From previous research, we found that the top 1 percent of content drives more than 80 percent of social referrals, and content follows a power law. This means it's critically important for you to identify content with the potential to jump into this top 1 percent and promote it early, as each dollar of paid promotional spend will have exponentially more impact on content that has viral appeal than content that does not.

So how do you find these winning pieces of content? Do you need to wait weeks or months for data and try to guess?

Or is success within the first hour of publication enough to predict the chance of viral success over its lifetime? We analyzed 50 million pieces of content across our entire network and found:

1.   With a big enough audience, high social traffic in the first hour is a good indicator of future success; however,

2.   Low social traffic in the first hour is not an indicator the content won’t do well overall.

Only 15 percent of all the content in the 90th percentile* for social referrals over its lifetime performed well enough in the first hour to be in the 90th percentile in that first hour. This means that 85 percent of the top pieces of content across our entire network were not successful in the first hour.

Social Referrals Percentile Graph

Why should you care? 

Most importantly, this means that you don't have to treat all content as equal. You can publish content, wait to see if it's taking off, and then decide if it's worth spending amplification dollars on, vs spending against all pieces of content.

Additionally, don’t get discouraged if something isn’t performing well in the first hour after you publish (if you're a brand with a smaller audience, it may take a longer initial time window). There’s still a chance it’ll do well later.

These findings also mean you need to produce a large volume of content to better your chances of finding one piece that will hit the top 1, 5, or even 10 percent of content – either immediately or later. 

And when you do find one of these, it’s important to take action as soon as possible to amplify its reach even further, regardless of whether it was published an hour ago or a year ago. You should:

  • Post the content to all of your affiliated Facebook pages
  • Tweet it from all of your affiliated accounts
  • Add it into paid content distribution networks like Outbrain and Taboola
  • Feature it on your homepage
  • Distribute it in your newsletters
  • Distribute it across any partner sites
  • Amplify all of these with additional paid distribution dollars where appropriate

We often see content trending that was published days, weeks, and sometimes years ago. While seeing your content gain social traction within the first hour is instantly gratifying, it’s more important to monitor your content performance for the long term, recognize when social referrals increase and jump on your content distribution strategy.

About the author:

Adam Orshan is a mild-mannered Product Marketing Manager at SimpleReach that tends to make somewhat obscure references.

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