Viral Content on Social Media

When content goes viral it permeates social media. The meme or article trends or becomes most viewed, shared, or liked on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. You cannot use the internet without seeing the viral content at least once. But how does an idea or product become viral? Derek Halpern, the founder of a social media trifecta called Social Triggers, breaks down the components of viral content into three categories: positive content, content with high emotion, and practical content.

You can read more of Halpern’s article on viral content here:

Using our knowledge about viral content, let’s look at an example:

The (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge

The idea of this campaign was to spread awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease of the nervous system which leads to paralysis and eventually: death. In this challenge, the one “called out” by a friend or colleague had to either dump a bucket of ice water on themselves or donate a various sum of money to the ALS Association. This campaign went viral in July/August of 2014. People would take videos of them completing the challenge or saying they would donate money. Many even did both. But how did this campaign become viral? According to the Social Media Bible: the more interesting and appealing the content, the more viral it becomes (248). In support of this argument, Halpern would say the Ice Bucket Challenge took over the Internet because of two reasons: positive content and high emotions were evoked. The campaign was for a good cause: donating money to research a cure for a life-threatening disease. The concept also evoked high emotions such as awe, fear, and even surprise. Halpern classifies the emotion of awe as something you “can’t resist responding to”. How could people resist the urge to respond to people dumping buckets of ice on themselves and/or donating money to help save lives? Especially if someone like Robert Downey Jr. dumps an ice bucket over himself…

Let’s talk about the other high emotion: fear. This is the most powerful of motivators. In this campaign, fear is utilized to provoke the viewer/challenge into responding: no one wants to be seen or known as that one frugal guy who didn’t donate money to help save a kid diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

Another high emotion evoked by the Ice Bucket Challenge was surprise. The ALS Association had no part in planning this campaign. ALS was incorporated into the Ice Bucket Challenge by a golfer in Sarasota, FL by the name of Chris Kennedy. He was nominated by a friend and decided to support the ALS association’s mission because it resonated with him–a friend’s child had ALS. This was not your typical fundraising campaign. But the viral content helped ALS Association to achieve their goal of fundraising. Even if there was no definite goal, I would say the donations that the Challenge brought in: $115 million dollars and that it went viral made it a very effective campaign.


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