Viral Content Roundup: Conspiracy Theories, A Dead Gorilla and Practical Jokes

Viral media is peculiar stuff.

A week spent in the digital world will see you bombarded with a perpetual stream of media stimulus. There’s a very good chance that what you saw online this week made up a dominant chunk of your overall media intake – more than watching TV, reading newspapers and listening to radio combined.

What was it that remained in your memory though? Among the myriad of stories, videos, photos and social media posts, there is bound to be a few that have made an impact.

There is an even better chance that these were pieces of viral media. Let’s take a look at what has recently stuck in the world of digital and why. Hopefully it helps you consider incorporating viral content into your ongoing social media digital strategy campaigns.

viral content

Photo via Time

This week it would have been impossible to dodge content online about the mystery reddit poster, or Harambe the gorilla. But why was this viral content so popular, and why did it spread do far?

The Gorilla Tragedy

If you spent just ten minutes on social media this week, there’s a very good chance that you read about Harambe the silverback gorilla who was shot dead after a young boy fell into his zoo enclosure.

This kind of tragedy has all the hallmarks of a virally potent topic because not is it only a harrowing and intriguing story, it also sparks a chain of reactive conversations, each which perpetuate the virality of the original topic.

A quick glance at the Buzzsumo statistics for this week around the word ‘gorilla’ is startling.

The top 5 results alone – which includes the original video of the child falling into the enclosure, news articles about the repercussions of the incident, and original content (open letters to the parents of the child) which have gone ballistically viral – accumulate 430K social media shares.

In an older media landscape, there is no doubt that this topic would have made front page news; it’s a compelling story which inspired many different opinions.

However, responses like this would not be possible without an outlet like the internet to perpetuate an emotional out pour to such as degree.

One of the key factors contributing to viral media is emotional energy: content that elicits a strong emotional response is more likely to be shared than ‘beige’ content.

Think about the emotional scale for viral media being a U-shape. Content that evokes acute positive emotions – happiness, joy, laughter – tends to get shared more; as does content that evokes acute negative emotions – anger, rage, frustration.

viral contentContent such as the gorilla story is a bit of a double-edged sword in this respect.

Although its emotional force is largely on the ‘negative’ side of the scale, there is more than just one party that is expressing this emotion by sharing.

In this case there those who are contributing to the conversation who are angry at the parents for being careless with their child.

There are those who are angry with the zookeepers for acting so rashly.

There are those who are frustrated with zoo culture as a whole, and see this as a prime example of its fallacy.

And there are those who are simply questioning the fated nature of the situation, that it was simply a terrible accident.

A viral topic like this is more complex than it first appears. Its multilayered emotional nature opens it up to multiple discussions, each which compliment and counteract each other, creating a dustcloud of conversation that ultimately becomes a viral whirlwind.

The Elusive _9Mother9Horse9Eyes9 Reddit Mystery

Everybody loves a good conspiracy. People love a conspiracy about another conspiracy even more.

Over the past few weeks, some strange things have been happening on social media platform Reddit.

A user called _9Mother9Horse9Eyes9 has been posting strange, disjointed stories in the comment sections of completely unrelated  Reddit posts; each which tell short, horrifying tales about things like Vietnam, Elizabeth Bathory, concentration camps, humpback whales, the Manson Family, LSD, “flesh interfaces” – whatever they are.

Despite the obscurity of these stories, which seem to be telling some sort of conspiracy theory, _9Mother9Horse9Eyes9 is building somewhat of a cult fan base.

Even mainstream media outlets such as the The Guardian have been writing about the phenomenon.

The key to the virality of this topic is intrigue. The Guardian summarise this perfectly:

“Reddit makes a fascinating platform for community-oriented fiction, and a perfect one for this slow-building and creepy invention…Each snippet of the abstract tale lives in a different discussion thread, so reading feels like combing a conversation history rather than following a linear tale.”

They are absolutely correct. Reddit is one of the biggest online communities there is, and its an excellent platform for viral content to be seeded and grow exponentially.

Reddit users are quick to clamp on to virally potent content, and spread it across the communities various sub-platforms (sub-reddits). From there, a story can spread quickly, even something as obscure as _9Mother9Horse9Eyes9’s disjointed story.

Much of the content that goes viral on Reddit only occasionally makes out of the platform. However something as baffling, intriguing and consistent as the _9Mother9Horse9Eyes9 mystery is sure to prick up a few ears in the digital realm.

Once alternative viral media kings like Vice and Dangerous Minds caught wind of the story, it spread like wildfire.

How could you not click on a title like “_9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9′ Is Reddit’s New, Terrifying Mystery”?

Glasses Are a Piece of Art

On the lighter side of the internet, one piece of content was inescapable online this week. That was the story on a pair of glasses that were mistaken for a work of art after they were left as a prank on a gallery floor.

According to Buzzsumo, this story was shared 384K times by Bored Panda, The Guardian, The Independent and Mashable alone. No mean feat for a piece that may have only made it in as a fluff pieces at the end of the 6 o’clock news 10 years ago.

Upon first inspection, the viral foundation of this piece is fairly simple: humour.

A study conducted by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of the Wharton Business School in 2010 called “Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content” revealed that those pieces that were on the higher spectrum of virality were almost always humours.

viral content

Darker topics such Harambe the gorilla are an exception to this archetype. These topics which hold more social or political weight are self-perpetuating: their virality stems from the conversations that they spark and therefore are likely to go spread much further.

Short, funny and easy to digest content however, is the bread and butter of viral media, and you are more likely to see 100 of these for every one case that has some sort of ‘weight’ to it.

Aside from its emotional force, the glasses story brings up a slightly more compelling topic (which is perhaps why this particular story went so viral) – the state of modern art.

Postmodernism has long been subject to the scorn of popular media and a prank like this story epitomises this discussion.

The point of the prank was to test the theory that ‘art lovers’ will observe, artistically critique, and attempt to extract meaning from practically anything in modern galleries.

Not only is this piece aesthetically humorous – people taking photos of glasses on the ground would be funny in almost any situation – but it raises a bigger question about the absurdity of modern art and how the world interprets it; and this increases the story’s virality tenfold.

Viral Wrap Up

Viral media can be one of the most useful tools in your digital strategy.

If executed correctly, with the right content and a bit of luck you can reach an unprecedented audience. Although there is no set in stone formula for creating viral content, there are a few hallmarks that you will come across even from a cursory glance across the digital landscape.

Humans are impassioned creatures, and emotions play key role in what we tend to share. We are also curious, and quick to judge. They key is to balance these factors with a considered approach – but first of all, use your instincts.

Digital strategy is the process of carefully considered digital marketing methods that when combined help grow your business. Each industry and client is different and therefore require a uniquely tailored approach.

With clients as diverse as Ute Canopy Company, a Lebanese Pizzeria, a top Australian music blog, and one of Australia’s biggest flooring companies, we know the importance of bespoke digital strategy.

Where to from here? We’d love to hear about your business and help you achieve your highest brand potential. Please feel free to call us on +61 (0) 2 9519 9922 or email letstalk@ifyoubuildit.com.au

Radi Safi

by Radi Safi

Radi Safi is the Creative Director at IYBI. In 2012 he launched Happy, a music blog and media company.
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