Yes, it's true - "Gangnam Style" has been viewed more than 2 billion times on YouTube. The song features a distinctive dance that makes you look like you're riding a psychotic horse. The song and the dance were made famous by the South Korean artist Psy. The song is still popular, but it reached a peak of popularity in 2012 as the Prime Minister of the UK and US President Barack Obama danced the dance in public.
The measure of a viral video used to be one million views. With the ocean of videos now being launched, the threshold is now 5 million views. But what makes a viral video? What do creators think about when they're launching a viral video? Or does success happen as a result of raw luck? Turns out viral videos have certain characterstics in common. Wharton School professors Berger and Milkman studied a large number of viral videos and teased out five characteristics of a viral video. Their findings give support for the argument that viral videos are subject to the same principles of persuasion that other messages are.
For example, once you've seen it, "Gangnam Style" is hard to forget. It turns out that "memorability" is one of the characteristics of a viral video, which seems obvious. But more specifically, viral videos have a memory "trigger," which is a specific image or sound in the video that sticks with you for a while. For me, it's the rocking motion of Psy doing the hop-along-on-the-kookoo-horse move.
Viral videos are generally upbeat and positive, and that's the second characteristic. A small proportion are not positive, but those videos may have other characteristics that promote virtality. The video may provoke what psychologists call "arousal feelings," the third characteristic. These feelings might be positive or negative They may stimulate feelings of awe (positive), or they may stimulate feeligns of anger or anxiety (both negative). An example of a feeling of anxiety may be in sympathy with someone shown in the video in a dangerous situation.
The video must have "social currency," which is the fourth characteristic. This means that if viewers are up-to-date on the news and on popular culture, they won't need much of an explanation of what's going on in a viral video. People are shown in viral videos doing what people do nowadays.
The fifth and final characteristic is quality. If the viral video includes text or a production value, it should be well done. The story has to flow, and the logic of the situation has to be clear.
So the characteristics of a viral video are necessary but not sufficient, meaning the characteristics have to be in place, but they don't guarantee virality. Which is why I come back to the point that persuasion is the key. Virality doesn't require luck, and it's not random. It's the most recent expression of the ancient process described by Aristotle of the speaker giving a speech to an audience. The message has to have credibiility, passion, and logic on display before an audience will consider the content.
SOURCE: Berger, J., & Milkman, K. (2012). What makes online content viral? Journal of Marketing Research 49(2), 192-205.