What Makes Something Go Viral

Konzept, Vermarktung StrichmännchenSeems like every week there is another viral post. Dresses with weird colors, kids or animals doing something funny or something else makes the rounds. People from all different circles of your life are posting it.

I’ve only ever been attached to one thing that went viral. It was the “Wrong Worship” video. The church I was on staff at did the parody, and one of the guys I worked with threw it on his Youtube channel to show his friend.

The next day the video had over 10,000 views. By the end of the week it had been stolen, put on “Godtube” and had hundreds of thousands of views. (The video was initially stolen from Youtube and posted there without attribution. That’s a whole other topic. As is the existence of “Godtube” in and of itself.) And the Youtube video was just a little behind that one. In no time the video had been seen over 1,000,000 times. Even now you can find posts where people have translated the video and reposted it. There’s another pirate copy with almost 300,000 views.

No one had a clue that would happen. The content struck a chord. People shared it everywhere.

What makes something go viral? It’s a combination of timing and interest. Content gets shared, and some sort of tipping point is reached. Enough people are sharing and seeing it that new audience members consider wit worth watching AND sharing as well. It’s the social aspect of social media at play. My friends liked this, several of my friends shared it, I should watch it.

Making that happen is very hard.

Think about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Once it finally reached the tipping point, there was maybe a couple months of viral video all over Facebook, over $100 million in donations, 28 million likes and interactions, and 2.4 million videos of people dumping ice water on their heads. There are several articles on why, but from what I can gather it was these factors: important cause, easy to do, social, it had a bandwagon aspect, and a few celebrity participants gave it enough exposure to tip.

The Ice Bucket Challenge had been around for a while, even making appearances on national TV. This Time article credits the start of the ALS version of the challenge to Florida golfer Chris Kennedy on July 15th, 2014. 16 days later the video challenge had reached baseball player Pete Frates who is suffering from ALS himself. He had a huge network, and it took off. By the next Monday the ALS Association had seen donations from over 300,000 new donors. And it was viral.

Did Kennedy plan this? No. Did our worship team expect it? Nope. But it happened.

Want to make your own content or idea go viral? Make good content, put it out there. If it’s good, people will share it. If things go well, it could take off. It may not take off quickly, but if it reaches that tipping point, it will blow up. If it doesn’t, then those who see it will be impacted.

There’s no secret formula. But it happens every week.