How Do Posts Go Viral?
How do posts go viral — Is there a guiding principle that explains why some posts spread like wildfire and others fall flat? We believe there is.
Consider that, by nature, virality entails sharing. In other words, for content to spread it must be shared by people who encounter it.
Now a very important question to ask is why would people share the content. What makes people click the Share or Retweet button; why do they Regram?
Realistically people share posts for a myriad of reasons. But arguably, the greatest common thread is that they feel emotionally invested in the content that they share.
For example, perhaps someone experienced a tragic accident and they are struggling to pay medical bills. A loved one writes a heartfelt post on the suffering person’s behalf, detailing the accident and the funding that is needed to fully recover – and asking that others please share the post to help spread the word. There’s a great chance that anyone who remotely knows the person would share the content, and a real possibility that many others would too. People share the post because they feel invested in wanting to help.
Or for a very different case, let’s say an incredibly funny moment is caught on camera that is extremely out of the norm. Specifically, a man dressed like a rodeo clown, who believes himself all alone, is filmed doing a spontaneous breakdance routine by a passerby. The onlooker posts the video, and an overwhelming number of people who encounter the post end up reposting it. People share the post because they feel invested in making others laugh just as they themselves laughed.
In another instance, a fashion brand has been working with a digital artist on a shocking new interactive exhibit. The showcase, located in the heart of Times Square, includes a series of lights that depict the planet earth, which slowly change to reveal a dying world that has been struck down by the effects of global warming. When the exhibit launches, the brand shares a post that beautifully captures the installation, explaining that global warming is slowly killing our planet. Followers of the brand see the post, and they re-post the content. And the post is so compelling that a secondary wave of users also re-post it, creating a ripple effect. People share the post because they feel invested in highlighting how there is a real need to fight global warming.
You can see that in each of these cases the posts experienced some degree of virality because the content invested people in some way. Obviously these examples are a bit extreme, but the same principle holds true for any post. Content that makes people feel emotionally invested tends to get shared more.
One follow-up question that may come to mind is: Is it possible to manufacture virality? And the answer is yes. Big brands that have tons of money will often pay influencers to share their posts and put their own spin on the content. This tactic enables a post to gain widespread visibility, though it should be noted that to truly catch fire the content still must invest people emotionally. If the posts do not effectively invest people’s emotions, the content will almost certainly stop with the influencers and result in a low virality.
Are you looking to create the internet’s next big viral series? That’s excellent. But we would offer one piece of advice. Remain 100% objective about your ideas. Think from your audience’s point of view and ask yourself: Is this something people will realistically care about? If you’re honest with yourself, and the answer is yes – you might just be onto something. But if the real answer is no, then you’ll need to rethink your approach and find the spark that lights that fire.