SOCIAL MEDIA / JUN. 07, 2015
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What Makes Random Things Turn Viral on Social Media?

There are currently over two billion active social media accounts worldwide. Using social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is just as much a part of our daily lives as watching television. We get the latest breaking news from our feeds, and share the stories or content that interests us with friends and followers. Thanks to social media, the word "viral" is used more and more, and it’s more common than ever to see something spread like wildfire.

However, what makes something actually go viral on social media? Contrary to popular belief, you can’t force something to go viral. Ultimately, the people decide whether something lives or dies. There are a few key characteristics that separate something viral from something lost in the ether.

See Also: The 4 C’s of Social Media [Infographic]

Attention-Grabbing Headline 

Social media has transformed our attention spans, as if they weren’t already short enough. With so much noise coming at us from every direction, a great headline can be the difference between obscurity and popularity. There are many ways of writing great headlines, and all of which evoke some kind of emotional response. The best headlines are to the point, and either intrigue us, inspire us, entertain us or promise to teach us.

Photo And Video 

We humans are very visual creatures, and like a great headline, an image is one of the first things to grab our attention. Social networks tend to give priority to posts with photos or videos, Facebook especially. One incredibly common tactic is also uploading a photo with the link to the post. This increases the chances of it being seen.

Of course, if it’s not a story but just a photo or video, a lot of the same criteria fits for what makes a great headline.

Entertainment Value

Entertainment doesn’t have to apply to just something being funny for example, though some of the most viral social media posts are amusing on some level. Laughter is a very powerful emotion, but anger is just as powerful. If something is upsetting or controversial, it has just as much potential to rise to the top as something that’s funny.

Initial Reaction 

The average life of a tweet is 18 minutes, according to Moz. That means there’s about 20 minutes before it’s completely lost in all the noise. To reach this number, over 2,000 tweets were analyzed based on the average retweets over a one hour period.

On Facebook, Wisemetrics discovered the life of a Facebook post is significantly longer at 90 minutes. This likely has a lot to do with Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, and how it surfaces content based on different factors in the News Feed. In order for content to go viral, it typically needs to get some sort of traction quickly after being shared.

See Also: Timing is Everything in Social Media [Infographic]

Also, all it takes is just one share or retweet from the right person for that post to begin spreading even further. Chances are you’ve posted something on Facebook before where it didn’t receive any attention whatsoever. However, somewhere down the line a friend comments or likes the post, and then you begin seeing even more people take part.

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