3 Wondertacular Rules for Going Viral From The Most Viral Site on the Web, dedicated to sharing “Stuff that Matters,” drives 20% of interactions around media online. You read that right. Here’s how.

3 Wondertacular Rules for Going Viral From The Most Viral Site on the Web

This morning, which crested at 30 million unique visitors in May thanks to a runaway viral hit, announced that they’ve started piloting sponsored posts to generate revenue, and shared with Fast Company a bit of their secret sauce.


Founded 14 months ago by’s Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley of The Onion, with Chris Hughes of Facebook (who’s since left to take over The New Republic), Upworthy set out with the quixotic goal of making green-vegetable topics like gay rights, climate change, and cancer awareness as addictive as Doritos Tacos Locos and as shareable as LOLcats. And they’ve been really good at it, they revealed today. A social analytics company called SimpleReach reported that Upworthy’s posts, helped along by 2 million Facebook Likers and 1 million email signups, were driving a startling 20% of all the social sharing they were tracking of published content on the web. And a separate company called Scanvine rated them #1 of the top 25 most shared sites.

Take these mystery metrics with a heavy grain of salt, or say they just got lucky, but take note that a site made up of 80-90% reshared videos, most made by amateurs and activists and posted to YouTube, is pulling in some serious traffic. Here, according to Pariser and Koechley, are the top three rules they’ve arrived at through their testing that are different from what traditional media does.

Spend half your time on the headline

“People put way too much emphasis on the specifics of the piece of content and not enough on the packaging. We’ve seen the case where a headline made the difference between 1,000 views and 1 million views,” says Koechley. This rule likely has its roots in Onion writers’ meetings, where writers famously pitch headlines and then do the stories. Upworthy curators go through a dozen or two dozen headlines per story.

But make it sound like you’re talking to your BFF

“One of Sara [Critchfield our editorial director]’s big things is that in the social media world, you’re not competing against the front page. You’re competing against a Facebook stream. There’s no reason that you wouldn’t be engaging, personal, and informal as a default position,” says Koechley.

Know what strong feeling you want to evoke. There’d better be one

When I ask if Upworthy has any editorial verticals akin to BuzzFeed’s “LOL,” “OMG,” and “WTF,” Koechley replies, “We do break our stuff down by emotions. We don’t surface it, but we do track it in the CMS. If you can’t figure out what emotion this goes in, then it’s not emotional enough to do well on social media.”

[Rainbow: MountainHardcore via Shutterstock]

About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation