Not quite – but there are ways to help it along the path.

If there was a formula for making a viral video, everyone would be doing it! But there must be some science behind it – videos don’t go viral by magic. So what exactly happens to make a video go viral?

What is a Viral Video?

A viral video is one that becomes well-known through being viewed and shared around through various channels, such as social media sites and viral sites such as Buzzfeed. There’s no specific number of views or shares that makes a video count as viral. Gangnam Style has over two and a half billion views, while Marnie the Dog only has 30,000 subscribers on YouTube. Yet both have become extremely iconic over the last few years in their own way. So ‘viral’ can be difficult to pinpoint, as the videos that reach that level will always have a certain ineffable quality.

And despite the lack of formula, there are certain qualities that viral videos share, and certain qualities that they don’t share. So let’s take a look at those qualities.

What do Viral Videos Have in Common?

Firstly, many argue that viral videos need to be short – 3 minutes or less. However, that’s not necessarily the case. While plenty of viral videos are kept short, particularly unscripted, camera phone videos such as those involving animals and children, there are also plenty of examples of longer videos that became very popular. For example, Max Landis’   Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling video is nearly 25 minutes long, and has 2.4 million views.

Videos also don’t need to be simple or relatable. There are many videos that have become popular simply because of how odd they are. This also happens with high concept artistic videos, such as Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, which is approaching 40 million views, and is a very odd, abstract artistic piece. One of the top trending videos of this week, is a crazy and unique, 2D stop-motion battle, shown below.


So what do they actually have in common? Well, according to the marketing tech company Unruly, viral videos provide two key responses: a psychological response and a social motivation. Essentially, if a video can evoke a strong emotional response from you (or a positive one, at least), then you will feel the need to share it, either through word of mouth or through social media.   It can be amusement, appreciation, intrigue, hope, or even shock. When something elicits that response from you, you will be compelled to share it.

Why and what do we share?

There are obviously several reasons why we share videos. The most popular reason stems from our desire to start a conversation and seek opinions on particular topics. These reasons for sharing are often fuelled by slightly more complex videos, videos from the likes of Vsauce or Film Theory. Therefore, if you can inspire conversation with your videos, you give yourself the best chance of going viral.

After that, people share because they want to make their friends laugh. Animal videos, sketches, and stand-up comedy clips are the most popular videos in this category. Other popular reasons include wanting to share something you discovered, such as a musician, or using videos as a way to express oneself.

So there you go – if you can make someone think, laugh, or discover, you’ve already increased your chances of going viral. After that…It comes down to luck!


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