Going Viral: Why It’s a Good Thing Despite It’s Name

People will tell you they don’t care about how large their audience is and all they want to do is produce content they are proud of. While the second half might be true, all anyone who posts on social media wants to do is produce content that will go viral. Carson Ward suggests that if people want their content to go viral, they have to make their posts longer. I find this conclusion strange because in the age of Twitter, where everything is 140 characters or less, I thought people wouldn’t have the patience to read long posts. While long posts might be evident that the author paid attention to the subject and knows what he or she is talking about, that is not always the case. I remember being in my first journalism class at the University of Arizona and I was apologizing to my professor for all of my stories being short. She told me that it was good to get in the habit of only telling the important things and “trimming the fat.” So I find myself either skimming or skipping long stories because they could’ve been written more concisely or they contain details that I think are common knowledge to the reader so there’s no point in telling it again.

There was also a running theme in this week’s readings about what makes content go viral, so when I read Social Triggers‘ article and saw similar content I took notice. The three most important factors in producing viral content is to stay mostly positive, evoke emotion from your readers and give them content they can use. As I have told people in my own personal circle of friends, I tend to share content on Facebook that I feel passionate about. Rarely is it just a funny image or popular article, but the theme of the content that drives me to click the share button. The theme of the content is almost always positive–something good happening for the disabled community or LGBTQ community for example–but every now and then I have to share something that really pisses me off. So I think that an author can write something that evokes emotion, but it is also the responsibility of the consumer or sharer of that content to show their emotion in spreading that content. If they don’t, people will just pass by it as another link.

Forbes was the third article this week to cite Jonah Berger as somewhat of an expert on viral content. He says that people share content with the hope that it goes viral because it makes themselves feel better that people are paying attention to them. That is why people share content that they are emotionally invested in. If there is an article on music that I have shared on any of my pages, and people start liking, commenting or re-sharing that content, it makes me feel better because I take it as people trusting my advice on music. Seeing as how I want to be a music critic and would love for all of my future content to be influential, it especially makes me feel good when I share something that I have written about music and it gets shared to others outside of my current audience.

This infographic of the 5 key elements to making content viral has one very important contradiction, one that I mentioned earlier in the post. It claims that viral content should have skimability, or that consumers should be able to absorb the content easily. As I questioned before, if longer posts tend to go viral, how can skimability be one of the more favorable aspects of viral content? That is why I will always try to make my posts as short or as long as they need to be and not to make a post longer just so it can go viral. And finally, probably the most important aspect of viral content–as noted in every article so far–is the ability to practically apply it to your life. While Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs doesn’t exactly scream life-changing content, most of the top 50 shared articles on Facebook are of parenting tips. People want the answers to life even if they don’t admit it, so anything that can be beneficial to them will get shared.

What drives you to share content on Facebook or any other social network?

Do you think longer or shorter content is shared more often and why?

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4 thoughts on “Going Viral: Why It’s a Good Thing Despite It’s Name

  1. I definitely fall into the categories of sharing things that leave me emotional (or make me belly laugh) and things that I find informative and useful. I guess my thinking is if I feel those things when reading or watching, many of my friends will too. And honestly, it often does. I can’t tell you how many times after I’ve shared something on Facebook or elsewhere, one of my friends has started a conversation IRL with “I read that thing you posted on Facebook the other day…”

    The length question is interesting. I’m trying to think about my own habits. In general, I think the funny things I share are usually pretty short. But the emotional or informative things are often longer form. I guess it depends on the type of content.

  2. Great post Steven! I’m personally drawn to content that makes me laugh, or in contrast with what our readings told us this week, sadness. It’s a weird juxtaposition, but both emotions can be strong and that’s probably why I share those types of content. Who doesn’t love a humorous video? I know I do. It can make all the difference during a stressful day. As far as sadness, I usually mean a heartwarming story or something that makes me cry. Some examples have been a child trying to raise awareness for a rare cancer or the daughter who planned a pretend wedding so she could share a dance with her dying father. I’m pretty sure I was crying as I clicked the “share” button. Overall, I think emotions drive viral content, whether it’s positive or negative emotions.

    I usually think shorter posts are more effective, even with video. I was surprised to learn in one of our readings that longer pieces of content are apt to go viral. I feel like I would be drawn to short, impactful content than having to sift through lots of information.

  3. I love your honesty! It’s SO true, everyone wants to have their content go viral. The way to do that is to tug at emotions, but the goal of viral content is to promote a product or service and gain followers. That is the ultimate goal of any social media manager.

    I always think that shorter posts are better because nobody wants to sit and read a whole paragraph and press the “read more” link. You need to get to the point while you have the readers attention. Great post!

  4. I like Julie’s analysis that emotional things are longer, but I like shorter things. I usually look to argue against some things that these readings tell us, but this week was pretty spot-on.

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