likely to get cancer in the course of her lifetime. Despite the efforts to educate women about the signs of breast cancer, still, many women don’t know what to look for.

Breast cancer survivor Erin Smith Chieze shared a photo (above) that alerted her to have a check-up. Urging those who were willing to help spread awareness on Facebook, she wrote, “So if you truly want to help people WITH cancer, or those who will GET cancer, share photos like this one.”

Know Your Lemons photo reached 166 million in January 2017 and shared over 40,000 times.

Reasons for going viral:

  • The signs of breast cancer were easily depicted through lemons. Even women with low health literacy would be able to understand the picture.
  • Instead of using actual breasts as the subject of the campaign, lemons were used – they’re more acceptable to the public.
9. Turkish butcher Nusret Gocke as “Salt Bae”

Ottoman steak 🔪

A post shared by Nusr_et#Saltbae (@nusr_et) on

After posting a video of himself chopping a steak and artfully sprinkling salt onto it, the video went viral. Now, everybody dubs him as “Salt Bae” and the video itself gave rise to the hashtag #SaltBae.

You’ll be impressed: It garnered over 16.5 million views and captured the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Reasons for going viral:

  • Nusret Gocke chose the right social media platform which was Instagram. The platform is getting more popular because of its mobile functionality and visual nature.
  • His unconventional style and charming personality shine.
  • He already had a huge following before the video. This helped spread his message quickly.
10. Mike Edgette’s Discovery: KFC’s 11 Herbs & Spices

On October 20, 2017, a random guy named Mike Edgette, tweeted about his recent discovery. He noticed that KFC follows 11 people. 5 of them are the Spice Girls and 6 people whose names are Herb. It’s KFC’s secret recipe: 5 spices and 6 herbs.

His tweet got 4.6K comments and was retweeted 314K times. KFC awarded him with a priceless painting of Colonel Sanders giving him a piggyback ride. Thanks to his viral discovery!

News of the discovery was even featured on Time Magazine.

Reasons for going viral:

  • People think that the Edgette’s discovery was brilliant.
  • The fact that Edgette was a random guy, not in any way connected to KFC or their ad agency, blew people’s minds away.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, even the little things a person or brand does can go viral even without expectation. The internet makes it very easy for something to spread like wildfire. Plan to create viral content? Hopefully, the examples above have shown you factors that increase sharing.

Notice that one or more of the viral social media posts on our list involve elements of community participation, celebrity involvement, and surprise.