How to Go Viral on Instagram

Today, Instagram is used by over 700 million people each month, and it has the power to take anonymous brands to prime time!

Getting a post to go viral on Instagram is something a lot of businesses dream of. It brings along great exposure and opens up the gates to the masses.

When I say viral Instagram content, I mean content that makes people tag their friends, like, comment, and save it to their albums. Viral Instagram content gets significantly more engagement than your normal posts usually do.

You know you have a viral Instagram post when it has 100,000+ likes and views and thousands of comments while being posted by an account that has only a few hundred or a few thousand followers.

In order for social media marketers to be successful with Instagram, it is important to understand the secrets of creating viral content. Sometimes virality just happens, and there’s an element of chance involved. In many cases, though, virality is engineered by social media managers who understand the secrets to leverage the platform.

The Viral Cycle!

Going viral comes down to a lot of factors but one of the biggest ones is getting featured on the Instagram “Explore Page”. So if you head to the App and click the little “loop” – that’s the Instagram “Explore Page”.

The explore page is basically a summary of all your interests based on the likes we give to content, plus the posts liked by people we follow. So, if you love little dachshunds like me or you follow someone who loves them, and you/them give frequent likes to puppy posts then there is a high probability that there will be some doggy pics on your explore page.

It’s basically Instagram’s perception of what interests you mosts. And remember Instagram’s goal is to keep you on the app as long as possible.

Now, the explore page reaches hundreds of thousands of people and as you can imagine when you do get featured on there your post will get a huge boost of exposure leaving a ton of likes and comments on your posts.

As you can see the more likes you get by people the more you show up on the explore page of these people’s followers. Who in return likes and comment as well which is why I call this the “Viral Cycle”. More likes and comments lead to more exposure lead to even more likes and comments. Cool right?

Now, hold your breath and let’s take a deep dive into amazing tips to go viral on Instagram:-


As with any marketing initiative, you need to know your audience well in order to design a marketing campaign that will effectively engage prospects. When trying to create viral Instagram content, you need to know what makes your target audience tick.

Consider creating a marketing persona that will help you to quickly summarize the interests of your target audience. Usually, a marketing persona summary includes psychographic and demographic information. For Instagram marketers specifically, it will also be helpful if the persona includes the type of content your target audience likes to consume and the other Instagram accounts your target audience typically follows.

With this information in hand, you and your team will be better prepared to tackle the other tips listed below.


Analyze your competitors’ Instagram strategy to learn what does and does not work when creating viral content. While it is important to develop your own brand voice on Instagram (more on this later), it can be helpful to know whether content shared by a competitor has ever gone viral.

If you find content that has worked well, take note of the content format, post time, and Instagram description. You should also try to determine if the brand in question collaborated with an Instagram influencer or agency. Perhaps you can work with a similar entity to create your own viral content.

Alternatively, if you notice that competitors have had limited success on Instagram, that indicates one of two things. Either competitor is simply not tapping into the target audience well, meaning that Instagram may provide your brand with a first-mover advantage if you create great content. Or it could mean that your target audience does not use Instagram, in which case it is probably best to target another marketing channel.


Viral content is unique content. Take a look at some of the examples below, and you’ll quickly realize that content with a high virality coefficient is in some way unique. The content is almost always visually stunning, controversial, emotionally engaging, or newsworthy. Content that has a clear point of view will be more likely to go viral than content that is commonplace.

In the example above, National Geographic’s picture of a husky in the Arctic received roughly 30% more likes (over 1 million) than their average post. The combination of a stunning image and a great copy caused this post to go viral.

The New Yorker’s cartoons consistently get higher engagement than any other type of content they share. This makes sense since this type of content is unique to the magazine and usually offers a quirky take on popular culture or current events.


Just as important as understanding prospects through marketing personas is understanding your followers based on what the data tells you. Investing in an Instagram analytics platform like Owlmetrics will help you to quickly understand what kind of content performs well with your audience.

Instagram analytics can help you and your team determines what type of content is most likely to engage your target audience. Analytics can also be used to optimize your post schedule and hashtags.


Paul Graham, the founder of world-renowned startup incubator Y Combinator, told Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, to “build something that 100 people love rather than 1 million people kind of like.” The same advice is true for Instagram marketers. It is better to have a small but highly engaged Instagram audience than to have a large audience of followers who don’t care deeply about your content.

Virality happens when people who care share what you have to say. In order to achieve it, you first need to find the people who care about your brand. If they don’t exist yet, you need to make people care about your brand through positioning and education.


There is a feeling among some experts that video is the future of online content consumption. While it is true that video has grown in popularity in recent years, AdWeek reported that Instagram photo content generates 36% more engagement than video.

For brands interested in creating a single piece of highly viral content, chances are you will be better off focusing on photo content than video based on the data.


Brands are spending an increasing amount of money on Instagram ads. That’s because brands know that Instagram users are more likely to engage with sponsored content on Instagram than on other platforms.

Marketers interested in creating viral content should consider investing in paid promotion to increase reach. Brands of all sizes are already doing this to increase the chances that their content goes viral.


Linqia found that 94% of marketers who use influencer marketing believe that it works. Marketers who are interested in creating viral content should consider partnering with an industry influencer in order to increase the chances of creating a piece of viral content.

It should be noted that influencers are not necessarily celebrities or social media stars. Influencers are simply individuals who garner respect among a certain demographic. For example, Jimmy Chin is considered an influencer in the climbing community, and because of this, North Face has worked with Chin to create sponsored content, like the example below.


It can be easier to create viral content if the content is somehow related to a news event. This can be a product launch (a news event created by your brand) or something related to current events.

In the example below, Nike announced a new sneaker through Instagram. Thanks to a combination of dedicated fans, well-composed content, and a newsworthy announcement, the post went viral.


This idea is quite simple.

First, you need to find posts that have done well and went viral in the past. You can use ViralFindr or any other similar tool and search content by hashtags or usernames. Most Instagram analytics tools also give you good ideas on trending content.

Alternatively, you can take a peek at your explore feed and see what’s trending. You’ll probably start seeing a pattern in what type of content gets more engagement.

After going through some of the content, try to think if there’s a video or a photo that you could reproduce yourself.

The approach is to take the idea of a viral post and recreate it.

For example, if you’re a travel blogger go hang out with flamingos or catch some sharks (please don’t). These posts seem to do pretty well. Film it and you’re already close to going viral.

Keep in mind that posts that by their nature are “viral” go viral. Photo of a cute cat or a nicely designed breakfast table can definitely get more likes than other less interesting posts, but they won’t necessarily go viral.

Pro Tip: Videos tend to go viral on Instagram more often than images.


Instagram isn’t the only platform where to find popular and trending content. Definitely look at what people are sharing and what gets significantly more engagement on Facebook, Youtube, Imgur, Snapchat, and other social media platforms.

When you find something that’s trending, do a quick search on Instagram and see if that particular clip or a photo comes up or not. If not, then it even makes sense to use the very same piece of content. Make sure you always give credit to the content author. And if possible, get their written permission as well.

“Why can’t I copy-paste content that I find on Instagram?” you might ask.

That’s a good question. The thing is that Instagram knows when you’re reposting something that’s not your original content. Going viral on Instagram with the same content that just was trending a few weeks ago is a lot harder than if you would be posting something new.

A quick peek into the Imgur trending section shows me a clip of these baby turtles. Interesting post idea if you’re in travel/nature/animal niche.


Creating your own content and being completely original is probably the most enjoyable thing when it comes to Instagram.

However, coming up with original Instagram content ideas can be challenging. It becomes even harder when we want to produce original viral content.

This is where I suggest you take a pen and paper and spend a few hours brainstorming on your own. Think about what makes you or your brand unique. Is it maybe your weird accent? Is it because you’re 30 and still living with your mom? (hey, I don’t judge). Or is it something else?

Most people try to hide their flaws and weaknesses, but actually, when you start embracing them, they become your strengths.

You don’t necessarily need to rely on your weaknesses. Think about what’s interesting or different about you, your life, or your brand.

We don’t see very many original Instagram users these days. I think  @orktail is doing a brilliant job with their content. Not only is their content fresh and unique, but it also Valuable.

When you set out to produce your own unique content, always make sure you use a good camera and great lighting. If you’re shooting a video, write a script and practice it many times. If you’re not great at filming or editing, then hire somebody. High-quality content is more likely to be shared and go viral on Instagram.

13. Post During Peak Times

This is probably the best way to get your content seen by the masses. Posting your content at times when most members are active is a sure way to helping your post go viral. You can do some guesstimating with this by simply monitoring over a few days when you find the most activity on your page, and if you have a business profile, those stats are provided to you. But that isn’t really ideal – as you’ll obviously get the most activity in and around when you post in general. Your best bet is to do a bit of research on Google about peak times on Instagram and more targeted, in your region. From there, try and schedule your posting times when there is the most activity.

14. Find “Viral Content” and reproduce!

First of all, we need to do some research on what our audience and the general Instagram users love to like and engage in. What content is already going viral and how can we use this knowledge to reproduce similar content which works for us.

Here are 4 ways you could go about finding viral content:

a) Explore Feed

Head to your own explore feed and scroll through the posts. What makes these posts particularly appealing. Is it great imagery, funny captions, videos, quotes, or a cute puppy pic? Is this something that would work in your niche as well? Emulate the respective content.

b) Use the Viralfindr.com

Viralfindr.com is a great tool for how to go viral on Instagram. You simply use the tool to a) find the best performing content that already exists on Instagram, b) find inspiration or c) use posts to repost on your own account. Check out viralfindr.com here

c) Instagram analytics

Have a look at your own account and posts in your Instagram analytics. You can use Instagram’s own analytics if you switched to a business account or you can use for example Tailwind to identify your own viral content. Once you know which content your followers already love most, just go ahead and post more similar content. 

d) Research other Platforms

Head out to Pinterest, Facebook, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post or Google to find content people are going crazy about. It’s all about getting a feeling of what people are really interested in right now and everybody is talking about. We are talking about finding trends here!

15. Boost engagement ASAP after posting (1-hour rule)

Timing is another crucial factor in how to go viral on Instagram. Once you know what you want to post, we need to think about WHEN to post best.

Now the timing is important because you want a lot of people to engage in the first hour once your post has gone live. People talk about the “1-hour rule” here. The idea is that Instagram needs to determine if your post is good or bad, so it chooses a certain time after the post goes live to analyze its success. No one knows exactly if this is an hour or 30min but it doesn’t really matter.

The point is, the time after you post your new content is crucial to landing on the explore page. The more engagement (so likes and comments) you get, the wider your post will be distributed. This will increase your chances of hitting that secret spot of appearing on the explore page and dipping into the viral “like” cycle.

Pro Tip:

Use Instagram analytics or 3rd party services such as Tailwind or Iconosquare to determine when your audience is online.

Start liking and commenting on other people’s posts 10-15min before you post your new content.

Once your post is live, continue liking other people’s posts and immediately respond to comments on your new posts.

Create a new Story showing a sneak peek of the new posts.

Promote your post in “DM” and “Engagement groups”

16. Create more “Video” content

Instagram is definitely putting a bigger focus on Video (similar to Facebook which owns Instagram). With the introduction of Instagram Stories, Instagram Live as well as IGTV which is in direct competition to YouTube you can see where I am going with this.

Instagram wants you to create more video content and will hence prefer your video content over your image content giving you a higher chance to go viral using video posts.

17. Hashtag “Top pages”

Similar to the Instagram “Explore Page” there is also “Hashtag Top Pages” (go to the search icon on the app, switch to Tags and type in a hashtag). When you search for a specific hashtag the top posts appear first. So similar to most of Instagram feeds nowadays, also hashtag pages are now ordered by performance and not chronologically.

Even though you will not get as much exposure as when appearing on the explore page this is a great way to boost engagement on individual posts. You are allowed to use up to 30 hashtags per post giving you the potential to reach 30 “Hashtag Top Pages” which could increase your engagement to virality.

Make sure you are using a mix of hashtags on your posts though. It will be much easier to rank on the hashtag with fewer posts meaning which is also less competitive compared to a hashtag such as #entrepreneur with 1m+ posts you are competing with.

Ps. another great tip is to use the Tailwind scheduler. I love using it to automatically post my content to Instagram. The best part is that compared to many other schedulers, Tailwind lets you post your hashtags to the first comment automatically!

18. Emojis

Always use Emojis!

“According to Quintly, only 24% of profiles with 1 to 1,000 followers used emojis, while 83% of profiles with over 1 million followers peppered their captions with emoji icons. If you also factor in a 15% higher interaction rate with posts including emojis, it’s clear that emojis help fosters connection and relatability with your followers. Score!” (Source)

19. Stories

Instagram is the best way to connect with your audience. This means more likes and comments on your posts. My all-time favorite tip is to show up every day and show up in person. Yes, this means showing you face, being authentic, you, and just approachable.

Instagram is a social media. I honestly don’t understand why we keep forgetting the word “social”. Show up for your audience and they will show up for you!

21.  Contests and Giveaways

Contests and giveaways can be one of the easiest and fastest ways to gain more followers and creating more engagement on your posts. They are fun and build trust in your brand.

Here is how you create a contest or giveaway:

-Partner with a brand or follow Instagram to reach a ton of  followers and provide a product for the giveaways

-Choose a cool hashtag so you know exactly who is participating

-Select the timeframe (start and end of giveaway)

-Interact with the participants to generate a hype

-Choose the winner and share it on your social accounts. 

22. Shoutouts

This is a big one and again a strategy a lot of so-called Instagram gurus teach to their audience. Now I believe there is a good and a bad way to go about shoutouts. The honest and the paid ones.

First of all, yes, of course, shoutouts work wonders to boost certain posts or your account, especially if the person mentioned you have a big audience. If you are able to create a true relationship with one of the big accounts out there and they shout you out GREAT! Great for you, great for your account authority as well as virality!

But, paying for shoutouts is a whole other story. Yes, this is a thing but hear me out. There are accounts who will shout you out for money but have you considered whether their followers are your target audience? What kind of people will follow you and what are you trying to do here anyway? We want to build a brand with real engagement and not a mindless account with millions of people who couldn’t give a damn about you.

People who will follow you just for the sake of it won’t leave the crucial likes and comments we talked about in this post you need to go viral anyway, so is it worth your time? I leave it up to you.

23. CTA

CTA’s or “Call to Actions” are very very important. You should be including CTA in every single post and story you publish. It’s important to tell your audience exactly what you want them to do after they read your caption of listening to your story. It sounds super simple and I know it’s very effective but I still see so many people, not including CTA’s in their posts. You want more virality to let your audience know to double tap!


Creating viral content can be challenging, and it is unlikely that you will succeed in creating a viral Instagram post on your first try. It requires trial and error. Each time you will learn more about the preferences of your audience, until one day you create an Instagram post that spreads like wildfire.


I really do hope you have found this post on how to go viral on Instagram useful.

Remember, the content you put out there defines you. It gives you a “voice” too and has the ability to make your brand shine. If you’re just posting viral video after viral video, your account becomes the home of viral videos. Is that something you really want?

I think it’s safe to say that going viral on Instagram with every post shouldn’t be your goal with Instagram. If you haven’t had any luck getting massive exposure yet, then it might be a good idea to browse around and see if there’s something you can create that has the potential to go viral.

Like I said before, creating viral content is just one piece of the puzzle. It also requires a good content distribution strategy which is a topic for another time.