Exploring What's Hot: How Posts Go Viral

Making it onto Google+'s "What's Hot" list of trending posts can be one of the best things for gaining exposure. However, what it takes to make it there is one of the most mysterious areas of the social media network since Google keeps the algorithm as secret as the one for it's search engine. That being said, there is some we do know from observation and the small amount the Google+ Team has told us that can give us an idea of how posts go viral.

Introduction to "What's Hot"

Google Plus Explore Page, What's Hot and Recommended
Explore page (What's hot and recommended)
"What's Hot" is a list of trending posts on Google+ including posts with pictures, videos, and links to other websites. To find the list, simply click the "Explore" button on the left-hand side navigation ribbon. You'll be brought to the Explore page, also known as "What's hot and recommended." The list is personalized based on who you follow and what posts you engage with by +1ing, sharing, and commenting, so the results are each user.

The Value of Becoming "What's Hot"

Lately, we've been fortunate to have the +Google Plus Daily make it onto What's Hot a few times in recent weeks. With that good fortune has come many new followers including an increase by over 5% (400 new followers) in one day.

In terms of website traffic, days where a post of our's has made it to What's Hot have become our biggest traffic days. Not only do we get a high amount of traffic from Google+, but those articles are the ones most shared on other social media networks including Twitter and Facebook. The day we shared our article on the new Google+ profile and page experience was our highest traffic day. It also is the post with the longest run on What's Hot. That day, we had over 1,200 more visitors than the next highest (which was also a big traffic day because of What's Hot).

The posts themselves are those with the highest amount of engagement including one (at time of writing) with  538 +1s, 195 reshares, and 108 comments. This gives the originator of the post engagement from hundreds of users, and reshares place the post and name of the user/page in front of thousands that wouldn't otherwise see it. Due to the fact that many users are seeing this in their Stream from What's Hot and not other users, most of the reshares tend to come from individuals instead of long chains.
Ripples of a Google Plus Post on What's Hot
Ripples of a Post on What's Hot

How Posts Become "What's Hot"

It most likely goes without saying, but a post needs to be interesting and eye catching in order to make it to What's Hot. To make a post more interesting, you will want to accompany the text of your post with a picture, video, or link preview. Images are the best option, but the others can often be enough. There are very few pure text posts that will make it to What's Hot.

It appears that the Google+ team uses the number of +1s, reshares, and comments a post has garnered in their algorithm for What's Hot. The more of each, the better; however, it seems that shares receive the most weight with comments coming 2nd and then +1s. A lot of comments are not necessary, but they do help. We've had many posts with few comments before they hit What's Hot. When we asked a Google spokesperson, they were able to confirm our assumptions as well as let us know that the nature of the comments are taken into account as well:
"We determine popular posts on the What’s Hot and Recommended page based on a number of different factors. We use obvious signals such as how often the content has been re-shared, commented on and +1’d, but also the nature of the content of the comments to determine what constitutes a popular post."
Time is of the essence when gathering engagement on a post. The first 30 minutes is very important, and if the post doesn't make it to What's Hot in the first hour, it's most likely never going to make it.

It also appears that history is factored into the algorithm. After our first post hit What's Hot, it became easier to make it again. It seems to become easier after each post that makes it there.

Because of the personalization of What's Hot, it has become easier for a post to make it to the list at least for a subset of Google+ users. If the post does well with this subset, it's virality could pick up leading it to appear for even more users or higher up on What's Hot.

How "What's Hot" Could One Day Be Done

It doesn't appear to be part of the algorithm now, but I could see the Google+ Team giving more weight to verified profiles and pages. Along with that, I could see the algorithm beginning to include an Author Rank measurement that would take into account what kind of articles you've written and whether or not those have shares and +1s. This information would be used to decide if you are knowledgeable in the topic of your post.

Similarly, I believe they will use the Author Rank of those that reshare your post as an indicator. It just makes sense that a reshare from +Vic Gundotra himself should mean more than a reshare from someone with 100 followers.

Is there something you think should be taken into account when determining the What's Hot list? Let us know in the comments below!