How your nonprofit can leverage viral reach for good on Facebook

These days, we hear a lot about “going viral” online. Our friends send us “viral” cat videos that everyone is watching. It feels like we see the same “viral” memes and videos every time we open our phones. Invariably, we feel pressure to make something viral to promote our own nonprofit.

What is virility anyway? How does one “go viral” or become a viral hit? Is it even possible to control?

This article will define what viral reach means on Facebook and how you might leverage it to introduce more people to your organization and cause.

Defining Viral Reach

The definition of viral reach on Facebook is actually pretty straightforward. Viral reach is anytime someone who isn’t a fan of your Facebook page sees one of your posts. This means they have not liked your Facebook page yet, may not have heard of your organization before and may not even know about your cause.

That’s it. Pretty simply right?

How do people outside my page fans see my posts?

A common misconception is that only your Facebook page fans can see your posts. This is simply not true. When you post to Facebook, anyone has the chance to see that post. Your page fans will be the first people to see your post, but once it’s out in the wild on Facebook it has the potential to go far beyond just your page fans.

The proof of this is shown by one of our fun, demo pages “Cats oh my”. This page had 3,738 fans at the time of this writing:

viral reach

To date, 18,036 people have engaged with the content we publish to this page.

viral reach

This means almost 20,000 people have reacted to, commented on, or shared one of our “Cats of my” posts even though we have less than 4,000 page fans! So how are they finding our content in their personal news feeds if they don’t like our page?

According to Facebook:

“It’s possible to see posts from people and Pages you aren’t connected with if a friend or Page that you are connected with engages with that post. For example, if you’re friends with Joan Smith you could see a story in your News Feed that says “Joan Smith liked this post from Mercy Corps”, even if you have not liked the Mercy Corps Page. When you create posts that people engage with, your content will reach more people who have liked your Page and their friends.”

That means if your core group of Facebook page fans are highly engaged with your content, it’s likely to spread to their friends and family as well. Now if their friends and family also engage with the content it could spread to their friends and family as well. And so on and so on. Are you beginning to see how your content has the potential to ripple out across Facebook in a powerful way?

Can I influence this in my favor?

Viral reach clearly has some serious power behind it to further our cause and organization on Facebook! The question is, can we control it and leverage it to our advantage? The answer is yes and no.

First of all, anyone who tells you they know the secret to viral reach or can promise you viral reach is, one: trying to take advantage of you, or two: very misguided themselves. In short, there is no magic bullet for viral reach. You cannot “make” something or viral or set out to create a “viral video”. It simply isn’t that easy or straightforward. There is a lot of luck, randomness and chance that goes into something taking off and “becoming viral”.

But with that being said, you do have some influence over the reach of your content. Again, according to Facebook:

“A key tactic to reach a desired audience is to create content that they want to see and be seen sharing. You should think strategically about how to post content that is relevant to that audience, that they might like, share, comment on, or generally enjoy reading. To do this, it helps to understand the characteristics of your desired audience and the type of content they typically engage with.”

If you can figure out what types of posts your Facebook page fans are most likely to go bananas over and share themselves, you can increase the likelihood of viral reach.

Don’t worry, if you’re not sure what types of content will inspire your page fans to engage with and share your content, there are ways to figure it out:

“If you don’t know what people in your community want, find out by testing a variety of posts. You don’t need to have a perfect posting strategy from the beginning. Try posting regularly while intentionally changing the post length, type, tone and topic. After a couple weeks, go back and look at the Post Insights to see which posts are being engaged with. The goal is to hone in on the type of content and calls to action that are resonating with your supporters.”

There are also tools to help you along the way! You can learn what your audience likes through your Facebook Page Insights or your ActionSprout Timeline.

Key takeaways

It is possible to reach a large number of people outside your core Facebook fanbase. When you reach a number of these “non-page fans” it’s called viral reach or “going viral”. You do have some influence over this and can increase your likelihood of viral reach by sharing content you think your page fans will love and want to share with their own networks of friends and family.