As you rapidly scroll through Twitter or scan your Facebook feed, there’s a possibility that you’ll come across several videos, an abundance of memes, and a few status updates from people who went to your high school and you don’t even talk to anymore. In between all of that, there’s a good chance that something ‘viral’ is lurking in your timeline. Unfortunately, if everyone is talking about it, you’re stuck knowing that the funny viral clips will consume the social aspect of your life for the next few days or weeks.
Viral content can be adorable like the Walmart boy who won all of our hearts with his snazzy bow tie and extraordinary yodel. Other times it’s debatable (and kind of annoying) like the recent audio clip that sparked Yanny or Laurel. Sometimes it will even make you laugh like the Superbowl Selfie kid. There’s something about all of these viral posts that made the internet lose their minds.
As A College Student
I became extremely interested in the science behind why content goes viral. I decided to delve deep into the topic through an eight-page research paper (I recognize that this is not long…however, it felt like a novel considering it was my final semester). My research revealed the unexpected and has given me great insight on how to go viral.
The science behind virality is much more complex than it may seem, but I’ll try to tell you all about it in a lot less than eight pages (because that’s snooze-worthy).
Through my research, I have discovered three factors that the majority of viral content revolves around: connection, emotion, and current events.
How To Go Viral
Let’s say you were one of the many people who decided to share the video of the Yodeling boy in Walmart. Why did you decide to share it?
- Maybe you’re from Illinois and you regularly shop at that specific Walmart. You’ve made a connection to that video via location.
- Are you a yodeler? You have something in common with the boy in the video and you want to share it with the world.
- Did it make you feel mad because now he’s famous for yodeling in Walmart and you work hard for your money and now he’s probably more financially stable than you are…(no, just me?)
Whatever the reasoning, it directly reflects on your personality and the community you’re sharing it with. Whether you personally relate to the snazzy yodeling boy in Walmart or not, you created a connection with the video that you have now shared, and that says something about who you are.
Emotion is a type of connection that often captures audiences when it comes to viral content. Emotional-driven viral content can evoke positive or negative feelings. Emotions can range from extreme happiness, shock, fear, or anger. However, several studies have shown that positive social media posts attract more virality than negative.
Generally, a majority of the population is seeking something outside of their everyday lives to make them happy or excited. Think of this in terms of what you tend to share on social media. More often than not, people prefer to post the happier moments in their lives and share things with friends that will make them laugh. People share positive content because it is the image they want to portray IRL (in real life).
Take a moment to think about something in the news that everyone is talking about. That’s the last factor that plays into social media virality. Not only does viral content need to be relevant, it also needs to reflect the type of content that people want to see. Let me put it into context for you…
One of the most controversial issues within Trump’s presidency is the Mexican border wall, which has become a staple during his term. During the 2017 Superbowl, 84 Lumber released an ad (that later went viral) that clearly defined their stance on the issue as a company. 84 Lumber took advantage of addressing a current issue in a clear and direct way.
Current events can also indirectly play into virality through the overarching emotion of the world. When you stop to think about everything that’s going on in the world, how does it make you feel? People tend to think about current events as a negative because the news often highlights more sad, destructive stories than happy and joyful segments.
So why does the world seeks positivity? And how does the sharing of Gym Kardashian play a role in that?
Social media has evolved and become a way for people to escape from the real world. Individuals divert their attention away from the horrific news of school shootings and natural disasters, looking for a dose of happiness through a relatable viral video or hilarious meme.
Virality In Marketing
Similar to the three factors of virality in social media, Adam Mills suggests there are four key drivers of success for viral marketing. The four keys include:
- The spreadability of content based on personal factors
- The propagativity of content based on media type
- The integration of multiple media platforms
- The successive reinforcement of messaging
Need An Example?
These four drivers of success are seen in Dove’s “Real Beauty” viral marketing campaign and Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign.
Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign
Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which launched in 2004, was designed to make women feel beautiful. It was paired with the “Real Beauty Pledge” which essentially promised that Dove would:
- Always feature real women, not models
- Portray women as they are in real life (zero digital distortion)
- Help young girls build body confidence and self-esteem
Through video and picture advertisements, Dove made the campaign and pledge a success.
Dove’s “Real Beauty” Sketches personally inspired me and made me feel empowered. The sketch features real women who learn that they’re much more beautiful than their own biases.
The video, along with all of the others, acts as a reminder to women both young and old that they are beautiful, no matter what the media suggests they should look like. This campaign tackles a tough topic that appeals to women emotionally and sends a message of positive reinforcement that is reiterated through multiple platforms.
Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Campaign
Now, let’s switch gears! Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign revitalized the company’s image through the use of humor and a very attractive man with a six-pack (which probably helped). This strategy, although very different from Dove, helped build an entire campaign that was focused on one man. Viewers idolized him. Plus, Isaiah Mustafa became the Old Spice spokesperson, which was a direct method to appeal to the younger generation.
The viral advertisement reinforced a consistently positive message (“he could smell like me”) to their target audience, the female population. Females were targeted because they are typically the ones shopping for their husband or boyfriend’s body wash. And I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want their man to smell like Isaiah?
To further build buzz, Old Spice invited consumers to submit questions via Twitter and Facebook to be answered personally by the Old Spice Guy. This took the campaign to the next level by utilizing social media as a tool to directly interact with customers via video.
While every ad, video, and meme is different, there is a commonality that’s always present. All of the most popular content utilizes:
- Current Events
Whether you’re a business owner or a social media addict looking to create the next viral meme or advertisement, I hope this gives you everything you need to know to become viral…and when you do, don’t forget to mention us. 😉