A Recipe for Virality
The Super Bowl proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a young breakout star. Ryan McKenna, a thirteen-year-old from Massachusetts, was just another fan at the game until Justin Timberlake ran into the stands in his halftime performance. The confused expression on McKenna’s face was captured by cameras, and the image quickly blew up. Twitter in particular was the birthplace of hundreds of memes interpreting the situation. In the days following the explosion of McKenna’s selfie, the young man was featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Ellen; has gained over 100,000 Instagram followers; and received a season pass to a ski resort (shown on the sweatshirt he was wearing). Some say he is not deserving of the fame, but we need to understand why things go viral to know how he was able to get this far.
To understand this phenomenon known as virality, I looked to Google. After watching a few Ted talks and reading some articles, I found the secret formula for going viral. Keep in mind, most consider an image or video to be “viral” after being shared more than one million times. This recipe’s star ingredients includes these three things: diffusion, shock-factor, and connection with a targeted group.
We will start with diffusion, more specifically hierarchical diffusion (a word I learned in my AP Human Geography class that has proved to be useful in this instance, amazing.) Hierarchical diffusion is a spread of information or ideas from people high in society: celebrities, political figures, etc. to the everyday person. The internet is a huge sea of millions of tweets, photos, and videos. When you can get your content to someone with a huge platform, like Ellen, or Jimmy Kimmel, you will reach a wider spread of people faster than just having friends and family share the post. Think of all the trends that we follow after we see what celebrities are doing. Virality does not have to just be social media posts, but it can be fashion, music, and trends in general. Look at that, we are already thirty percent of the way through our recipe.
Shock factor has a big appeal when it comes to grabbing the audience’s attention. Who is going to share a boring video with their friends? Nobody. When we look at things that have taken over the internet in past years, you will see how important this is. Who was expecting Danielle Bregoli to cuss out the audience on Dr. Phil? Gangnam Style was another infamous video to break the charts. It was so crazy,and we fell in love in the process. We love to see the reactions on our friends faces when we can startle them with a jumpscare video, or cringe when a little kid runs into a door. We can not get enough of the unexpectedness, we love it!
The last component to our masterpiece is connection with targeted groups. More often than not, the targeted audience for viral videos are people under the age of thirty. We are the demographic with smartphones and every social media application, and we spend the most time on our phones than any other group. When creators make content, they tend to try to appeal to the masses. In a general sense this would be the younger generation, but there are also more targeted groups based off of interest. Most of the time, videos that are funny will appeal to people of all ages, and interest groups. We love to get a laugh in at the end of the day.
It is a shame that we as people often live life just going through the motions, but it is important to think about what we are doing. The next time you are getting ready to like a post, or share something on social media, think to yourself…what would make this go viral?
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