Why does some content go viral? The science behind the art

By Shannon Kinney | Jan 10, 2018

If you’ve ever watched a viral video and thought “That looks so easy to do! Even I could make that,” you aren’t alone. Viral content can appear incredibly simple and obvious, but once you actually try to make something go viral, you start to realize that there is much more to it.

While some things go viral due to a completely random set of coincidences, others go viral based on several observable factors. In this blog post, we’re going to examine the scientific reasons behind viral content.

The number one thing that influences whether content goes viral or not is its ability to evoke a positive emotional response in the viewer. People are more likely to share an article, image or video if it inspires them, piques their curiosity or makes them laugh. Content that induces negative emotions can still go viral, but content that makes people angry performs better than content that makes people feel sad.

In 2011, the New York Times did a study on the Psychology of Sharing, examining people’s motivations for sharing content online. One significant finding was that people share things based on their relationships with other people. You can use this to your advantage when creating your own content by thinking in terms of what your audience might want to share among themselves based on similar interests.

Sharing content is a form of communication in itself these days. Web content like videos, GIFs or memes are used to better express thoughts and opinions. Articles are shared to more efficiently convey complex ideas. When trying to craft viral content, you need to ask yourself, “Is this going to ignite or enhance a conversation?” People also share content as an expression of their identity. If you have demographic info on your audience, you can use this to create content that speaks to them and their desire to define themselves to others.

While the emotional response plays a major role in making content go viral, it also takes a fair amount of planning and strategy. Quality matters, whether it’s making sure your video is shot in HD and has good lighting or publishing a clean and attractive article with appropriate images. Timing your content is important as well. People won’t see your content if they’re asleep or at work. Using social media metrics from past posts, you should be able to see the best times for getting your posts seen by your audience.

So you thought you had the perfect viral content — the quality was amazing, it spoke to you and others, the message was genuine and engaging, and it was scheduled for a time that the most people would see it — but it still flopped. That’s OK. It happens to everyone. Even if something does get a ton of engagement, it will only last a few days before dropping to a trickle of activity. Before you completely scrap your post and try something new, try re-promoting that content the following week. If you originally posted on a Friday, try posting it again earlier in the week to help spread exposure.

Sometimes you just can’t plan what’s going to go viral. In February 2016, we posted a photo of a simple sign for one of our clients, a boat manufacturer. The sign said, “Life is better at the lake.” It’s a simple sentiment, but it struck a chord among the boat-maker’s fans, who shared the photo 330 times, liked it 533 times and added 16 comments.

Even though there’s some science behind why posts go viral, there’s some art to it, too.

To learn more about creating custom content for your business, contact the Dream Local #HoneyBadgers to learn more.

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