The reasons why videos go viral was a mystery for years, but now analysts are starting to find a formula for what makes people pass content on…
It seems pretty random but it’s not – there’s a reason why that one video of a cat in a box, or that man gushing over a double rainbow, went viral. There are specific characteristics to a viral video, and marketers are studying this closely as they realize the power of the viral video to spread a message and create engagement.
Of course, it’s far from easy – Internet audiences hate it when brands look like they’re trying too hard to sell. And often, the videos that end up going viral were never planned for that purpose. In fact, most viral videos started out simply because the creator wanted to share.
But we can learn from cats in boxes. Videos of kitties are both feel-good and funny. And, according to viral researcher Jonah Berger, these two qualities are key ingredients of a viral video. In research, carried out with colleague, Katherine Milkman, Berger discovered that content with a positive message was more likely to be shared than the same content, delivered in a slightly more negative way.
US gossip blog Gawker learned this the hard way after posting a video of a firefighter rescuing a kitten, which went viral for all the other websites who published it, but not Gawker. Why not? Because Gawker included an extra detail that everyone else skipped: the kitten died of smoke inhalation shortly after.
Berger’s findings are supported by the contents of a recently-published white paper from the London-based social video marketing specialist Unruly. For their white paper, the company studied 14 video ads from February’s Super Bowl, using their own algorithmic tool containing more than 100 variables, derived from 430 billion video views and 100,000 consumer data points.
Based on their research, Unruly now claims it can determine how likely a video is to go viral with approximately 80 percent certainty. Through their research, they have also claimed to have debunked the following myths…
Using a celebrity won’t necessarily make a video any more popular. The research does suggest a celebrity may make an already shareable video more popular, but if the content is rubbish, adding a big name won’t help.
While humour can be very effective if it’s so funny that people actually laugh out loud, this is a risky tactic: “The statistics indicate that [humour] is the most overused emotional trigger, the most culturally sensitive trigger and also the most difficult to do well”.
A safer bet to trigger sharing is to try to provoke another feeling: happiness and warmth. Pride, inspiration and amazement are also responses associated with more sharing.
Elsewhere in the world of viral sharing, other researchers have identified the role of a ‘tastemaker’ in the share-factor.
Getting a so-called tastemaker, or influencer, interested in the video is one way to get something to go viral. This is the conclusion of Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube. In a recent TEDYouth Takk, he highlighted that the above rainbow video that attracted 23 million views had been online since January, but it only went viral a few month later when tastemaker Jimmy Kimmel shared it with his community online.
According to Kevin, content is also more likely to go viral if sharing it makes people feel like they are in on a joke.
“Unlike the one-way entertainment of the 20th century, this community participation is how we become a part of the phenomenon – either by spreading it or by doing something new with it,” said Kevin. “We all now feel some ownership in our own pop culture. And these are not characteristics of old media, and they’re barely true of the media of today, but they will define the entertainment of the future.”
Today, viral videos aren’t limited to YouTube. Big companies now build entire websites and even apps to support their attempt to go viral. To get your own special website, themed around your future viral campaign attempt, visit the Midphase website. To read some more on the concept of viral, check out our sister company blog at UK2.