What It really Means To Go Viral

What makes the difference between an average post with a couple of retweets and content that gets shared over 1 million times?

It’s something that every business dreams of: creating a Tweet or Facebook post that is viewed and shared by millions of people all around the world. Something as simple as having ice dumped on you or a dress that divides the world opinion on its very color can spread like wildfire through the internet in a matter of minutes.
Although much of the viral content online is frivolous and – quite frankly – pointless, there is still a fair amount of quality content that ends up making its way around the internet. So think of this from a marketing standpoint: how beneficial would it be if the content you posted was viewed over a million times? Imagine the engagement from customers! Imagine the publicity!
Let’s be honest, there is no secret formula for creating viral content. There isn’t a six-week course that will tell you how to come up with the next internet sensation. If there was, every business in the world would be posting viral-worthy content that would get viewed over a million times.
What are the stages of going viral?
Washington Post took the recent Pizza Rat video (if you haven’t see it, get caught up here) to show the “three stages” of going viral.
Stage 1 is of course the actual post. Matt Little, a comedian living in New York, filmed the ambitious rat at 1am. 12 hours later he posted the video on Instagram and upon noticing the popularity of the video, posted it on YouTube. After a couple of hours, a columnist from Gawker wrote about the inspiring rat that just wanted a slice of pizza.
Stage 2 contains the “media avalanche”, as put by WP writer Caitlin Dewey. Mashable and BuzzFeed followed right behind Gawker and published articles of their own. Pretty soon, a GIF was made and the rat video was spread all over Twitter. Parody accounts were created and shortly after that millions had seen Pizza Rat.
Stage 3 is the ending of the viral frenzy. By then, new memes and GIFs had been created in reference to Pizza Rat. For days, people all over the internet couldn’t get enough of the adorable rat carrying pizza down some subway tunnel stairs.
Something as juvenile as the Pizza Rat has already racked up over 6.5 million views on YouTube and has been featured on just about every major online blog imaginable.
The good and bad of going viral
The obvious draw of having something go viral is that it gets your brand’s name out there. We all remember the Old Spice campaign that featured a handsome man riding a horse backwards and insulting all those inferior men who don’t use his product. The videos were popular and immediately boosted Old Spice’s followers on Twitter by 2,700 percent. Facebook fans rose 800 percent and their YouTube channel doubled in followers.
These videos went viral, gaining millions of views on YouTube in a matter of days. By the end of 2010, the year these videos came out, Old Spice boosted sales by 125 percent and moved into first place as the number one selling brand of body wash for men in the United States.
As positive as this campaign was for Old Spice, sometimes going viral has huge negative effects on a brand. For example, only a month ago, The New York Times published an article defaming the Amazon work environment. The article was less than kind about the company’s ‘unusual’ ethos regarding their employees.
The article quickly went viral, generating follow-up articles from most major news sources such as Forbes and Fortune. Millions saw these articles and immediately thought that Amazon must be a corrupt corporation that must be taken down. Poor publicity at its finest.
Shortly after, many employees spoke out defending Amazon as a work environment. One employee wrote a an article that negated all of the claims made by the NYT. His article also went viral.
The point is that the original negative publicity damaged the Amazon name, hence proving that going viral isn’t always good.
So do I want to go viral?
When it comes down to it, do you really want your content to go viral? If your content goes viral because it’s beneficial and inspiring, then yes, of course you should strive for flooding the internet! Think about content the kinds of content that get shared thousands of times. That’s the content you should strive for.
However, don’t just try to force mediocre content around the web with the hopes of eventually coming up with something that will go viral. This is simply spam, and no one likes spam.
Do you have the next Pizza Rat video? Maybe you’ll be the next internet sensation!

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