I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Internet memes and how they “go viral“.
And I think I’ve hit on 13 factors that seem key. In order for something to become popular, and spread rapidly over the Internet it needs to have at least 3 of these hooks.
I doubt that this will actually lead to anyone being able to manufacture something that will go viral, the ‘Net is just too chaotic.
I’m mostly just doing it as an exercise.
Reply in the comments section if you think I’m on to something.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
1. Difficulty – the more impressive it looks/is.
Extra points if it includes things that viewers think are actually impossible.
2. Humour – things that make us laugh make us feel good and get passed on more.
4. Emotional content – something that provokes an emotional reaction in us.
It’s better if these emotions are positive but negative works too sometimes.
5. Personal tie-in: it relates to something in our lives.
6. Complexity – if we get something new out of it each time we watch it, we’re more likely to watch it more.
7. Variety – the more variations on a meme there are the more likely it is that we will discover ones that reasonate with us.
8. Volume – the more times we encounter something the more likely we are to take the time to check it out fully.
9. Feedback – if we share something and people respond, that’s feedback.
10. Originality – this thing either is, or has something within it, that makes it different from other things. In fact if something appears too similar to something else it may fail right there especially if it is perceived as trying to cash in on someone else’s success without doing the hard work.
11. Participation – can ordinary users do this thing themselves?
I think that this is actually the second most important factor after humour because it allows for people to create volume (8), variety (7) and their own personal tie-ins (5).
Check out the “popular” section of “knowyourmeme.com” and you’ll see that almost all of them are from user-generated content that is easily usable by all but the most tech-ignorant ‘Net denizens.
12. Surprise – a meme that contains something unexpected is much more likely to grab our attention.
13. Other – this may sound silly but the fact is that many memes have some other, rare, hook that makes them go viral. This can includes things as strange as “practical application” or “TV tie-in” or “mild sexual arousal”. And there are just too many to list.
Now lets look at some examples of what I’m talking about.
Robot Unicorn Attack.
This is a game which is simple, fun to play and quite addictive (3). It’s also a very funny concept because the game appears to be light-hearted and fun but you die gruesomely each time you play (2).
But the major hook was the fact that Erasure’s song ‘Always‘ was constantly playing in the background while you go through the game.
This worked for 3 reasons. Firstly, it added to the humour of it. Secondly, the song is catchy as hell. Lastly, it made you want to play the game even more so that you could hear the song again. This made it even more addictive.
The final aspect was that when the game became popular on 4chan it spawned an entirely new second wave meme that used the game as a context for other humourous images.
My Drunk Kitchen.
Hannah Hart is an attractive young lady who gets drunk and cooks things for us. All the while making funny comments and engaging in silly antics.
It’s also funny (2) and contains actual tips for cooking junk (11, 12). Hannah also comes across as being incredibly likable (4) and not too different from us (5).
Old Spice Ads.
The old spice ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ ads were a massive hit because they were funny (2), complex (6), difficult to pull off (1) and surprising in their structure (12).
Gangnam Style by PSY.
I had to mention this again because it’s so good. Firstly, it’s incredibly catchy (3). Secondly, PSY constantly makes fun of himself (2). The song also makes us feel good (4) even if we can’t understand the words.
Lastly, the video is so popular (165 million hits at time of writing) that it’s inspired second wave memes like the one above, and reaction videos of people watching the clip and saying how much they enjoy it.
So what do you guys think? Am I onto something? Is this stuff just obvious?
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]