The Common Qualities of Viral Images

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Images and web videos are powerful tools of content marketing, and when done right, can revolutionize your digital presence when they go viral. But how do you make that happen?

Usually, images that get the most likes are well-planned and use well-oiled marketing machineries to achieve success. A photo placed on a page with millions of fans can’t help but spread, or one supported by advertising dollars or blog outreach.

But a lot of simple, straightforward viral content has “accidentally” dominated the web. These are images and videos posted by ordinary people and shared by more ordinary people around the world. This is virality, and virality is marketing power. For a look at some of the most popular viral photos, click here.

What are the common qualities of viral images?

There are no secret formulas for creating wildly popular content (photo or video) – and there are no guarantees that all your efforts will make anything you post go viral. But there are similar traits among those that do.

Most viral images share the following characteristics:

1. Clear and vivid. They aren’t muddled product shots or abstract art – in short, they’re just quality photos.

2. Wholesome appeal. Most images that spread across the web are positive in some way or another. Barack Obama hugging his wife, a dog sleeping at his owner’s grave, a child who kicked cancer’s butt.

3. Emotional or motivational. Viral images stir emotions. Note that positive doesn’t always mean it makes you laugh or smile, but that it’s moving (such as the dog sleeping at his owner’s grave). Case in point, this post of a marine saying goodbye to his daughter. It’s sad, but ultimately positive – the man loves his daughter.

Marine Holding his daughter

4. Extraordinary but real. Many viral images seem unbelievable, but what makes them spread is the fact that upon closer examination, they’re legitimate. Take this photo of beautiful huts on the ocean.

5. Relatable. This post about wrapping your textbooks in paper bags isn’t extraordinary in composition or subject matter, but it’s clear, vivid, wholesome, and relatable to almost anyone who ever stepped foot in a school.

Tips For Creating Winning Quote Images

Quote images are highly sharable and relate to people across the spectrum. These simple tips will help you use them in your social media work. We’ve also created a great list of tools for creating quote images.

  • Choose high-resolution images. Grainy photos can kill a great idea.
  • Combine colors that please the eye.
  • Resize large images to the ideal size for the platform. Here’s a Complete Social Media Image Size Guide.
  • Create a record of ‘done’ quotes in Excel or Google docs to avoid repetition.
  • Always name the image file with related keywords included.



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Roselyn Mendoza brings her analytics, web research and writing prowess to Lightspan Digital from her home in the Philippines. She’s passionate about her family, which translates easily into her embrace of the Lightspan motto: social media done with purpose. She lives with her daughter and fellow Lightbug, Tamara! @mendozahub
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