How and why do some things become viral?

01 May

I don’t know if these are the most inane, insane, funny, repetitive or just plain weird things that I have seen today, but they are viral:


How and why do some things become viral, whereas other, possibly much better videos don’t see the light of day?  In order to do a small amount of research myself I played these videos for three classes of mine. As soon as I put them on, big…and I’m talking BIG… smiles came to most kids faces.  Giggles and laughs broke out and after I had stopped playing the videos and discussions were had, I heard and saw some of my students looking the videos up themselves to play them over and over again.

I often play videos for my students. In fact, most of the videos, which you can witness for yourself in the “Videos” section of this site, have been shown and discussed at one time or another with students. However, the two that are embedded in this post seem to be the ones that elicit the largest “play again” response.

I asked my students why. Some of their answers were:

  • They are funny
  • They are cute
  • The first one reminds them of videos games
  • They are repetitive
  • They are fun to annoy other people with
  • They catch into your brain immediately
  • They are spoofs

I agreed with all of these answers.  I thought about what age demographic these videos seem to be appealing to and assume that most people who are watching these are kids and teens.  Let’s look at each video individually to see what commonalities they have.

The first video has a retro-feel that many adults might remember from their video game experiences [think: Pong, Atari, Coleco-Vision, Sega, Nintendo, Commodore 64 & Amiga]  It might be exliciting memories with the play of a very repetitive song and some bright, pixelated graphics.  It is repetitive, has good sound quality, is simple, but well-made and is repetitive.

The second video is also well-made.  It is possibly a spoof – something that is intended to make fun of the original.  It also seems like something we all could have done had we set our minds to it.  It has mediocre to good looking people in the video.  It mimics the style of music and videos of the same genre and the theme is something most people love – Friday!

Comparing the two, we see that both are well-made, repetitive, and give us something to talk about on a general level.  They are both simple in form.  They feel like something we could have done or made ourselves, but they are original.  Both bring smiles to our faces because they are entertaining, light-hearted and have a tacit “like” factor.  But how did they become viral?

Malcolm Gladwell examines the “critical mass of an idea” in his book The Tipping Point. Overall it’s an interesting explanation of how information moves through crowds and things go viral. There is much emphasis on influencers or super influencers in getting something to go viral; someone with a lot of reach or readers already can promote an idea and really enhance its chances of getting spread further. Bingo! The idea goes viral. No rocket science here –  you are basically starting out very near critical mass already.

Does this mean that we need to be connected to a super influencer who can promote our product or idea?  Maybe.  But sometimes they can’t get it going either.  If the idea is not good, then they may have problems as well.  If they send out bad information about an idea or product then they lose credit and people will listen to them less.  Patrick, of Very Involved writes:

You should not be writing an article [or making something] to just be helpful to the end user. It’s much more than that. You want your article or product to be one that your customers need to invest others attention in.
Your readers should feel like they have something to gain from passing along your article to their friends. They are your co-authors, reaping the benefits of your words, by being able to say, “I found that”.

Reexamining my two examples you might want to say, “I found that”.  If at least for entertainment’s sake.  However, as an educator, I want to be someone who is passing on valuable information.  In order to do so I would read more about that idea of virility here:

Good luck.  Think about what you’re making or continuing to make viral.  Think about what others have made viral.  Let’s get viral!


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