You Can't Make Something Go Viral

Posted by Vera Appleyard on 5/4/2009

I was recently chatting with a friend about viral videos. He was amazed that some young producers were trying to figure out what they could make that would "automatically" go viral. The description of this discussion sounded so familiar: this same process has basically sucked the life out of network television. Producers became less interested in telling a fresh story well, and more interested in hobbling together 'hot' elements into some Frankenstein-like hybrid of every-show-that-ever-succeeded.

The viral video phenomenon we were discussing was the horrifyingly gross series of videos capturing the moment a person or group of people watched a truly disgusting video called Two Girls, One Cup. I won't describe what's in the video they are watching, but the videos of the "watchers" are pee-your-pants funny, especially the ones where incorrigible teens force their grandmas to watch.

This is a particularly interesting case of viral - because the original video is secondary to the videos of people watching the video (confused yet?).

Type the name of the video in the YouTube search and hundreds and hundreds of videos pop up.

What makes these videos so viral? Word of mouth. If you've sat through a few of them, you've laughed so hard you've cried, and you've passed along the story to the next person.

It went viral because these videos capture real human reactions that are extreme. Mouths drop open, faces cringe, some even gag. Occasionally you see some disturbing reactions. A group of Marines watching the video reacted with normal horror, except one: He stared as if in a state of rapture. Yikes.

The point here is that no one could have planned this - the Internet has a way of capturing the zeitgeist of the moment, an ephermeral moment at best.  It is certainly a fool who thinks he can manipulate the spirit of these phenomena.