3 Tricks That Will Make Your Treatment Center a Viral Blog Post Machine

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Wouldn’t it be amazing if every post you dropped on your rehab’s blog went viral?

What would it be like if every piece of content your addiction treatment center’s marketing team ever toiled over was seen by millions of adoring readers?

Any business that incorporates blogging into its marketing strategy is banking on their content being seen by enough people to make the creation of that content worthwhile. Drug rehabs are no exception.

At a bare minimum, a blog post in any industry needs to bring in more money than it costs to create.

The hope, of course, is that a post brings in more than that—maybe 100x more.

In an ideal world, though, the post goes “viral” and ushers in a huge tsunami of leads worth 10,000x more than the cost of the post.

That’d be great, right?

I think so, too. So I got curious.

Is there a science to writing viral blog posts?

Well, turns out this is a well-researched academic question with a lot of very detailed and long-winded answers. I encountered a lot of what I call 5-dollar (read: fancy) words in my hunt for the truth.

The good news is I waded through the boring psychology and communications studies so you don’t have to. I’m going to cut to the chase and sum them up here for you so you can cherry pick the good stuff and put these science-y truth nuggets to use in your marketing ASAP.

The short story is there’s three elements to every successful blog post that’s “gone viral.”

Applying all three of these elements to your posts doesn’t guarantee a hit, but being mindful of these prerequisites for success will go a long way to putting your post in the game.

Those three tricks are: playing with emotions, leading with an irresistible headline, and solving a real problem that’s bugging your leads.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s break this down and look at each of these tricks in more detail.

Play With Your Audience’s Emotions

When we’re talking about blog posts going viral, what we’re really talking about is the psychology of advertising.

The modern-day study of digital content share-ability is actually based in earlier research on things like folklore, urban legends, and the lifespan of rumors. The common thread among these gossip-y topics is “word of mouth advertising,” which is what we called viral marketing before the digital age.

If the Beatles had played Coachella instead of the Ed Sullivan Show, “Paul is Dead” might have been a viral blog post instead of a story girls whispered to each other at school. What makes people “share” is the same today as it was in the 1960’s. That's because human psychology is more or less unchanged.

The psychology of advertising is a deep, dark rabbit hole that I encourage you to explore. The truth is we know very little about how marketing psychology works. Of course, that hasn’t stopped advertisers from using sex to sell everything from cars to Coke since a few Ad Men got their hands on Freud in the 40’s. Vance Packard’s 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders—itself a hotbed of viral rumors—clued everyone into the fact that marketers use psychology to influence consumer decision-making. No, movie theaters never flashed subconscious messages telling people to “buy popcorn” but Packard’s book started that contagious rumor very successfully and it persists today.

So why do hot little numbers like “Paul is Dead” and “The Movie Theater is Controlling My Mind” get shared?

The answer is human emotions. Researchers have determined that there are really only 4 human emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted.

Both “Paul is Dead” and “The Movie Theater is Controlling My Mind” evoke the afraid/surprised emotion in most people. These are anxious claims that invite uncertainty and insecurity. They are shared not because of the content itself—although the novelty of both claims definitely helped!—but because of the strong emotions the content evokes.

We also know that in the land of “likes,” not all emotions are created equal. Studies demonstrate that positive emotions outperform negative emotions. Content that elicits happiness is simply shared far more often than sad content.

But what about “Paul is Dead?” That’s not exactly a gleeful rumor.

Interestingly, content that triggers the afraid/surprised response does almost as well as happy content—but not quite. Still, tons of content goes viral appealing to the afraid/surprised emotion, so don’t eliminate scary or surprising posts from your repertoire.

Heads up though: sad sack and angry-making content lag way behind. Do what you can to shift your content away from posts designed to make readers sad or angry. It just won’t get shared.

The take-away: Make sure your content is designed to elicit an emotional response. Avoid appealing to readers’ rationality alone. People share content that gives them the feels, so make sure you’re making them feel something. If you can, make them feel happybecause that’s the most shared emotional content on the web.

Headlines For the Win

You may have noticed that people don’t read nearly as much as they used to. In fact, 6 out of 10 people will share an article on social media based on the headline alone.

Scary stuff, right?

Headlines are supposed to grab your reader’s attention and entice them to click. You’ve only got a split second to nail that first impression and grab their attention—so make it good.

This whole “going viral” business isn’t going to happen without a slick headline.

Lucky for you, clever researchers at Buzzsumo looked into the science of shareable headlines. They evaluated 100,000 articles on Facebook and looked for common phrases in the headlines of viral posts.

Feast your eyes on this bar graph of their findings:


I think we’ve got a clear winner.

“...Will make you”—as in “This Panda Bear Will Make You Cry” or “This Woman’s Story Will Make You Shiver” or “This Mom in Walmart Will Make You Chortle” won by a long shot.

So, how do the words “...will make you” power viral posts?

The answer, again, is emotions.

“...Will make you” usually promises the reader an emotional experience of some kind.

Humans are hungry for emotional experiences online and off and it’s up to us content creators to give it to them.

Now, the runners up: “This is why,” “can we guess,” and “only x in.”

Headline phrases like these are clearly banking on the element of surprise. We learned in the previous section that the afraid/surprised emotion is the second highest driver of online sharing behind happiness so this isn’t a shocker. Readers will click these types of headlines to satisfy their curiosity and resolve the discomfort of uncertainty.

Some headlines can evoke more than one emotion. That’s usually a good thing. A headline that combines the afraid/surprised emotion with happiness (“This Is Why Baby Mini Pigs Are So Cute,” anyone?) will probably do well on Facebook. Since afraid/suprised and happy are sharing juggernauts, the combination of the two sends a lot of us into a click frenzy.

The takeaway: Spend time on your headlines because it might be the only thing most of your “readers” read. Make a note of what types of headlines are popular on social media. Always be sure that your headline elicits an immediate emotional response. Combine shareable emotions for maximum results.

Be the Problem-Solver For Your Readers

The last trick I’m going to share with you is probably the most important to creating successful content for social media and it’s this:

Always be sure that your content solves a problem your lead is experiencing.

If your content isn’t useful, it’s not going to get shared. Now, cute cat videos might be an exception to this rule (cat videos solve...what? Boredom? Existential emptiness?), but for an industry like rehab marketing, problem-solving is a critical trick to master.

If you solve a lead’s problem you earn something more valuable than a like or a share.

You earn the lead's trust.

You’re an expert and you anticipated their problem. Your lead feels like you understand them and they see you as someone who’s here to help. Sounds good, right? Now when your leads think of trusted problem-solvers, they think of you. That's definitely going to come in handy when it comes time to choose a rehab.

So, what does solving a problem look like, exactly?

First, you need to identify a specific problem that your lead is experiencing. You can do this by searching question boards like Quora, trolling message boards, or even using Google Adwords to research long tail keyword questions related to some of your keywords. Maybe you already know a great problem you’d like to focus on because your leads keep asking your admissions counselors this one weird question over and over again. Run with it.

Next, you need to provide a solution to that problem—completely. This is no time for a quick, 300 word bullet point answer. Readers associate length with quality. Google does, too. Long form content—posts between 1,500 - 3,000 words—are viral (and SEO) winners.

Yep, the more thorough and well-researched your content is, the higher it’s going to rank in Google searches AND the more likely someone is to share it on social media—so go deep.

Throw in lots of solid outbound links backing up your claims. Become a one-stop shop for all the best information about how to solve this one, particular problem.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example unique to the addiction treatment industry.

Let’s say you do business in the Portland Metro area (if so—hi, neighbor!) and let’s pretend you noticed a recent local news item about safe needle disposal. With all the buzz around needle disposal, you think this topic might be a social media hit, especially with referral partners. You want to tackle the problem of safe needle disposal in Portland, OR. Great.

Here’s the thing: you don’t want to just talk about how to get rid of a needle.

Heck nothere’s so much ground to cover here! Think big.

If you really want to answer this question completely, consider including sections on:

  • Needle drop locations

  • Various needle exchange programs in the area

  • Portland’s free sharps container program

  • What to do if you have a lot of sharps at home

  • What to do if you find a needle on the ground outside your home or business

  • City rules around safe needle disposal

  • Etc., etc., etc.

You’ll link to the city, the needle exchange, the map of the disposal sites, the sign-up page for the free sharps container program, and whatever other links a person with this question might find useful. All of them.

When you’re done, what you’ve got isn’t really a blog post any more—now it’s a resource. Resources answer a question thoroughly. Resources are valuable.

The best part?

Resources get shared—big time.  

The takeaway: Solve a problem completely. Choose a narrow topic and go deep with your answer. Go long because lengthy content is a winner in terms of sharing and SEO. Link to valuable resources liberally. Don’t write just another blog postcreate a legit resource.

This Sounds Great—But Who Has the Time?

Did I hear you grumble something about too many damn hats?

Does this all sound like a great idea...but also a huge time suck?

Well, you’d be right about that. Creating quality content does take time. Going viral isn’t a one and done. It takes practice to hone these skills.

Feel free to go it alone with the tips above—that’s why I put them up here for the whole world to see. If you follow these tips, you will see an improvement in your reach and conversion rate. My gift to you—gratis.

But if you’re too busy to do all the planning, research, and writing that goes into creating the content you need to nab more leads, I’m happy to help.  

Either way—I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.

Here’s hoping that your organization’s next post is a huge hit!

Erin Gilday