How And Why Do Things Go Viral?

A common theme in technology and social media over the past couple of years has been the contagious spread of photos, news stories, and articles. Every week there seems to be that one photo, video, or story that all of your friends are sharing and commenting on. But how exactly do things like this spread so rapidly? Why is that the Harlem Shake became so popular? Or Gangnam Style (especially since its not even in English)? Or most recently, What does the Fox Say

  • We can all remember Rebecca Black’s annoying and catchy song/video that went viral in 2011. Why? Because we can relate to the feelings of excitement and freedom that are associated with Friday in particular compared to the rest of the week.

An article in the Huffington Post tackles this topic. According to this article, we share stories to our friends depending on our levels of emotions. A study of news articles shows that we are more likely to share when we associate those stories with both positive and negative feelings. However, most of the time we avoid sharing those stories that bring forth negative feelings. According to a Forbes blogger there are 4 components as to why things go viral and others do not. In order for something to go viral it must encompass the following attributes:

  1. Simplicity: We don’t have the time to spend an hour reading an article. Instead we are looking for our latest distraction so we can get back to writing the essay that is due tomorrow.
  2. Relatable: In order for something to grab my attention, for example, on Buzzfeed I share and tag friends when I come across an article that relates to us and that we can have a conversation about
  3. Snarky: (or sarcastic); If the thing being shared can create some kind of controversy or create a feeling of somewhat anger then it will catch on. Why? Because you are bound to have a debate with your friends about it.
  4. Location: It depends where the article, story, or video is being shared through. If you’re trying to have something go viral through Twitter, chances are its not going to happen. Its all about choosing the right medium to get your message out.


Berger, Jonah. “Why Do Things Go Viral? (PHOTOS, VIDEO).” The Huffington Post., 14 May 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.



 Blakeley, Kiri. “Why Does Something Go Viral?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 06 Sept. 2011. Web.

14 Mar. 2014. <


3 thoughts on “How And Why Do Things Go Viral?

  1. I have always wondered how videos and such spread so fast! Its amazing to think how quickly they do spread and that ten years ago it would take a much longer time to get a video or article to spread.


  2. The phenomenon of things going viral is so interesting! Sometimes the most redundant or mundane things become popular and I never understand it until it’s been around for a while and then sometimes I understand and hop on the bandwagon too. Its fascinating to see how things spread.


  3. I definitely agree about the whole “snarky” element of virility. Controversy makes people say “Oh my goodnes s you have GOT to see this!” and then make a comment on the digital content on their own social media accounts. I wonder if there is a positive way to put a spin on “controversial”? Can heartwarming content be just as good as controversial? I’d be interested to see.


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