Saturday, 25 October 2014

What makes 'viral videos' contagious?

Armed with data on growing popularity of YouTube and observations on consumers’ love for viewing and sharing videos online, every communication agency today receives briefs to create ‘viral videos’. Now how do you create viral videos? It is like asking a director to make a ‘hit film’. Going viral is an outcome. It is not a marketing communication tool. 

I have been curious for a while now to know what indeed does make a video go viral. There are as many answers online as there are ‘social media experts’. But the one that I found most insightful was that People don’t share facts. People share feelings.

Although the Internet is an infinite library of information, the most popular things shared online typically aren’t very informative. They are content that inspires awe, anger, amusement and sometimes even horror. For a video to go viral, it has to latch on to a powerful human emotion. Why?




Researches in social psychology show that people often share strong emotions as a means of fostering connection and solidarity. For instance, if I am angry about something and you get angry about it too, we can bond over what we are feeling. According to Jonah Berger who has conducted many researches in this area, the Internet reflects this ancient social instinct. The only difference is that, when online, we can’t express our emotions directly as we can do face-to-face. (Most of us find it difficult to express genuine joy in 140 characters.) Instead we spread emotions through videos using images of others as a proxy. 

Case in point: Chaplin movies where most of his earlier work has several 'viral' moments. Example - shoe eating scene in Gold Rush to communicate extreme hunger, the automatic feeding machine in Modern Times to communicate corporate exploitation and the shaving scene in The Great Dictator to counteract the drudgery of work. Each one is tied to a deep human emotion that one can easily relate to. By sharing these clips I can communicate a lot without saying a word. This is what makes #GharWaliDiwali, #ItAllStarts, #Kissanpur such great hits. 

So next time you get a brief to create a 'viral video', you must stop to think what is that most powerful emotion that will resonate with your consumers and how can it be delivered by amplifying your brand's values. If the emotion is captured well, the virality will take care of itself.  


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