Why Do Things Go Viral?

It’s the coveted title every content creator wants to earn: viral. Mostly everyone who spends time on the internet can name at least one viral video, meme, or ad. But what contributes to things going viral?

If something goes viral, that means it was quickly shared between a lot of people in a short amount of time. Although it may seem like the content that gains popularity is a blend of chance and luck, there are actually two prevailing scientific theories behind why humans cause something to go viral.

First is the Novelty Seeking Theory, which claims that the human brain gets tired of seeing the same old content day after day. When we see something novel, or new, it catches our attention, and we want to share it with others. Then, there is the Information Gap Theory, which claims that humans are constantly itching to learn new things, and when we see something on the internet that fills in a gap in our current knowledge, it satisfies that need.

Virality has worked its way into our culture so much so that most internet users likely have a vast shared knowledge of viral content. Ever heard “Friday” by Rebecca Black? Seen the commercial of the kid dressed like Darth Vader “using the force” on his dad’s car? Does the blinking guy meme ring any bells? For a more recent example, would you recognize the song Driver’s License by Olivia Rodrigo, which broke multiple Spotify streaming records within a week of its release? You likely recognize at least one of these examples, and though they all went viral for different reasons, it’s an interesting look into the range of things that humans find valuable enough to share.

So why do people share content online? There is no main reason, but some things that cause people to share content include being involved in a current event or trend, being the first to share new knowledge with friends, promoting a product or service that one thinks might be beneficial to others, and connecting with others over a shared interest, to name a few. 

With that in mind, how easy is it to create content that goes viral? Not very. While you could follow all the right formulas and create something novel, heartwarming, and funny, that doesn’t guarantee its popularity. For every ad that becomes famous from the Super Bowl, there are five that no one remembers after a few months. So when you’re trying your hand at going viral, just remember that there may be some science explaining the concept, but you might also have to get lucky.

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Posted: Aug 30, 2021