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What Does It Take to Produce Viral Content for Financial Services?

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We’ve all heard the rags-to-riches success stories that brands, content creators, and companies can sometimes experience when something they’ve created “goes viral.” These stories follow a familiar arc, beginning with a particularly original, sticky, authentic, shareable piece of content, which explodes onto the internet’s collective consciousness like an atom bomb, is shared like crazy through various social media channels, and ultimately results in huge spikes in traffic for the original creators of the viral content. This is the sort of attention that ETF issuers dream about: thousands of prospects pouring into their website or social channels at the top of their sales funnels, eagerly sharing the issuer’s content themselves—for free!

But what does it actually take to produce this sort of viral sensation? Can financial services companies really hope to latch onto a winning “viral formula” to launch next-level AUM growth in their products?

We’ve all encountered viral content online before, and chances are you’ve probably shared some viral content yourself. But did you ever stop to ask what it was about this particular post that spurred you to share it with others? We have! What follows are the key characteristics common across viral content, together with our commentary on how financial services companies might approach them:

Emotional

Perhaps most importantly, viral content must spur an emotional response in an audience. This emotion can be humor, joy, sadness, jealousy, or even disgust (positive emotions may work best for marketing purposes), but it must make content consumers on the other end feel something. If your audience doesn’t feel something, they’re not going to feel compelled to share your content with others, which is absolutely critical to going viral.

Already, we can sense your skepticism setting in. Can ETF issuers really produce content that spurs genuine emotion? Yes. It may require a light touch and careful thought regarding the target audience, message, and topic, but it certainly is possible. Even financial products and services can be interesting, engaging, and—yes!—even exciting with an open-minded approach and a willingness to think outside the box.

Related: Be Sweet to the Algorithm: Producing Content that Makes Google Happy

Related: A Closer Look: Connecting with Millennials

Authentic

“Authenticity” can be a slippery topic to grab hold of in the world of financial marketing, for a number of good reasons. Since they manage investors’ money, many financial services firms understandably seek to project an image of seriousness, responsibility, and trustworthiness; with an imaginative approach, these characteristics can be interesting, even viral. But it’s important to not lose sight of the authenticity of your content, which stems from an essential truthfulness about who you are as a company. All of which is to say: your audience is savvier than you think.

If your company is actually a bunch of brilliant goofball quants, use it! If your company has a quirky side that demonstrates some true humanity and a unique outlook, use that too! Just don’t insult your audience’s intelligence by pretending to be someone you’re not. Human beings are remarkably sensitive to insincerity and are less likely to share content that makes them feel as though they’re being manipulated or lied to.

Engaging (read: video or infographics)

Writers despair, directors rejoice: internet audiences are developing increasingly short attention spans as mobile devices expand their dominance, which is bad news for lengthy blog articles like this one, and great news for short, impactful videos or infographics. Mobile video usage has increased by nearly 10 million daily viewing minutes in the last two years, while eye-tracking studies have demonstrated that internet users pay closer attention to information-laden images (infographics) than they do to plain old text.

Shareable

Viral content spreads organically at lightning speed, almost always through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram. This means that your viral content should be posted directly to social media sites and optimized from the beginning to display properly in those environments. If social media users can’t share your content, it’s not going to go viral. You shouldn’t expect the tiny “share” icons on your website to do the work for you, unless you already have very heavy traffic visiting your existing webpage.

Bottom Line

So that’s it! While there’s unquestionably a good deal more that goes into viral content, including relevance, audience targeting, irreverence, and a good amount of luck (after all, “going viral” is never guaranteed), the key characteristics we shared above should be enough to get those wheels turning on whether your financial services firm may want to pursue this unorthodox, high-risk-high-reward marketing strategy.

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