How to Go Viral on Instagram (or at least increase your chances)

How to Go Viral on Instagram (or at least increase your chances)

Let’s make this go viral – said many people, many times, but they were mostly C-level executives that didn’t quite get social media yet. You can’t exactly plan for something to go viral – that’s the whole point of viral marketing. 

What you can do, though, is increase your chances of going viral. And below, you’ll find some tactics for Instagram that can help you do that.

But first, let’s define one thing, so we know we’re all on the same page here about viral Instagram posts. 

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What is viral content on Instagram?

There is no single format to create viral content on Instagram (or any social media platform), but you know we’ll mostly be talking about video formats, right? Because video is what seems to be getting the most attention these days. Both because Instagram and other social media platforms prioritize it, and Instagram users, with their constantly reducing attention spans, choose it over other content. 

(Though, really, which is the cause of what is probably a similar discussion to the chicken and egg conundrum.)

And the most eligible candidate for the viral status is surely Instagram Reels. According to the Influencer Marketing Hub, Instagram Reels get 22% more engagement than regular Instagram video posts. Reels also get displayed on the Explore page, which makes it easier to reach new people that don’t yet follow you.

But coming back to the definition of viral content. Obviously, viral content is the kind that gets:
  • likes, views, shares, and comments (etc.)
  • does it over a short period of time 
  • and keeps getting interactions long after it went live for the first time.

Now, what these numbers will eventually depend on several factors, including:

  • Your industry
  • The content you’re posting on Instagram (and not just the format, but what you’re talking about in your posts. A serious topic with thousands of views might still be considered viral, even if the numbers are way lower than for silly memes.)
  • Your audience preferences
  • Your initial follower count 
  • Etc.

For example, according to this article which cites a study by Socialinsider, the highest average engagement rate for Instagram Reels is seen for accounts with 0 – 5,000 followers (3.79%) and 5 – 10,000 followers (3.72%). 

How to Go Viral on Instagram - average engagement rate
Average engagement rate on Instagram by post type

And the current record for Instagram likes? According to this article on Wikipedia, it was a carousel post by Lionel Messi 🐐, and it reached 10 million likes within 39 minutes of posting. 

But even if you never get that many likes (which is seriously okay), there are some best practices (because I sure wouldn’t call them tricks) you can use to still go viral, even if on a smaller scale.

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How to go viral on Instagram – some practical tips

Know your audience

This step is essential for any kind of content. You just can’t create viral Instagram posts if you’re creating content that nobody wants to watch. Simple as that.

So do as much audience research as you can. And I don’t just mean the type of demographic data that will tell you your audience is Gen Z, and they watch Reels all the time. 

Ask yourself more detailed questions:
  • What do they want to watch in those Reels?
  • How do they consume content on Instagram in general?
  • Which of your content so far got them most engaged? (It’s smart to build on that.)
  • And when are they most active?

You can find a lot of information in your Instagram analytics, which you should keep handy. The more you know about what makes your audience tick, the more success you’ll have in delivering it.

Know your brand voice and personality

Doing what everyone else is doing in exactly the same way is probably not the way anyone has ever gone viral. 

So to increase your chances of going viral, make sure you know your brand personality, and define a clear, easily recognizable brand voice that instantly stands out. And that your audience (the one that you just researched) loves and responds to.

Probably one of my favorite examples is Innocent Drinks and what they do on Instagram and other social media platforms. I mean, technically, they’re just a smoothie brand, right?

Well, not exactly. They’re a smoothie brand that gets thousands of views and likes on their social media content, which is funny, relatable, and has a distinct flavor.

How to Go Viral on Instagram - innocent ig post
An Instagram post by Innocent

Know the trends (and hop on those that fit your brand)

With the recent success of TikTok, social media platforms are more than ever about momentary trends. Trending hashtags have been around for a while. But today, it’s much more than using popular hashtags because we now have things like trending sounds and trending filters, etc., for Instagram Reels. 

And, what’s more, Instagram will likely promote the trends to its audience, so jumping on those can boost your chances of hitting the virality jackpot.

So keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on on Instagram, check the Reels that are gaining traction, and find opportunities for your Instagram content. 

Just remember – instead of just copying the trends directly, find your own spin on them. Using your unique brand voice and your audience’s expectations. 

Know your competition

Again, I don’t mean copy your competition. That would be too easy and also would have no chance to work. I mean, you just can’t copy viral content – it’s not how things work.

Instead, learn from it by:
  • Analyzing the content your competitors put out there
  • Tracking how their audience responds

This will give you loads of data about what works for your audience (because you definitely share at least some of your target audience with your competitors.)

Also, identify content gaps that you can fill for them. And build on those types of content that clearly gets a lot of engagement – just in your brand’s unique style.

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Know your performance results to date

Besides knowing how your competitors are doing, regularly check your own statistics to see how your content efforts are panning out. 

If you’re using platforms like NapoleonCat, you can also create automated Instagram reports every week, month, or quarter that will help you see exact engagement numbers and show you your most successful content. That way, you can more clearly see the direction your content should go in to get more engagement. And you’ll back that virality factor up with some hard data.

Know your best time to post on Instagram

Though I said earlier in the post that viral content keeps getting engagement over time, it’s often those initial hours (or minutes!) after it’s been posted that decide whether it’s a success or a complete flop. And exciting content can easily get lost in people’s feeds if you post it at a time when initially few people see it. (You can call it the dark abyss of social media algorithms.)

So, check when your audience is most active (per one of the sections above) and optimize your content calendar for posting when you’re more likely to see results. Here’s what it might look like: 

How to Go Viral on Instagram - post engagement by hours
Checking your best time of day to post on Instagram in NapoleonCat
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Create Instagram analytics reports within seconds

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Know who to collaborate with

Working with influencers or other brands can help you significantly increase the reach of your content. And – potentially – go viral, too. And there are a few ways to do that.

  • Publish collab posts with other creators or brands. That way, your content is exposed to their followers (and vice versa), meaning people who might not yet know you will see it. 

Here’s an example from Innocent Drinks partnering up with Costa Coffee. If you look at the results of Innocent’s Reels on their Instagram account, the ones they’ve done in partnership with another account have a few times as much engagement as their regular Reels. 

How to Go Viral on Instagram - costa innocent colab
Innocent’s collab post with Costa Coffee.

And here’s an article on how to do Instagram collab posts if you want to know more. 

  • Create content with influential content creators that have large followings and – more importantly – a lot of engagement (remember that follower count alone doesn’t really guarantee any results.)

If you find the right people to work with, they can actually help you hit that viral spot. Especially if they’re creative, are known for something special (e.g., have a signature style), and know their audiences well, they can get eyeballs on your brand with content that spreads across Instagram. 

Post consistently

I mean, yeah, you can get viral on your first random try. But it’s more likely that you’ll have to keep trying many times over to be able to finally hit it off on Instagram. So, be patient and keep posting consistently, with a consistent brand voice, and at consistent times. That’s what the Instagram algorithm likes (just like on any other platform.)

To make that easier for yourself and your team, get yourself a social media scheduler where you can schedule Reels and posts in advance. 

Make content creation a team effort
Social media calendar in NapoleonCat

And if you go with NapoleonCat for this, you’ll also get an entire suite of Instagram management tools that will not only help you post consistently and analyze your content’s performance but also engage in conversations under your posts and Reels and respond to people’s comments and questions. Which is also great for increasing your visibility on Instagram and – quite obviously – your engagement rates.

And who knows, maybe it can even get you to go viral? 🙂

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Instagram marketing made easier (especially for teams)

Instagram automation, analytics, reporting, scheduling, and more. Try NapoleonCat and save 90% of your time spent on marketing tasks. Try it for free:

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Now, your turn

Though going viral is often seen as a stroke of luck, we often don’t see the consistent, meticulous efforts that have led a creator or brand up until that point. And yes, you might just go viral by accident. But you can also increase the chances of going viral on Instagram by providing your audience with the right content at the right time. 

And though there’s no clear-cut manual on how to go viral on Instagram, I hope these tips help you do just that!

Bonus answers to FAQs

Why would you want to go viral on Instagram?

There’s something really prestigious about going viral, wouldn’t you agree? But besides the glory and the smile on your boss’s face, going viral on Instagram lets you:

  • Reach more people, including those that might not have even known about your existence
  • Increase brand awareness
  • And, in the long run, positively affect your sales numbers.

And isn’t that what any brand really wants?

How to go viral on Instagram Reels

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of going viral on Instagram Reels, including:

  • Using popular trends like trending sounds and trending filters
  • Making high-quality content that’s interesting/funny/goofy/eye-opening (pick at least one)
  • Taking care of the technical side of your Instagram Reels so they look professional
  • But at the same time, making it look authentic enough to not seem like a blatant ad (unless there’s something about it that could still make it go viral)
  • Adding that something – your personality, a signature move or element, a unique angle, or a super exciting topic.

These won’t guarantee your Instagram Reel going viral (because, really, nothing will, but they can certainly help.

How to make a picture go viral on Instagram

The rules are pretty similar, but obviously, there will be some differences when it comes to pictures posted in the feed.

  • Make sure your photo stands out, catches attention, and stops thumbs from scrolling. There just needs to be something about it.
  • Use popular hashtags – but don’t use general hashtags that have millions of accounts using them (you’ll get lost in the noise.) Try specific hashtags that people search for on Instagram.
  • Try Instagram carousels – they can keep a viewer’s attention for longer, making engagement more likely to happen.
  • Look for something that’s unique and original but also in line with what your audience enjoys (audience research is essential here.)

How to make a post go viral on Instagram

  • Use popular, specific hashtags that might help people interested in certain things come across your content.
  • Try collab posts – content in collaboration with other Instagram accounts. That way, you’re increasing your reach at the very start.
  • Post at the right time – when your audience is actively engaged on Instagram. Use Instagram analytics to help you determine those times.
  • Share your posts on your Stories to help more people see them in those first moments after posting (which are often crucial.)
  • Ask people to share your posts in their Stories (you can use an incentive.)
  • But most of all, make it unique and valuable – it needs to be something people can easily get excited about and/or want to share with others. 

How many views make a video viral on Instagram?

Getting 100,000 views on Instagram is widely considered to be the threshold for getting viral. But really, that number might be different depending on your industry benchmarks, your goals, and your audience. 

How many likes does it take to go viral on Instagram?

100,000 seems like a magic number for Instagram because, in general, that’s the threshold for being considered viral. 

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