The “Art” To Going Viral


Going viral – the term has become ubiquitous in the online world and the desire of many a firm. So what exactly does it mean to “go viral”? PC Mag defines viral content, typically a video, as that which becomes popular through a viral process of internet sharing. That is, sharing through websites, social media, email, etc. This typically happens rapidly, often in the space of a week and reaches millions.

Some of the most recent viral successes include the video for Gangnam Style by South Korean artist Psy, which currently has over 2 billion views on YouTube, making it the site’s most viewed video in history, the Kony 2012 video campaign which at 34 million views in one day, makes it the most viral video in history and the Harlem Shake meme. A video dance craze that spawned over 40,000 uploaded videos and almost 175 million views.

Naturally firms have embraced the viral trend and sought to create content that resonates with the public in a significant way. Some of the most recent successes include Dove’s 2013 “Real Beauty Sketches” video which gained 54 million views on YouTube and almost 68 million views around the web, Pepsi’s Jeff Gordon prank video and Audi’s Spock vs. Spock video starring the late Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, who both played the legendary character on screen.

So how exactly does one get their content to go viral? What is the art to going viral? The following are tips I’ve put together after reading a collection of material on the topic. Most may sound fairly simple but you’d be surprised how much harder they are to execute successfully.

  1. Be Current – If something is already in the public consciousness, individuals are far more likely to search for content related to it, which greatly improves one’s chances of having their content seen and possibly liked and shared. Timely content is also far more likely to resonate with individuals.
  1. Use Visual Content – It is probably redundant at this point in any new media conversation, but it remains the truth. That is, people respond more to the visual – videos, bold text, pictures, color, etc. The more visual, the more likely one’s chances of standing out and being noticed. Research shows that videos are typically more likely to go viral.
  1. SEO Matters – As with all online content, optimizing your content for search engines is important. Think keywords, phrases, hashtags and more. The more accurate your words, phrases and more, are to the terms individuals are searching, the greater your chances of being seen and liked.
  1. Be Funny – Statistically, people respond very well to something that genuinely amuses them. More importantly, they are far more likely to remember it and being memorable is a significant key to increasing one’s chances of having their content go viral.
  1. Be Bold/Shocking – Another major way to be memorable, is to create content that is bold, daring or shocking in some way. Something that is likely to get people talking. That said, I have never subscribed to the theory that all publicity is good publicity. So keep in mind that it is a fine line. You definitely do not want anything racially, culturally, gender or sexually offensive because while you may get a lot of attention, it will be for all the wrong reasons. Also, too much shock can eventually turn people off and desensitize them to where they’re no longer impressed anymore. See PETA, Greenpeace and American Apparel.
  1. Create Something That Resonates – People are far more likely to like and in turn share, something that resonates with them. Consider all those Instagram posts with some moving saying either from a poem, self-help book, movie, etc. which gets a number of likes and retweets. Something that resonates, that allows a person to see themselves in the message is far more likely to not only get noticed but be remembered and by that token, shared with others.
  1. Create A Contest – A great way to attract and engage individuals is to create some kind of contest or something that requires their participation. Consider the success of the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge which became a runaway sensation, with celebrities and individuals the world over taking part.
  1. Get Noticed By Someone Famous – The reality is, we live in a very celebrity obsessed culture and so, one of the fastest ways to go viral, is to get noticed by a celebrity and have them jump on the bandwagon. And naturally the more famous, the better. Of course this is far easier said than done but celebrities are people too and you never what funny or shocking or emotional video/content will catch their attention and resonate with them.

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