How to Use Social Listening to Create Viral Content

Viral content is inherently unpredictable.

You could have two similar pieces of content—with one receiving thousands upon thousands of shares and the other languishing in obscurity.

In that regard, there’s no magic formula that will enable you to create viral content on command.

It’s not like you can just flip a switch and get mass exposure.

It doesn’t work like that.

But there are several things you can do to increase the chances of your content going viral.

That’s what I want to talk about in this post.

More specifically, I’m going to explain how you can use social listening to your advantage.

Social listening, defined as “the process of monitoring digital conversations to understand what customers are saying about a brand and industry online,” is most commonly used for evaluating customer feedback and identifying their pain points.

But I’ve also found it to be absolutely perfect for predicting what my audience is craving and what’s most likely to go viral.

The way I see it, social listening is perhaps the best way to predict virality.

Here is how you can utilize it to your advantage.

Effectively analyzing content

There’s a popular expression:

the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Although this can be debatable, depending on the context in which it’s used, you’ll want to follow this line of thinking in this instance.

Like I said earlier, you can never say with 100% certainty that a particular piece of content will go viral.

But what you can do is see what’s resonating the most with your audience at the moment.

If you notice that a particular topic, angle, theme, etc. is completely killing it, there’s a good chance you’ll see favorable results if you cover it as well.

But how do you know what’s popular and what’s resonating with your audience?

That’s where social listening comes in.

The key to effective social listening is knowing which tools to use.

I’m going to cover a few of my favorites you can use to discover trends and identify topics that have the potential to go viral.

Google Trends

Let’s start from the top.

I use Google Trends quite frequently for market research and for gauging people’s interest in various topics.

But I find it can also be helpful for identifying the hottest topics at any given moment.

For starters, you can simply go to the Google Trends homepage.


Start scrolling down to see the top trending stories:


Sometimes, this can give you some potential ideas to work with.

Of course, the trending stories aren’t narrowed down by niche or topic, so you’re dealing with a wide variety of subject matter.

But sometimes that’s all it takes.

If you see something that interests you, click on it:


You’ll then get some of the most relevant articles, which should provide further clarification on what’s popular at the moment:


In this case, a lot of people are talking about Snapchat’s new “Snap Map” feature.

Therefore, this could be something I would want to investigate further and a potential topic I could cover.

Using Top Charts

Another useful feature is called “Top Charts.”

From the Google Trends homepage, click here:


Then click on “Top Charts:”


Here’s what you’ll see:

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Scroll down to look at all the different categories.

Or you can search for a relevant category by clicking on “All Categories” and choosing the one you’re looking for:



Once you’ve found your category, you can click on “More” for more detailed information:

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The logic here is that you can use up-to-date data from Google to see what people are most interested in at the moment in your industry/niche.

Google Trends is by no means a be-all and end-all social listening tool, but it can serve as a nice starting point.

This is only applicable to digital marketers like myself.

But if this is your area of focus, it can be a potential gold mine.

Here’s what you want to do.

Once you’re at the homepage, scroll all the way down to the bottom.

You’ll see this:


Click on whatever sub-category you’re interested in.

I’ll go with SEO:

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Here’s what I get:


Scroll through the list, looking for ideas. does most of the heavy lifting for you by curating the top stories.

Many have received a high volume of shares, so you know the interest it there.

Also note once you sign up, you can create your own feed to streamline the process even more.

This way the stories come right to you.


Now, let’s bring out the big guns.

BuzzSumo is a beast when it comes to finding out how much engagement content receives.

And since engagement (shares in particular) is the ultimate indicator of virality, this is one of the best ways to capitalize on trends and increase your odds of creating viral content.

Here’s what you want to do.

Type in a keyword you’re looking to base your content on in the search box of your dashboard.

I’ll use “SEO” as an example:


Now, set your filter date to a time that sounds right to you.

Because we want to capitalize on current trends, I recommend going back no further than six months.

However, the past month or week is ideal.

You can even set it to the last 24 hours, but you’ll usually have limited data.

I’ll set mine to the past week:

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Once you do that, BuzzSumo will populate your screen with the top content according to total shares.

Here are the top results I got:

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Now all I have to do is browse through the content and look for two things:

  1. content that’s relevant to my industry/niche
  2. content that’s received a significant number of total shares and/or links.

This post from Search Engine Land about testing accelerated mobile pages (AMP) for WordPress caught my attention:

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Not only did it get 1.5k shares in the past week, it also got 41 backlinks.

This lets me know that my audience is obviously interested in this topic.

And if I created an article that was bigger, better and more epic, it would have a reasonable likelihood of going viral.

This is the formula you want to use with BuzzSumo.

It doesn’t matter what topic you’re covering.

Following these steps will let you know what people are responding to and give you very specific data to base your decisions on.

Let me say that the Pro version is ideal because it gives you a lot more data.

That’s what I used for this example.

However, you can do a limited search with the free version, which can still be useful.

Other tools

So far I’ve provided you with three different resources for social listening.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There are several other tools you can experiment with, many of which are free.

Check out this list of the top 15 free social media monitoring tools from Brandwatch for info on other tools.

Taking what you’ve learned and running with it

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of which topics are popular at the moment and what your audience is responding to.

That means you’re not basing your content on a hunch. You’re basing it on tangible data.

Your job now is to create the best content possible around that topic.

Now, I’m not saying you should blatantly rip someone off.

What you want to do is put your own spin on things.

Look for a way to expand on it.

And, of course, it needs to be awesome.

It needs to be epic.

Just think skyscraper technique.

Hitting the mark in terms of quality and value is absolutely essential if you expect for your content to go viral.

I’ve already covered this extensively in the past, so there’s no need to talk about it here.

But let me point you to a couple of articles I’ve written that should be helpful.

There’s this one from

It’s a guide for writing epic content that will go viral.

And there’s this one from Quick Sprout, which is about the anatomy of virality.


Social listening is useful for many different aspects of marketing.

Using it to gauge your audience’s collective reaction to various topics will give you a good idea of what type of subject matter is most likely to go viral.

This gives you valuable knowledge to guide your content creation.

In turn, you can “scratch your audience’s itch” and give them what they’re looking for.

And just think of the competitive advantage this gives you over other brands that simply slap up content at random without giving it any real thought.

While there are never any guarantees that something will go viral, following this formula increases the chances significantly.

What do you think is the main contributing factor for content going viral?


  1. J. Ustpassing :

    Things going “viral” may have certain features in common,
    but there is technically only one single factor that counts;
    masses of people deciding it’s worth sharing.

    There have been numerous “studies” and lots of “research” done on the subject,
    (quotes are used because half the studies and research are half-baked and more observational than actual studying).
    These have shown that though there are certain features that are prominent – those features are not stable; they do not appear consistently in the majority of cases.
    Factor X may be present in 30%, Factor Y in another 45%, Factor Z in 30% – but you don’t often see them in pairs or as a triplet (etc. etc. etc.).

    That said, I’ve often thought that those attempting to “analyse” (quoted again 😀 – and I use that term very loosely!) previously viral content are looking at things with bias. They are trying to measure something with metrics they know, which may mean they are not measuring other factors. Imagine all the potential attributes of examining an animal – species, blood type, diet, limbs, skin, teeth type, eye position, vision type etc. If you’re not a zoologist, chances are they you’ll only consider certain factors, and miss out a ton of others – same here.
    Try looking at the viral from a different perspective – those that share.

    What makes them share it – what benefits do they gain?
    Is it a single benefit, is it static, is it the same for everyone?
    Or are there multiple benefits, or ones that change over time, or that only apply to certain sub-audiences/social groups etc.?
    A prime example is the humourous virals. In the main, they are funny. But there’s far more to it than that. They are often short, require little thought, contain no real pitch/marketing, appeal to us on a base level (sometimes very base!) etc.
    The result is that it’s almost universal – most cultures share a lot when it comes to humour. It also means the potential audience is gigantic.
    Now consider a video for your industry – the audience is generally going to be far (far!) smaller. If you are targeting B2B rather than B2C, then it’s smaller still!

    Then we can look at motive – the primary factor behind sharing (the psychology of sharing). In many cases, it’s selfish – it’s a case of “look what I found” and “aren’t I great for finding this” and even “follow me as I’m good at finding good stuff” (how many influencers that does ring a bell to :D).
    But that means that the item being shared has to have value – you don’t look good sharing [something that begins with S]. You won’t earn brownie points or tons of followers sharing [S].

    There are numerous other facets and factors you can look at – the killer is of course timing. I’m confident that some things only became successful due to freak-timing asnd luck/coincidence.
    That said, if you dig a little, you’ll likely find several previous pieces, which goes to show that you should keep trying (strangely enough, the more you do, the more you practice, the luckier you get :D)

    So you can see how Psych plays a part, and how audience matters, and how there has to be some sort of value – but what value?
    Well, humour has value, entertainment value. Other value types include things like information and education, or social conscience or even legal/lawful.

    So when looking at “viral content” – look at the audience and try to fathom why they are sharing (and remember, at the end of the day, the large majority of us aren’t that different, and are actually quire shallow – so be honest in your observations).

    The tools and methods above are good starting points, but make sure you dig deeper and think further than the generalised data such tools provide you. Look for events that occurred around the same time, look at the sharers in stages and see if you can track it like a virus, look at what people got back in return (time-lapsing would be useful at that point!).

    • It’s definitely complex, but you’re right. The first step is to create something worth sharing. Digging into existing content is useful, too.

  2. Kyler Patterson :

    With BuzzSumo, I use the trending tab. It has some defined categories, but free accounts can set a custom category. From there I add a bunch of sites in my niche and watch that daily. Could also do keywords and such, but I found that doing the sites worked better.

  3. I totally like your honesty about the unpredictability of virality in most cases.

    Here are some quick points that I’ll like to add, so that peeps out there don’t go into depression if some of their seemingly best contents fail to crawl out of their doors.

    The viral potential of any content also depends on some of these factors:

    1. The reach of the content drivers. By this, I mean how much initial exposure the content gets via its first sharing medium.

    2. The content theme. A lifestyle blog post is more than likely to go viral compared to a content marketing blog post that talks about keyword research.


    Seth’s marriage is not for you – Up to 1,500 shares within few weeks and won him a book deal.

    I doubt if a similar content format in marketing niche ‘ll get near that mark. E.g SEO is not for you. [ And so… Who cares? ]

    Concerning the tools you mentioned, I have tried tweaking Twitter’s advance search to get some of these things done.

    Great and honest piece!

  4. Hi Neal,

    Great info! I know this is oftopic, but can you please tell me how you make the screenshots? If I make a printscreen and upload IT to WordPress IT becomes verry ugly.

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