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Five Steps to a Killer Viral Tweet: TAR, Tag and Test!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Earlier this week I wrote a post on Google Instant that went viral on Twitter via a retweet from "A-list" blogger Robert Scoble, aka @scobleizer, to his 138k+ followers. Instead of being retweeted 5-10 times (my typical average), that post has currently reached over 100 retweets and hundreds of thousand of potential readers, blowing away my previous best of 23 retweets (so far) for my six Twitter sales tips post (posted last week).

So, here are the lessons I learned in getting that coverage; lessons that you can put into practice yourself.

1) Write great content with broad potential appeal

Obvious, but nobody's going to retweet diddly if your post isn't any good to them or their followers. I thought that the Google Insight post was a good one, but don't expect every post you write to be a home run. It won't be. But without the basic of a good article with broad appeal, nothing is going to happen. Keep it short and to the point.

2) TAR your post

Your post should be TARred:

T - Timely
A - Actionable
R - Relevant

You need all three to have the best chance of going viral, which "SEO: Three Things ..." was.
  1. Google Insight had been launched that day, so it was timely.
  2. It was actionable, containing three four easy steps any blogger could take right then.
  3. All of which made it relevant - stuff that almost any blogger could do, so it had broad appeal.
Any one of these will be good enough for your core audience. Two will get you out of the box somewhat (that was my "6 twitter sales tips" post - it was actionable and relevant, but not timely as such). Get all three, and your odds of viral break-out are much improved.

3) Write a catchy headline

140 characters isn't much (although it's more than is effective in an email subject line). Try and keep your headline short and punchy - 65 characters is a good target.
  • If it is a "how-to" (which any actionable post can be), put the number of steps in the title.
  • I added a sense of urgency by capitalizing "NOW" (but don't over do caps, else you only come across as spammy or shouting) - that worked, and added to the timeliness.
  • Finally, I made sure "Google Instant" was in the subject, emphasizing its relevance.  So both the post and its headline were covered in TAR. Try and do that for your next killer tweet or blog post!
4) Tag and Test

Once you're good to go, add a tag or two. Why? Because power users - the folks you need to get the viral ball rolling - are looking for search terms. Tags will get into their search results, where (with any luck) your TARred headline will get them to click through.

For the Google Insight tweet the tag pair that worked was #seo and #googleinsight - I saw a couple of tweets from folks I follow with many followers use #googlenisight, and I added #seo because that was what the post was about. I think it was the combination of these two that got Scoble's attention, and the rest is history.

But here's the thing. You may have the world's greatest tweet and STILL get nowhere. I first tweeted "SEO" without tags, got nothing. I tweeted it again with a tag for a community I'm engaged with; nothing again.  It was the third time when I decided to go for the broad TAR tags that worked.  So test a little if you don't get picked up - but don't go overboard. Overly tweeting the same old stuff will surely aggravate your core Twitter audience - your followers - as you vainly trawl for that secret viral moment.

Give yourself three strikes, then you're out. And save this for your best posts; don't try it every time.

5) @Reply with Relevance

If you're following folks and they're writing about the topic (and they are, right, because you're being timely), reply to them with a comment and a link to your post. My post was included in a Google Insight wrap up because I replied to a tweet from @leeodden with a link to my piece a day later. So keep plugging away as long as your post is still covered in TAR.

One Last Thing ... Bonus Advice!

Be ready for when you go viral

Make sure you have your sharing and subscribing links / icons up!

Don't be too disappointed once it's over

At the end of the day, I gained maybe 30 extra Twitter followers from the experience - up by about 25 from a typical day, so 5x better than usual, but despite the thousands of extra views it wasn't that many. So don't be too upset if you don't get a tidal wave of new subscribers or followers...

Rinse and Repeat

... because what you do have now is greater awareness about you and your site within a broader audience.  If you plug away, and keep writing timely, actionable content, they'll be back. More will stay.

Which is what I'm doing now!  Putting it into practice. Good luck ... and if these tips help you go viral, please give us a little link love when you do!

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