What makes things on the Internet go viral?

Social Currency and Then Some

Among the other factors that can help make content go viral is the social currency it provides sharers. Although the term has different meanings in various contexts, it's used in the viral content context to refer to the idea that a person will share something in order to create the impression that he or she is "in the know," or at the cutting edge of Internet infotainment [source: Konnikova].

Think of social currency in this setting as akin to knowing a secret handshake or the password to get by the doorman at a New York City speakeasy. Sharing something like the latest LOLcats pic or referencing other viral content like the What Does the Fox Say video is like saying "Hey, I'm cool. I know what's going down on the interwebs," without hitting people over the head with the fact that your finger is on the pulse of viral culture [source: Konnikova].

If that doesn't work, try drawing on people's memories. One of the reasons Buzzfeed-style listicles are so darn popular is that they spatially organize information in a way that makes it easy for readers to remember later when they're in the sharing mood. There's also the added bonus that at least some of these stories are practical, making readers feel like they're providing useful information to others in their social circles [source: Konnikova].

And then there's one last major component of many viral stories. You know, the story itself. The higher the quality -- the better the story telling or more captivating the medium – the more likely readers and viewers will want to share it, according to experts like Berger and Milkman. Which, of course, is precisely the reason why you're about to share this here article on Twitter, right?

Author's Note: What makes things on the Internet go viral?

This article isn't likely to go viral. It doesn't feature any cute shots of kittens, nor does it include video of a kindergarten teacher forcing a student to wallow in his soiled drawers. What it does have is information. Some mighty good info, if you ask me. In the rush to get more eyes on more pages, I hope we don't completely forget about communicating actual, usable knowledge.

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  • Cheezburger. "About Cheezburger." (May 4, 2014) http://advertising.cheezburger.com/press
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