How to make a tweet/Facebook post go viral – 7 lessons from ‘You don’t need your polling card’

Last Wednesday, the day before the general election, I casually popped a little note on social media.

That message exploded. I’ve had posts go viral before, but this was by far the biggest. So I thought it would be interesting to bash out the stats of the tweet, and try to explore why this message triggered the instinct to share when others – whether about the election or not – didn’t.

In the run-up to the election, I’d been involved in the voter registration drive. So with pushing participation on my mind, the day before the vote I remembered that in the last election (they seem to come along quite frequently at the moment) many had asked if they could vote without their polling cards. So I did a quick message to try to pre-empt questions. Here’s what happened…

First Twitter…

The most important ‘viralness’ metric is the number of retweets, as that’s how many people republished it to their own followers. This included hundreds of ‘verified’ accounts many with substantial followings such as @achrisevans or @GemmaAnneStyles.

That, of course, generates into eyeballs on the message. To show how that translates, here are the full stats from Twitter Analytics (on Sat), including the number of impressions (how many people actually saw it)…

– Impressions: 5,050,836
– Total engagements: 136,896
– Retweets: 46,506
– Detail expands: 35,151
– Likes: 27,862
– Profile clicks: 26,766
– Replies: 549
– Follows: 62

Yet that was dwarfed by Facebook

What’s called a retweet on Twitter is a share on Facebook. As you can see, these triple the Twitter RT numbers. Sadly my Facebook account doesn’t give me access to details of the post’s reach (the only other stat I have is there were 2,000+ comments). Yet as a very clumsy and inexact method, if we take the same multiplier or ‘shares to reach’ as Twitter, this post had over 15 million impressions.

The response…

The feedback on the tweet was mostly strong, including huge numbers of relieved messages such as “Phew, I couldn’t find my card since refurbishing”, and others indicating they were relieved having seen it, and it encouraged them to vote.

The little criticism that came was from those who felt the message implied not to take your card, whereas actually having a polling card with you can make the process quicker (I took mine). Though some people who were acting as election tellers wrote back saying it really wasn’t a problem.

I did hear one report from a teller from someone who hadn’t been registered to vote turning up as “Martin Lewis says I don’t need a polling card”. That’s a shame – I think they must’ve misread the message, but as this was all done long after registration closed, I’m at least comfortable they hadn’t thought it meant they needn’t register.

Seven reasons this message got so big…

The post wasn’t calculated or designed to go viral. I suspect that is an advantage. Trying to make something viral would likely feel contrived. Having said that it’s still worth trying to work out why this particular message hit the ‘share it’ touch paper.

Of course that doesn’t mean following these rules will automatically result in another viral message – but it could help focus and increase the range of your social media posts.

These are just my reasons though, if you disagree or have other thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the discussion at the end.

  1. It had near universal application. The huge majority of UK over 18-year-olds are registered to vote. Turnout in the election was 68%. Even though my normal posts have a wide range, talking about credit cards, savings or mortgages – the constituency of this one was far larger.
  2. It was pegged on the topic of the moment. The general election is big news. We have saturation coverage and it’s the current water-cooler conversation. Therefore rather than trying to create a new story, this message was piggybacking off the zeitgeist of the day.
  3. It was a very simple, factual message. There’s no complexity, just an easy fact to understand.
  4. The impact is obvious. Immediately on reading the first line you can quickly understand why it matters. And then within the tweet I’d reinforced this with the line “Don’t be wrongly put off”.
  5. A trusted source. Hopefully I don’t sound a prat for writing this about myself. Yet I’m known and trusted to provide factual information (to provide an example of a source for that, see this Spectator article). When you get an information tweet like this, if there’s even a little doubt about the source, people won’t retweet – so the information provider has to resonate with the information.
  6. It had the ‘I didn’t know that’ factor. While of course some people know this (some people know everything!), reading the responses many were unsure. In fact some even responded to double-check with questions like, “Then why do they send it to you?” (It’s to confirm you’re registered and inform you of which your polling station is.) When people receive something they didn’t know before, the discovery factor makes them more likely to share it.
  7. There’s a level of public service – doing one’s duty. Many people, including me, feel engaged and protective of our democratic process and the right to vote. With that comes an almost evangelical zeal to make sure it goes right. This tapped into that.

The other way to go viral, of course, is to be very famous and say something controversial or revealing…