Key to Virality: What's Hot on Google+
One of the interesting features of Google+ is the Explore button. Clicking it reveals "What's hot and recommended" on Google+ (it used to be called "Hot on Google"). These are the posts that are trending, and in fact, to the right of your stream you will see a list of the Google+ hashtags and conversations that are literally trending. You can check out this feed any time you want, and control how many of these items get into your Home stream. But have you ever thought about what it takes to get into "What's Hot?"
Understand that having a post get into the Explore stream should be every marketer and small business owner's dream. Instead of your post being limited in visibility to people who have circled you, a post that shows up in What's Hot can show up in countless other people's streams, giving you potential exposure to millions of Google+ users.
That kind of exposure generates exponential levels of shares and +1's and clicks, and is the launchpad for a potentially viral post. This example is a post of mine that made it into the What's Hot stream on April 4:
Using Google+ Explore
If you're looking at the Explore stream, Google still has the older-style slider in the upper right corner that you can use to change how many Hot posts appear in your Home stream,
If you see a Hot item in your Home stream, it will have a banner across the top like this:
Clicking on the banner will take you back to the Explore stream. So how does a post get into the Explore stream in the first place?
Google has an official description of the feature, which basically states that it is designed to show you content that is exemplary, interesting, and appropriate, and encourages you to +1 and Share content you're interested in.
Not surprisingly, Google is not going to come right out and tell us what might make a particular post "Hot" but it's easier to determine than you might think. There are three key factors that affect post popularity, plus a bonus aspect.
1. +1's - Google+'s social signal is certainly a first indicator to a post's popularity. The more +1's your post gets, the more likely it will get hot. Most Hot posts have received hundreds of +1's, but it's not the only factor. As you can see in my example above, at the time I had just 73 +1's.
2. Shares - Shares on Google+ work just like Facebook or LinkedIn Shares or Twitter Retweets. From the network's perspective, a Share is further evidence that your post was interesting. Not only did I +1 it, I liked it enough I was willing to share it with my own followers. So, more shares equals greater popularity, right? Of course, but it's interesting to note that it also seems like the relationship between Shares and +1's is important. Posts that have hundreds of +1's and only a dozen or so shares might not be considered Hot, whereas a post like mine that had almost half as many shares as +1's may appear to be more "share-worthy."
3. Comments - Comments represent engagement and activity, and are the third important factor as to the popularity of your post. And again, while having more comments is great, the proportion of comments to shares and +1's is also important.
Bonus - Images and Styling - Google+ allows you to include an image or video with every post, and statistics have shown that images increase social media post engagement exponentially. Similarly, the use of Bold and Italic and paragraph breaks can make your posts more attractive and easier to read. These aspects by themselves may not make a post hot, but they can certainly increase interest and affect the first three aspects positively.
What's Not Hot
It has been noted that only public posts to Google+ can become hot, not private or limited posts, or external websites. Posts to communities are public and therefore eligible to become Hot.
There is no difference between mobile and web Hot lists, and Google is not yet personalizing your What's Hot based on your past activity. What's Hot is the same for everyone, and every device.
UPDATE: It does appear that Google has begun implementing personalized results within Explore that may be based on who you have circled, or what posts you have engaged in the past.
How to Get Hot
Now that you know what goes into Google+ Explore and what is and isn't "hot" material, how do we get our own posts to show up there? Here are eight tips when creating your Google+ posts to help them reach viral status.
First, as mentioned above, always include an image in your post and insert some formatting where appropriate. Styling your post to resemble a nice blog post with a title, paragraph breaks and bold/italic points makes for nice reading.
Second, write about interesting, engaging topics. The easiest topics are those with are breaking news or already trending, also known as newsjacking. However, be forewarned that topics that are trending are trending because so many other people are already writing about them. The best posts are funny or provide immense value, and are new.
Third, always use appropriate hashtags. Appropriate means that you only use a few, and that they're relevant to your post topic. A good rule of thumb is that a hashtag added to a post should work just as well within the text of the post, but didn't quite fit into your writing style. For instance, I recently created a post about "Brand Image" and I added a hashtag at the end for #Branding. Hashtags can be inserted within the post or at the end, but they must be inserted so that your post can potentially reach a larger audience.
Fourth, introduce your post. It's great to share blog posts, but you have to take the time to tell Google+ users what you're written about and why they should be interested in reading further. Just like the title of your blog post needs to be interesting to get people to read more, your introduction on Google+ needs to be equally as compelling. It also gives you an opportunity to provide a more unique and custom introduction.
Fifth, always ask at least one question. Unless you have the inside scoop on some tremendous breaking news, you're going to need to work a little to engage readers. Use your introduction to get readers thinking and ask them for their opinion or input. What did they think about this topic? Why are they interested? The more polarizing and thought-provoking the question, the more responses you will get. Remember that Google+ is a social network, so when someone sees that there's a great discussion going on within one of your posts, it will be that much more interesting to them.
Sixth, post to Public first, then throughout the day share that post to select Communities. When you're sharing to Google+, you can pick and choose where to post and who can see it. Unless you're specifically writing for a community, share your post to Public first so that anyone can see it. Then, throughout the day, if you're a member of specific communities that would be interested in the discussion, share the post to those communities. Be mindful of each Community's rules, and limit such sharing to just a few a day. Also, pay attention to where other people have been sharing your post so as not to duplicate it.
Seventh, respond to comments with thoughtful replies and ask questions in response, if possible, to stimulate discussion. Again, the more comments and discussion you have the better, so do hat you can to encourage participation.
Eighth, jump-start the comments and shares with the help of your friends. If you work hard at being a good citizen within Google+, you will establish great relationships with people who will be quick to share and promote your new articles. You can also use your Circles to specifically notify groups of people who might be interested in your post. You can also use your connections and influence on sites like Empire Avenue to get the ball rolling.
Marketers will tell you that no one can predict what content will go viral, and that's partly true, particularly if you're talking about the volume levels of a Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake. For most businesses though, it doesn't take a lot to consider an individual blog post to have been a success, so start with these techniques and see if you can't break into What's Hot on Google. If these work for you, or if you have any to add yourself, please let me know!
Image courtesy of Hopefoote, Ambassador of the Wow, Flickr.