While there's no guarantee that a piece of content will go viral, there are a few elements that you can incorporate into your content to significantly increase your chances. To demonstrate this, I'll break down a viral content marketing campaign Fractl recently created called Perceptions of Perfection.

The concept behind the campaign was simple. We sent 18 designers from around the world a picture of a woman and asked them to Photoshop her to the point of "perfection." The resulting images captured how each culture perceives the ideal body image differently, from thin Italian women to curvier Colombian women.

During the first week of the campaign, it received more than 700,000 page views on our client's site, 850,000 social shares, and more than 500 featured stories by online publishers. Sofia Vergara even shared the study with her 7.7 million Facebook fans.

Why did this campaign go viral? It wasn't mere luck. The Internet couldn't stop talking about Perceptions of Perfection because it tied together five proven characteristics of viral content.

Complex Emotions Elicit Stronger Responses

An emotional hook is important for creating shareable content; however, eliciting a complex emotional response is even better for driving shares and engagement. Perceptions of Perfection touched on the pressures of unrealistic body standards, which aroused a range of high arousal emotions, such as anger and anxiety, in viewers. It didn't just evoke a single emotion, but rather put the audience on an emotional roller coaster.

Add an Element of Surprise to Drive Interest

Our research on viral emotions found a strong correlation between an element of surprise and content sharing. Audiences were shocked when they saw the 18 Photoshopped images. The drastic differences in beauty standards added a surprise factor that piqued audience interest. Not only did the element of surprise get people viewing the campaign, it drove them to share it like crazy.

Create Content With Broad Appeal

A big reason marketers struggle to make branded content go viral is that it is too promotional and only of interest to the brand's core demographic. In order to get the attention needed to go viral, your content needs to appeal to a large swath of people. Striking a balance between appealing to a wide audience as well as your target market is key. With Perceptions of Perfection, we were able to attract the attention of a broad audience while also tying the concept back to our client's target demographic, women between ages 18 and 34.

Choose an Original or Newsworthy Angle

As you start to ideate for your next viral hit, ask whether the content is newsworthy. This is key for getting your content placed on major publications, which is crucial for getting the high visibility needed for your content to spread.

Our campaign was picked up by hundreds of publishers because it featured an exclusive study presenting new information. In fact, 66% of publishers told us they favor newsworthy or exclusive content above all other forms, so if you don't have an element of "newness" to your idea, it will be hard to generate much viral traction.

Play on Proven Success

This wasn't the first campaign to discuss body image--Dove has cornered this market for years. However, by adding a unique spin to an old concept (in our case, cultural beauty), we were able to create something new and shareable. As you start to brainstorm potential topics, it's okay to pull from what's already been popular with online audiences.

If you can find a way to improve upon an idea that's already been successful, then you're on your way to a viral hit. BuzzSumo is extremely useful for researching which topics and content formats have performed well with different audiences.

It's unlikely that every piece of content you create will be destined for viral success, but by incorporating the elements above into your production process, you can greatly increase viral potential.

Want to see more examples of viral content marketing? Download our collection of viral content case studies.

Published on: May 11, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.