If you’ve ever been on the Internet, you’ve seen this famous furry face. Grumpy Cat, real name Tardar Sauce, is a female house cat whose morose expression has become a World Wide Web fad. In other words, Grumpy Cat has gone viral.
But what makes a post, video, article, etc. viral? You certainly can’t make something go viral. Like a virus, a popular post will spread quickly by its carriers, not just by the original contaminate. In order for a virus to thrive, however, it has to have qualities that will make it spread from host to host, consumer to consumer. By uniquely positioning your content, you can increase your post’s chance of becoming the next Internet sensation.
In the world of journalism there are certain aspects of a story that make it “news worthy.” If you hit on all of these points, that story could garner attention from all over and become national news. Incidentally, these points work the same for online content. Publish something with all five, and your viral chances will greatly increase.
It goes without saying: The more people are affected by your content, the more likely they are to give it the attention it needs to go viral. “A Pep Talk from Kid President,” is a video that went viral because of its impact on a great number of people. A literal pep talk about life, playing on the same team, and becoming “awesome,” this video has elements that speak to anyone who breathes. (So, everyone.)
Impact isn’t just about affecting each person who views your content. Even if that person is not impacted by it, they may know someone who would be. With the “Share” feature popping up on almost every social media website, it is easy for viewers to share your post with friends they think can relate to it or will enjoy it.
Sparking controversy isn’t something many PR professionals would give your company the green flag on. However, many businesses and organizations have seen an increase in publicity simply by making statements or supporting ideas they believe in. In 2012, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, made public comments opposing same-sex marriage after reports that CFA had made donations to a charitable group that also opposed it. The reactions by both supporters and those opposed spawned national media coverage that was seen on every social media website known to man. To counter the backlash from same-sex marriage supporters, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee established Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. This event was heavily promoted on Facebook, with over 600,000 people RSVPing on the event’s Facebook page. On this day, average Chick-Fil-A sales saw a 29.9% increase over a typical Wednesday.
Chicken biscuits and waffle fries aside, intentionally causing conflict in the hopes of making your brand go viral is dangerous ground to tread on. The amount of backlash you may receive might not counter the supporters of your thoughts or ideas. While I mention conflict as a way to position your content to go viral, I mention it with about 100 disclaimers that it may just not be worth it.
Content featuring celebrities—actors, politicians, athletes, CEOs, etc.—is more likely to garner interest than content starring Joe Shmoe. Because more people are familiar with them, and because of our society’s tendency to hyper-focus on the lives of celebrities, content including them has a higher viral potential. This video of President Obama “singing” “Call Me Maybe” boasts over 37 million hits on YouTube. A video of your neighbor singing “Call Me Maybe,” would probably not have quite the same effect.
The flip side to this is that many celebrities are only celebrities because they were originally Joe Shmoes who went viral, like Laina Morris, the face behind the “Overly Attached Girlfriend” Meme.
Our society has become so used to getting information by the second. Break up with your boyfriend? Take it off Facebook after you drop the “It’s not you; it’s me.” Get a new job? Tweet about it as soon as you leave the interview. Viral posts are no different. We see this happen a lot when there are major news-breaking events. Typically after events like the Colorado shooting or the Newtown shooting, articles with conspiracy theories are everywhere you look online. It is likely that these would not be as popular months or years after the fact. If you want your information to go viral, it must be relevant. Most of the time, in order for it to be relevant, it must be current.
Probably the most important factor of all viral content is that it is unique. Before “David After Dentist,” a YouTube video of a 7-year-old who had just had a tooth removed, most people probably hadn’t heard a little boy ask such deep questions like, “Is this real life?” Re-purposing content may be good for positioning yourself as an organization that is up-to-date, but it is highly unlikely that this will get the kind of attention needed to go viral.
Implementing these factors in your content is absolutely not a guarantee that it will go viral. In fact, there is virtually no way to guarantee that. Viral content is a mixture of the above five factors, timing and a lot of luck. Social media websites operate on sharing content. Twitter retweets and mentions, Facebook likes and shares, Tumblr reblogs—all of these easy-to-use features are what make viral content go viral. Utilize them to put your content in front of the people who will make it popular. Viruses begin when the host (your company) spreads it to new carriers, who then spread it to their friends and so on.
You might not have a cat that looks unhappy 24/7, or a child who needs a tooth extraction, but you do have the tools to make something go viral. Your company or organization must be unique, otherwise it wouldn’t be in business. Find your company’s niche, your story. Once you have determined what that is, use it to create something no one has seen before, something they will want to share with everyone they know.