Going viral: The science behind Internet sensations
Published Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:41PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:46PM EDT
It's the million-dollar question on the minds of those looking to be the next Internet sensation: How do you make a video go viral?
In a short time, hit videos like "Charlie Bit My Finger" and "Surprised Kitty" have blasted their way into the collective consciousness. But why? What is it that makes a video of a stranger's baby or a kitten so irresistible?
Digital journalist Ramona Pringle has narrowed it down to something of a science. "'Viral' is an interesting concept," she told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday. "We think of millions of views, or billions of views, and it seems like the numbers are getting bigger and bigger."
Pringle said she thinks going viral is more about tapping into the collective emotion than a numbers game. "You're walking down the street and everyone has caught on to this mass conversation that's happening virally."
There's a defining factor, though: "It's when something from the Internet possible crosses over to mainstream. When Canada AM is talking about it, when Letterman is talking about it. When a cat video reaches the late night news, I think it's gone viral."
So how does one create a viral video? Here are five ingredients to success:
Emotional impact: "The emotional trigger is massive," Pringle said. A big part of this can come from an infectious character. A strong reaction to the person or animal in the video is key, whether the audience loves or loves-to-hate the subject. Does the subject of the video make people laugh, cry or cringe? Any reaction will do, as long as "you want to interact and have a response."
Surprise: Viral videos usually contain some sort of plot twist, whether the target of the surprise is the viewer or another person in the video. This is why videos of underdog victories, pranks and flash mobs are successful.
Shareability: Whether we will move on from a video or pass it on to friends connects back to an emotional response. "It actually is a very ancient social instinct that we've got. When we have that strong emotional reaction, we want to share it with people who are around us," Pringle explained.
"It's sort of the same thing as looking at family photos or videos, and laughing and bonding over that experience."
Relatability: A major boost comes from a relatable story, or relatable characters. YouTube videos do so well, Pringle said, because "it's regular people. It could be your baby. It could be your pet. And it speaks to that communal idea of wanting to bond." Videos of people hearing for the first time, for example, are so successful because of the internal monologue created. That could be me, viewers think. How would I feel if it was?
Personal: It's worth noting, Pringle said, that the majority of viral videos are not commercial. "The people who want to figure out the science behind what makes a video go viral are the Cokes of the world and the Pepsis and Targets. It's a big commercial business."
The key to success on the Internet is often that the videos serve no purpose other than entertainment. No one is trying to get the audience to buy something, so there’s no pressure, and less skepticism.