We all know that creating a piece of media that goes viral is like gold in content marketing. Once a piece of content is swept up in the viral whirlwind, the growth of that content’s audience grows exponentially. There is no telling what kind of impact a piece of media will have until it is exposed to the elements of the digital world. You could produce a video about Stagger Lee that absolutely blows up, or you could make a listicle of people selling mirrors online that completely flops.
It’s common discourse that there is no tried and tested method for the creation of viral content. And while there is an element of truth in this statement, there are few shining examples of viral content kings that preside over the digital realm.
Let’s take the website I Fucking Love Science as an example. IFLS is an online platform for science and technology news and feature articles aimed at the average online browser, i.e: non-scientists. Their slogan is ‘The lighter side of science’ and this is reflected in their content: relatively light and highly readable articles – so much so that their Facebook feed is basically a stream of viral gold, pieces that get devoured, shared and commented on at a terrific rate. The question that remains is why?
Popular science and technology publication IFL Science are viral content kings, and their piece on necrophilic Adélie penguins is shining example of why.
A recent example of their ability to create incredibly infectious content is a piece titled The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins Was Kept Secret For More Than A Hundred Years. Statistically the article was a huge success, scoring 140.8K shares across the social media spectrum, according to Buzzsumo. The piece wasn’t particularly scientific, nor in-depth (actually it can be viewed as a relatively short piece for the website), however there are a few key aspects that made it ripe for viral escalation.
As has been said a million times before, content is king. Without well-written, compelling and convincing content, a website loses its backbone, its audience left disenchanted and disinterested. I Fucking Love Science have found the perfect niche for their content to reside, one that has rewarded them an audience of almost 25 million on Facebook alone since their genesis back in 2012 – only four years ago!
Their content is targeted at people that are looking for information about the world around them that is both entertaining and easy to digest. As such, The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins holds a conversational tone, sounds well educated and also quite compelling. Because of this almost any reader is likely to understand and respond (with a click or a share). The piece’s title is highly intriguing, they use good imagery and the article is about an interesting topic: the ‘secret’ life of creatures that we cannot communicate with, only observe. Plus, everybody loves penguins.
Credibility and Intelligence
There is no doubt that the article is overtly intended for viral consumption. The title alone is what most would call ‘clickbait’, and the content, to a degree, reflects this. In many instances this can actually have a negative impact on content’s viability to go viral. However, I Fucking Love Science have struck the perfect balance between throwaway material and genuinely intelligent, scientifically credible information. As standard academic practice goes, The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins credits (two) sources throughout the piece, from The Guardian and The BBC respectively. People enjoy sharing intelligent content that reflects well on them. At the same time, the majority of the general public aren’t going to share anything overly high-brow that themselves, or others, won’t understand. Often the most viral of content sits in this realm between relatively light, yet credible and intelligent content.
Media that elicits an emotional response a distinct emotional response is far more likely to go viral than beige material. The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins in many ways is black humour piece, discussing the way that Adélie penguins “engaging in rape, gang rape, sexual and physical abuse of chicks, as well as necrophilia with penguins, some of which had died the previous year.”
Despite the piece’s dark undertones, it is an obvious ploy to shock people and/or make them laugh. At a cursory glance, the Facebook comments are generally positive, with people sharing to friends with the occasional ‘LOL’ or smiley face. In a 2010 study by the Wharton Business School titled “Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content”, it was found that the most shared pieces of content were the most that stimulated the most emotional arousal. A piece like The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins that invokes a plethora of emotions – laughter, shock, repulsion, awe and intrigue – is infinitely more likely to get shared than something that invokes a low emotional response.
Current issues and affairs, events or milestones are fertile ground for viral content to flourish. They basically serve the foundations for powerful, memorable and sharable content that will be immediately relevant to a wide audience. The Dark Truth About Adélie Penguins was posted on 25th of April, known around the globe as ‘World Penguin Day’. A quick Google search of world penguin day will reveal a heap of publications trying to cash in on the proverbial viral pie that an event like this presents. I Fucking Love Science‘s Facebook caption – ‘Happy world penguin day’ – was the clincher for the piece; the cherry on top of the viral cake that this piece of content was. And we never stood a chance.