Virality Is Not Accidential

Your Facebook feed is full of videos shared or liked by your friends.  Internet videos are showing up on CNN as news stories.  Everyone and their cousin’s cat has created their own Gagnam Style spoof.  What’s all the fuss about? Do you remember American’s Funniest Home Videos? Back before the Internet boom when we’d all gather around the television at night and watch complete strangers make asses of themselves?  Viral video is a lot like that, only instead of being chosen by a panel of judges, they are chosen by crowds.  Of all the millions of videos on the Web, a few rise to the top, and when they rise, they create such a buzz that it’s all anyone can talk about – for a week or two anyway.  There are varying definitions of viral, but about one-third of advertising executives say that to classify a video as viral it must have at least 1 million hits in a short time period (Eckler & Bolls, 2011).  Viral videos are short.  According to a study by Forrester Research, the average video is 1:42 minutes long, with more than one-third of videos under 60 seconds.

What makes a video go viral?

  • Ingenuity – Viral videos contain content that is new, either meaningful or funny (Eckler & Bolls, 2011). Viral videos show you a different way of looking at an issue, and give you hope:
  • Emotionality – If a video is to go viral, it must have some emotional draw.  Blogger Chris Atkinson says viral videos “should be arresting enough to elicit a physical reaction from the viewer (tears, laughter, goosebumps, gasps, etc.).” Viral videos make you laugh when you least expect it:   Viral videos contain an emotionality as contagious as the common cold: 
  • Creative disruption – Viral videos contain creatively disruptive content, according to blogger Christie Archer, forcing people to see things from a different perspective or surprising them with the unexpected:
  • Influencers – Videos don’t go viral on their own. Made by identifiable organizations or individuals, these creative videos are pushed to credible cultural influencers, who then amplify the publicity like this: 

Viral video production: Do potential advantages outweigh costs?

One advantage of viral videos is that the buzz generates more pull of content, and there’s less intrusive pushing by advertisers (Truong & Simmons, 2010).  People want to see what the fuss is about, and, like a good Super Bowl commercial, people tune in and expect to be moved by viral videos.  But, do viral videos really sell products?  They seem like a great tool for non-profit organizations seeking to change attitudes, or brands seeking to humanize or change brand perception in some way.  While counting the number of views is easy, measuring the impact of viral videos in the marketplace seems more difficult and is an area of future study.

My personal viral favorites

  • Viral videos inspire creative reactions: 
  • Viral videos make you cry, get you noticed, and make you famous: 
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