How to turn content into a movement 

“Content makes people take action. Drives behaviour change. Starts a revolution.”

I love this quote from Sonja Nisson, from her speech at WeContent Conference 2019. Sure, content can entertain, educate, inform and if you’re good at it, even sell. But can content really start a revolution?  

Yes. And here is a famous example of what content makes possible.  

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge  

Maybe you remember a trend from a few years back when people were pouring buckets of ice water on their head, filming it and posting it on social media. Co-founded by Pat Quinn and Pete Frates, the challenge went viral in the summer of 2014 and businesspeople and influencers alike rushed to be part of it. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Justin Timberlake and many more were pouring ice water on themselves and making generous donations. 

Considered silly at first, this viral content idea made a huge difference, raised awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), and gave hope to people in pain.  

A sticky idea started the biggest movement in medical history and raised $220M worldwide for the disease, to fund research and buy medical equipment (source).  

How do you create viral content?  

If you are a marketer, let me know if this request from clients sounds familiar: “I want a viral content idea”. And what was your reaction upon receiving it? Be honest. Did you roll your eyes? I know I did.  

Viral content is unpredictable. It is new, fresh, unexpected, maybe even silly. Or maybe it’s serious and emotional. Most importantly, it tells an authentic story.  

I did not roll my eyes because it can’t be done. I did it because you cannot fake an authentic story, and many times those clients wanted a quick fix, not a real communication strategy, with long-term results.  

Brands try to create viral content and sometimes they succeed with a lot of resources behind it: marketing teams, great creative ideas, influencer marketing and a big budget to push the ads.  

But what if you don’t have those resources? What if you are a start-up or a non-profit organization?  

The good news is that you don’t need them.  

Here is what you need to create not viral, but valuable content that makes people act.

A powerful story 

“Storytelling” is a buzz word, but, when it comes down to it, many struggle to tell stories. So here are a few types of stories any individual or organization can tell: 

  • The origin story – How and why did you get started? What challenges did you overcome and how did you do it?  
  • The values story – What are the values that drive you personally or your business every day? Why those values and not others? What’s the story behind each and what are some examples of values in action? 
  • Social proof stories – What are other saying about you? What are the experts or influencers behind your brand? And why are they supporting you? What is their story and how does it connect to yours? 
  • Growth stories – How have you or has your organization evolved over the years? What are the updates to your origin story? What new challenges are your overcoming?  
  • Failure stories – What was a time when things did not go according to the plan? What happened and what lessons did you learn? What will you do different next time?  
  • Impact stories – How is your activity changing people’s lives for the better?  

Stories can be told in different formats. Write a blog post or a newsletter, take photos, record a video or a podcast. Choose the format with which you are most comfortable with and start.  

Engaging visual content 

Again, people talk about doing more visual content all the time, but they get stuck. Who is creating the photos and videos? Who is editing them? Do they look professional enough? Stop overthinking. Nowadays, the most successful content is created with a phone camera and edited on the go. Just look at TikTok creators. 

In her interview for WeContent, Payal Arora gives a notable example of a fashion influencer from a village in India who has more followers than some fashion brands. “Neel Ranaut uses stuff in the village and humour. He uses a lot of creativity with grass and flowers. And he creates a story from one place to another with audio-visual content. It’s extraordinary creative and very immersive”, says Payal Arora, technology anthropologist, professor, and author of the award-winning book “The Next Billion Users.”  

What kind of visual content can you create? 

  • Put your team front and centre. Here is how famous stores let employees become their influencers
  • Show (don’t tell) the impact you have on people’s lives.  
  • Ask your community to send photos and videos using your products. 
  • Record daily business activities in a fun and engaging way.  
  • Create infographics with data at hand: research, user statistics, business results etc. Spotify transformed user data into viral content with Spotify Wrapped.  
  • Share inspiration from others.  

Support from your community 

Building a community around your brand is not easy. No matter how many loyal fans you have – be it 5 of 5000, they can help, but they need your guidance on what to say to others.  

  • Challenge followers to create their own content around your brand.  
  • Keep conversations going through social media groups.  
  • Send newsletters on a regular basis with news, valuable information, and rewards for being part of the community.  
  • Organize online meetings with your community. Answer questions, bring in experts, meet the team etc.  
  • Ask fans to send testimonials.  
  • Work with influencers to tap into other communities that might be interested in what you do.  

Back to the Ice Bucket challenge  

Let’s see how the above apply to our example. It had a strong story: the real cases of people suffering from ALS who needed more awareness for their cause to raise money so they (and others) could live better lives. They could have stuck to that, telling their story, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of NGOs telling good stories every day, and they don’t go viral. So, they added the visual part: a catchy, fun idea, that everyone wanted to do and post online. Now that the spark was there, they needed to amplify it. They used the power of social media to reach wider communities. People who did the challenge started tagging others. Those tagged had to do the challenge, donate, and tag others. The good story and fun idea made it easy to accept the challenge. Once the ball started rolling and some influencers got in the mix, it was unstoppable: everyone wanted in.  

Content creation is complex. But if you keep these three ingredients in mind – storytelling, visual content, and community engagement – you can speak to people in a meaningful way. Many times, that’s enough. And sometimes, even by accident, you can start a movement.  

So, what’s the story that you want to share?  

Want to go deeper into content marketing? Download our free Content Marketing 101 guide to learn the main steps you need to take to create your content marketing strategy, from formulating the goal to choosing the promotional channels. 

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