I’d like to start this blog post off with a warning: if you’re here to get the secret behind creating sure-fire viral content for your client, band, or just to make you an internet celebrity, you’re going to be disappointed. I used “phenomena” in the title for a reason. Digital content is something you create, but viral content is something that just happens. It’s like a shooting star or running into your old high school science teacher at the grocery store. There’s no explaining it.
Well, that last part isn’t true, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. Viral content is a fascinating and powerful part of the social landscape. After seeing yet another viral shooting star fly over us (the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge), I think it’s time we visit some key terms and even touch on the lifecycle of something that “goes viral”.
Viral: Let’s start here. This term comes from the idea that some content is so shareable, it’s like the spreading of a virus throughout the world. It’s morbid, but it paints the right picture. The best viral content is something that you just can’t help but share with your friends, like a virus, I guess.
Meme: Along with viral videos, memes might be the most common viral content. Contrary to popular belief, a meme (rhymes with “team”) isn’t just a photo or infographic on Facebook. As defined by Wikipedia, a meme “acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.” Memes can really be anything. A lot of times, it’s as simple as a shareable photo with text on it that applies to a character, like Success Kid or Awkward Penguin, but it can be more. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is even a meme. It has a format or theme, it carries a cultural idea, and it’s imitable content that people share. Which brings us to…
Clicktivism: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a perfect example of clicktivism, which is a way to raise money or awareness for a cause through social or online media. The idea of clicktivism has come under fire recently, as many skeptics think it’s shallow or ineffective. Sure, some “click like to bring the troops home” posts might be hollow, but the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge proved the doubters wrong. Donations to the cause increased by tens of millions of dollars this year compared to last year.
But how do memes, videos, and social causes live in the social space? As with most things on social media, its lifespan is short, but it almost always follows an arc that includes three different stages:
Stage 1: Full-blown “virality”
Stage 2: Criticism and indifference
Stage 3: Permanent societal influence
The first two stages need little explanation. A piece of content goes viral and everyone shares it and participates in it. Then Stage 2 is a limbo period when some people are still involved, and others are annoyed, leading to backlash or the dreaded “that was so 2 weeks ago” comments.
Stage 3 is the interesting one. These phenomena don’t fade away. Instead, they take their place in the hall of social media fame. For example, does anyone make “Harlem Shake” videos anymore? Of course not, but we all know what The Harlem Shake is.
At EPIC, we do our best to stay current with what’s trending in social media, and we are always on the lookout for relevant ways to participate in viral content. Just as importantly, we also know when to pick our spots. Brands don’t need to dive head-first into every cool trend, but the right decisions can create strong connections with fans and followers.