What happens when things on the web go viral?

In my promotion communications class we’ve discussed when “things go viral” – meaning, take the internet and media by storm.

A few examples of things/people/posts that have taken off in the past couple of years:

1. Justin Bieber: He started off as a Canadian kid whose mother posted his videos on YouTube for out of town family members to see. Somehow he was discovered by Usher and is now the tween heart-throb for this generation.

This video is my personal favorite pre-famous Biebs.

As of today this video has 23 million hits. He also has over 6 million followers on Twitter.

2. In July of 2009, Jill & Kevin got married in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The entire wedding party danced down the aisle to Chris Brown’s “Forever”. The video took off and they were featured nationally. Here is their video:

While researching this post, I discovered that Jill & Kevin turned their viral wedding dance video into a way to raise money for a good cause, The Sheila Wellstone Institute. In 2009 Chris Brown (the artist of the song they’re dancing to) physically abused his girlfriend at the time, R&B Pop star Rihanna. As of 9/29/10, Jill & Kevin’s viral video has raised $34,900 in donations for the Sheila Wellstone Institute. Way to go, Jill & Kevin!

3. On November 2, 2010 Nerdy Apple Bottom wrote a post on her blog titled “My Son Is Gay”. Her 5-year-old son, “Boo”, wanted to dress up like Daphne, a popular female character from Scooby Doo. Other mothers at Boo’s school were clearly offended and stated that the mother never should have “allowed” her son to dress up as a female character.  The bottom line is bullying. It seems that lately teen and child suicide has been on the rise, specifically in regards to bullying. So this mom took to her blog to defend her son. She says in her post:  

“Just as it was heartbreaking to those parents that have lost their children recently due to bullying. IT IS NOT OK TO BULLY. Even if you wrap it up in a bow and call it ‘concern.’  Those women were trying to bully me. And my son. MY son.” {found here}

I tweeted Nerdy Apple Bottom this afternoon and she responded that as of today she’s had 3,086,673 views. That post has over 45,000 comments. It’s been just over a month since it’s been posted. From a basic Google search I can see that she was featured many places, including: a Forbes.com blog as an example of a “bad mommy blogger”; Good Morning America; In the U.K. on Mail Online;  The Today Show; The View and many others, including tons of other blogs. BlogHer author Melissa Ford interviewed her regarding how her post went viral and her reactions {here}. She states she had about a dozen readers, put the post together in 10 minutes and published.

I came across the post early in the morning on November 4th. I remember because we were coincidentally talking about viral media/marketing in class that night and I brought this post up. I saw it on WordPress’ main page that morning then it was tweeted and re-tweeted by many people I follow!

4. This video “I Hope This Gets To You” was created by Walter May to create something different to express his feelings for his girlfriend that had just moved away for graduate school. This was posted on 11/28/10 and has had 534,160 hits as of this moment.  Walter says:

“I secretly created a song and video with my friends the Daylights in hopes that it would be passed around and get to her organically. WITH YOUR HELP, we can meet this goal and it can stand as a symbol of what we can do as a digital social community.”

Check it out… (it is cute)

I saw this because of retweets on Twitter with the title “This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen”. Naturally, I was intrigued. This guy knows what he’s doing – using the digital social media community to create a viral video.

So the question remains: how does something go viral?

In my opinion, based on what we’ve discussed in class, what I’ve learned in other classes and what I see in my own life, I think there are a few things that contribute to something “going viral”.

A basic Google search {I already explained that Google is my daily go-to for searches!} of “How does something go viral” brings up TONS of blogs and articles. Someone could spend a lot of time researching this topic. Our book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott, is just one example of more research that has been in regards to social media and interactive marketing and PR.

I think that there are a few components to something going viral. I think it either needs have a platform or a controversy behind it. I doubt that my blog about Coke Zero & Diet Coke will go viral. But, based on the above examples I can conclude the following:

  • Justin Bieber went viral and is now the tween IT man because he fit the marketing niche. At the time, there really wasn’t a teeny bopper boy. Someone came across him and thought he’d fit the mold  – he’ll bring in the money. And I’m sure he has. There’s going to be a 3D Justin Bieber MOVIE coming out…
  • Jill & Kevin’s wedding entrance dance. Jill & Kevin posted it on their YouTube page and from there, well, we see where it went. I think it went viral because it is great! It is funny, creative and not something you see every day. It today’s world of bad news, it’s nice to see something funny and happy. I am happy that they’re from St. Paul. They have been parodied, too! You know you’ve made it big when someone is making fun of you.
  • Nerdy Apple Bottom’s post created some controversy, especially in the mommy blog world. Although, she does say 98% of the comments were positive, there were still people who criticized her for “putting her son out there”. She took a risk and she stood strong her beliefs. She’s a great parent and her children and family are lucky! She gave the interwebs something to talk about.
  • Walter’s video that he created for his girlfriend: I will be curious to see if he has created enough hype for it to get to her. And if so, I will be curious to see how she felt. I would be flatter and probably cry, but then again I’m kind of a sap for things like that. I’ll definitely be following him on Twitter for an update and will update this post when I find out. I think it will go viral, and it will get to her because, in less than a week it’s got half a million hits. It’s the law of the six degrees of seperation. Someone has to know her and email it to her or post it on her Facebook or Twitter.

In today’s world of instant news, constant updates and interconnected lives there are so many things that are posted on the internet that can become a hit – good or bad. The one thing I can conclude is that, with the exception of Walter’s video, the others did not INTEND for their posts to go viral. They simply were venting on a blog, posting music for out of town family or just being goofy.

What does this mean for the marketing world? Does this mean that if you want to spread the news about your product that you need to create something to cause a stir? Or do you do your normal thing and hope it takes the world by storm? Interesting questions that I will definitely keep pondering.