What Causes Things to “Go Viral”: The Untimely Demise of Jeff Goldblum

By  (contrib. Web Heretics)
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There are six reasons why people share information, and all are important to creating viral posts online. Perhaps the most important is a concept called "social capital," but the other five are important too.

Ever wonder why some things go viral on the Internet while most things go completely unnoticed? While initiating a viral outcome is easier said than done, there are characteristics that cause something to go viral, and understanding them may help you in your own efforts at creating viral content on the web.

Dead Celebrities Make the Go Viral Cut

On June 25th, 2009, Michael Jackson died of a prescription drug overdose. That, of course, went viral. But on the same day, a rumor began on Facebook that the popular actor Jeff Goldblum had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in New Zealand.

Within minutes the rumor hit Twitter and within a few hours, most of America and much of the world believed Goldblum was  dead. That same evening, he made an unannounced appearance on the Colbert Report, a comedy news show, to announce that he was, in fact, alive and well. (See video below.) If nothing else, this incident demonstrates the phenomenal power of viral news on the Internet. The question is what actually caused the Goldblum rumor to mushroom.

Human Nature Being What It Is . . .

In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger points out that human beings like to be the bearers of news, whether it be good or bad. I’m not sure how widely applicable Berger’s generalization is, but I do know it’s fun to know some big thing that no one else in the room knows.

What would cause me to share what I know is what Berger refers to as “social capital,” tangible social status that comes from being in the know about a purple cow that no one else has seen. I cash in by sharing what I know with others, causing them to think I’m “cool”—a guy who knows stuff.

Berger’s Other Five Catalysts of Sharing

In addition to social currency, Berger points to five other major catalysts of sharing something you’ve just seen or heard:

Triggers, which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.”  We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.

Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.

Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.

Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.

Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives. (Taken from this interview.)

Viralizing Your Web Presence

Causing something to go viral is easier said than done, but it is possible. However, it will certainly require that you do something remarkable. (See When Heresy Is the only Option.) While videos, according to every expert in the business, are critical to relationship-marketing success, ask yourself this question: What could I do in a video that would cause people to want to share it because it’s just so outrageously funny/crazy/bizarre? (For an example of a video that worked big time, check out Godin's "Remarkable" is Pulizzi's "Tilt." Put another way, one more explainer video in a global catalog of billions isn’t likely to get you a lot of traction.




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