Neil Patel

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How to Go Viral on Instagram: 10 Expert Strategies

A graphic saying: How to go Viral on Instagram."

Have you ever had someone say to you: “Make this Instagram post go viral?”

I’m sure a lot of digital marketers can relate!

The good news is that if you’re going to go viral, Instagram is a great social media platform to do it on. As it’s image and video-led, it’s easy to create scroll-stopping content. Plus, with two billion monthly active users, it’s the perfect place to connect with a large, engaged audience.

So, if you want to go viral to drive brand visibility, engagement, and conversions – how do you do it?

In this article, I’ll share my top ten tips for building viral Instagram campaigns, as well as what it means for your posts, Reels, and Stories to go viral.

Key Takeaways

  • Any brand or industry can go viral on Instagram. It’s a case of creating content that resonates with the needs of your target audience and engaging with them in the right way.
  • There isn’t an “official” number of likes or comments which means an Instagram post goes viral. However, you’ll experience a noticeable uplift on the platform!
  • Don’t just rely on Instagram posts. Reels, Stories, and Instagram Live are all great for encouraging engagement and appealing to followers.
  • Credibility is a massive part of virality. The more followers trust you, the more likely they are to share your content. 
  • Virality isn’t guaranteed. Even if your post doesn’t go viral, you can still create content your followers love and look forward to!

Understanding Virality on Instagram

Virality means different things to different people, but my definition of viral content is content that is highly shareable. As a result, people engage with it and share it with their own social media followers.

As a rule of thumb, if your Instagram post gets 10,000 likes or your Reel gets 100,000 views, you’ve gone viral. However, this number can depend on your industry and the size of your Instagram account. If you have a small number of followers or operate in a specific sector, I’d adjust this accordingly.

Here’s an example of an Instagram post of mine that went viral. I discussed five custom versions of ChatGPT that marketers can use to automate tasks. This post got over 12,000 likes in a short amount of time. 

Viral post from Neil Patel's Instagram

You might think that sounds a little low, even though it’s in our viral range. However, it’s important to note that if this post gets a lot of attention in a short window of time, it’s still able to make a splash and draw more eyes to my other content. So, why did this post go viral?

  • ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are hot, trending topics at the moment.
  • I addressed a common digital marketer pain point – how to save time on repetitive, frustrating tasks.
  • The short video contains footage of the different GPTs so viewers can see how they work and what the benefits are.

A viral Instagram post is a great sign that your followers love your content. You may also want to consider repurposing your viral content, for example as blog articles and Instagram ads, to capitalize on your popularity.

Now, let’s look at how to go viral on Instagram.

1. Capitalize on Trending Topics and Hashtags

A fantastic way to go viral on Instagram is to leverage relevant trending topics and hashtags, offering your unique insights. As people are interested in what’s trending, this means your content is more likely to grab their attention. 

Speed is essential with this strategy – the sooner you react, the better. Take the 2024 Met Gala, where interest in the event peaked and dropped within a few days.

The Met Gala in Google Trends

It’s vital to monitor what’s going on in your industry so you can react as quickly as possible. Follow other relevant accounts on Instagram and use platforms like Google Trends and Reddit to stay in the loop.

Here’s a great example of a reactive post from Ikea UK. The brand quickly jumped on the news of Doja Cat wearing what looked like a bath towel at the 2024 Met Gala, showing followers how they could emulate her style.

Example of a reactive social media post from Ikea

2. Create Visually Stunning and Share-Worthy Content

With 1.3 billion images shared on Instagram a day, creating photos and videos that make you stand out is a brilliant way to encourage virality.

You don’t need an expensive camera or a multi-thousand-dollar editing suite to create a viral Instagram campaign. I analyzed over 100,000 Reels on Instagram and found that the videos that generated the most views had fewer visual design elements.

The trick is to upload photos and videos that are fresh and exciting, that your target audience will enjoy. Understand what your customers want to see and create high-quality images and videos that exceed their expectations.

Apple’s Instagram feed is full of gorgeous photos and videos which get tens of thousands of likes. Not only does all the imagery come from feed subscribers, encouraging shareability, but it’s all shot on iPhones and iPads. This shows exactly what Apple software is capable of. 

Apple's Instagram feed

3. Evoke Emotions and Encourage Action Through Storytelling

The best marketing campaigns inspire an emotion in people – whether that’s happiness, fear, sadness, or awe. People are more likely to engage with social media content that evokes some emotional response in them.

An additional benefit is that you build a strong connection with customers, meaning they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say in the future.

The best way to connect with customers emotionally when building viral Instagram campaigns? Through storytelling. With storytelling, you’re constructing a narrative, showing prospective customers how they should feel, and making yourself more memorable.

Airbnb is brilliant at using storytelling in its Instagram campaigns. It focuses on unique and interesting establishments and the stories of the hosts behind the scenes. By choosing its words and images carefully, the brand evokes emotions in customers, encouraging them to want to find out more and even book a holiday.

Example of storytelling on the Airbnb Instagram feed

4. Collaborate With Influencers and Industry Partners

An easy way to increase the chances of going viral on Instagram is to partner with an influencer or brand in a similar niche to yours.

When you collaborate with another Instagram account, you extend your reach. This means your brand appears in front of people who might not have heard of you before. 

Influencers and other brands may also think of cool and unique ways to promote your products or services, giving you extra opportunities to go viral!

Of course, it’s vital to choose the right influencers and brands. You want to work with Instagram accounts with high engagement rates and that are trusted and credible.

Crocs is amazing at partnering with not just influencers, but with brands in different sectors. Their collaboration with Busch Light resulted in thousands of likes and comments (as well as a few raised eyebrows from puzzled followers!)

Crocs collaboration with Busch Light

5. Engage With Your Audience Through Active Interaction 

One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to increase the odds of going viral? Communicate with your followers.

Taking the time to reply to comments, mentions, and direct messages means you build a loyal community around your brand and stand out from the crowd. Over half of social media users say the most memorable brands take the time to respond to their customers.

Not only this, but engaging with customers means other Instagram users are more likely to see your posts. Instagram prioritizes content with high engagement, increasing the chances of appearing on Instagram’s Explore page.

One of the best-known brands for responding to customers on Instagram is Wendy’s. The fast-food chain takes the time to respond to as many comments as possible, both positive and negative. 

As a result, customers feel appreciated, and Wendy’s gets a welcome boost from the Instagram algorithm every time it posts.

Example of Wendy's Instagram feed

6. Use User-Generated Content to Foster Authenticity

User-generated content (UGC) can help you with your viral Instagram campaigns. It works in a similar way to influencer content. By sharing UGC on your feed, you’re reaching new networks of followers who might not have heard of your brand before.

UGC is trusted more than any type of content. This means people who see it are more likely to see it as a credible source of information and share it.

Snag Tights uses lots of UGC to promote itself on Instagram, showing its products on a wide range of people, fostering a feeling of inclusivity and acceptance. The brand encourages people to tag it in their photos and videos or use the #SnagTights hashtag. 

As a result, posts get reshared, which results in more engagement and brand awareness.

Snag Tights Instagram account

7. Run Creative Contests or Challenges to Encourage Participation

An Instagram contest is a brilliant way to encourage engagement, generate goodwill amongst your followers, and increase the chances of your content going viral.

As Instagram is photo and video-led, a photo contest is a great option. You can encourage people to mention you in their entries, meaning your brand name appears in other people’s feeds. Plus, you get fresh UGC to use on your own feed too!

It’s important to follow the Instagram promotion guidelines so you don’t risk your account getting banned. 

Have clear terms and conditions in place, don’t ask entrants to tag themselves in photos they’re not in, and make sure you adhere to additional rules and regulations in your country.

GoPro regularly runs creative contests on its Instagram page, encouraging followers to send in their best photos and videos – with sizeable prizes for the winners! 

Example of a GoPro competition on Instagram

8. Utilize Instagram Stories and Reels for Dynamic Content

Instagram offers a wide range of different post types, including Stories and Reels. These can be an innovative and fun way to power your viral Instagram campaigns.

Stories disappear after 24 hours – meaning viewers only have a limited time to engage with them. This can drive a large amount clicks and likes in a short period,

Reels are fantastic for driving clicks and comments – they get 22% more interaction than standard video posts on Instagram. Plus, the more engagement you get on your existing Reels, the more likely the Instagram algorithm is to promote your newest ones.

Stories and Reels give you a fantastic opportunity to think outside the box and develop creative, interactive content you usually wouldn’t have on your Instagram feed. For example, behind-the-scenes glimpses of your business, interactive polls, and even discount codes.

I like how Pew Research approaches this – using Stories to ask questions. This generates engagement and provides followers with valuable information. Best of all, it shows that even more serious brands and organizations can make Stories and Reels work for them!

Question in Pew Research's Instagram Story

9. Leverage Instagram Live for Real-Time Engagement and Interaction

Sometimes the best way to encourage virality is to give your followers an unfiltered, personalized glimpse into your business. Instagram Live is a fantastic way to engage with potential customers and build relationships.

You can use Instagram Live to hold a Q&A with followers, offer a sneak preview of your latest products, or interview guests. You can also share a replay for followers who couldn’t make the live viewing.

Live streaming can feel daunting if you’ve not done it before. The trick is to plan ahead – understand your goals and what you want to talk about. I recommend reaching out to your followers through a Reel or Story and asking them what they want to see!

Instagram’s own Creators account frequently uses Live to give influencers and creators a platform and raise awareness. In the example below, the account livestreamed the 2024 Met Gala, capturing audiences’ reactions to what was happening.

Instagram Creators livestream

10. Offer Exclusive Promotions or Giveaways to Incentivize Sharing and Engagement

FOMO, or the “fear of missing out”, is a powerful marketing tool. You can use it to encourage your Instagram followers to act quickly and engage with your brand to get exclusive discounts and deals.

You can drive engagement and virality by offering discounts, promotions, and giveaways on your Instagram feed. For example, you can promote your latest flash sale, offer a special product deal in a Story, or get followers to tag their friends in exchange for a discount code in a DM.

Here’s a great digital marketing tip – why not set up a short-term giveaway on social media to encourage people to sign up for your email marketing list? Josh Earl did this and collected a staggering 188k email addresses as a result!

Make-up brand Sephora is highly skilled at using time-sensitive Stories to promote discounts and deals. This encourages followers to regularly check in, engage, and act as quickly as possible.

Example of Sephora Instagram story

Alt text:


How Many Likes Does it Take to Go Viral on Instagram?

There isn’t a definitive number of likes that it takes to go viral on Instagram. 

However, in my experience, if you get 10,000 post likes or 100,000 Reel views, you’re on the right track!

How Long Does it Take to Go Viral on Instagram?

It depends on several factors, including what industry you’re in, what type of content you’re posting, and what’s trending. Some content goes viral in hours, while some photos and videos can take weeks to gain traction.
If you’re wondering how to go viral on Instagram overnight, you can speed up the process by monitoring current trends and creating content people want to engage with!


Going viral on social media can be an unpredictable process. Often the content you think will go viral won’t, and vice versa. 

However, by following the guidelines above, you’re one step closer to creating viral Instagram campaigns that spread like wildfire!

Here’s another bit of good news. Instagram recently announced that it will update its recommendation system to “give all creators an equal chance of breaking through”. 

This means smaller accounts have a better chance of getting recommended to users and are more likely to go viral than ever.

Let me leave you with one final tip. Follow your competitors and other related Instagram accounts to see what your target audience engages with most. This means you can focus on the content that is most likely to bring the clicks, likes, and comments!

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Neil Patel