Memes and Videos That Become Pop Culture Staples

This comic is funny because there is a good deal of truth behind it. This desire people have to spread their video/blog post/tweet faster than the speed at which teen girls gathered outside Rockefeller Plaza in anticipation of Justin Bieber’s concert on the Today show is spot on.

Can you really blame people? Going viral is a quick, sure-fire way to get your name out there, gain brand recognition, and maybe even score an interview on a morning news show. A video that includes a teen girl singing some lackluster lyrics and repeating the word “Friday” upwards of 20 times can become wildly popular. So, the bar for viral content seems pretty low. Who wouldn’t want to give it a shot?

Sometimes, it seems that things go viral for unexplainable reasons. Take the Nyan Cat for instance.

This video is a loop of a cat attached to what appears to be a strawberry Pop-Tart with some video-game-esque music playing in the background. Why has this captivated people’s attention and gathered over 76 million views on YouTube?

What Makes Something Go Viral?

Many people have weighed in on the concept of virality, sharing their observations on factors that boost one’s chances of going viral and even conducting studies on the topic.

Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s trends manager who has every nerd’s dream job of getting paid to watch YouTube videos, gave a TED Talk in which he attributed video virality to three factors:

  1. Tastemakers: a tastemaker is an individual or a group who shapes aspects of pop culture like music, fashion, food, and online content. Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel helped a video go viral by tweeting about it, but celebrities aren’t the only tastemakers. Bloggers or writers with a robust online presence can widely disseminate videos as well.
  2. Participation: a video goes viral when people can take part in that video. Allocca refers to a “creative, participating” community that forms around a video; people in the community enjoy the video together, and the video becomes an inside joke that the community collectively shares.
  3. Unexpectedness: a video becomes popular if features something novel, innovative, unanticipated, or surprising.

Allocca isn’t the only one to attempt to explain the phenomenon that is virality. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania conducted two studies in which researchers aimed to answer the question: why do certain things go viral? Both studies looked at over 7,000 New York Times articles published over six months and analyzed the stories that made the New York Times’ most emailed list.

Here’s what they found:

Something interesting to note about the Wharton studies: the most powerful predictor of virality in the study’s model is how much anger an article evokes. The 2nd most powerful predictor was an article’s ability to evoke awe. People share content that gets them riled up.

And, people who want YouTube fame should refrain from a constant cascade of uploading. The more frequently someone uploads content, the less likely it is that such content will reach a “popularity threshold.”

There Are Two Sides to Every Story

Not everyone agrees with these findings. One recent study chalked cases of Twitter virality up to random happenings: when something goes viral on Twitter, it’s an arbitrary phenomenon. But even if gaining fame in the Twittersphere is random, it can’t hurt to put the above research findings into practice.

Don’t Forget About Content

A successful viral campaign is every marketers dream. But, don’t underestimate the power of quality content, which really does have the power to spread and reach a wide audience. Case in point: 92% of people retweet something because it is interesting content.

Andy Warhol anticipated this age of viral videos that generate flash-in-the-pan successes over 40 years ago when he said, “In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” Creating great content is one way to get on people’s minds, and it’s a way to stay there much longer than fifteen minutes.

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