Opinion-seeking is a major reason videos/stories go viral

Let me start here: I don’t actually think something “going viral” is that great. If you work in social media or marketing, your focus should really be on retention. Most organizations can have one or two videos, or one or two blog posts, that really pop and get out in front of lots of people — heck, I’ve done that myself and I ain’t nothing — but that doesn’t mean the 5 million people who watched one of your videos are all coming back daily, or are all paying customers, or really anything. Going viral doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I have a good friend who used to work for MOMA in NYC and her boss would always say “We need this to go viral!” Then she’d be getting drinks with us and she’d be like “Why are we pursuing something that means we’re all going to get sick?” (It’s the same way that “lots of traffic” is a good thing in Internet marketing. What the f*ck? Lots of traffic should never conceptually be a good thing.)

That said, something “going viral” intrigues a lot of people in marketing and social media, so … why does that happen? There are approximately 92 billion theories and articles about this on the Internet. Hopefully you realize that ultimately it’s all about psychology. Marketing is really just a complex dance with your memories, although we complicate that by screaming about margins, ad buys, impressions, CTR, CTA, automation, product suites, and a whole host of other bullshit. Really it’s just storytelling, memories, and resonating with people. Not complicated.

Alright, so let’s start with this video:

BuzzFeeed made that with Purina. It got about 5 million views in a few weeks. CMOs would salivate over that. Thing is, I’m not sure that means they sold 5 million bags of dog food, but … OK, put that aside for a second.

This company called Unruly — which analyzes viral trends, etc. — did a breakdown of the Puppyhood video, and here’s what they found in terms of motivation for sharing:

Why people share viral videos

Interesting that No. 1 is opinion-seeking and No. 2 is conversation-starting; both are basically efforts at getting something going, topic-and-talking-wise. This is what basically every business forgets about social media — it’s two words, and the first word is “social.” People don’t want product jammed down their throat on Facebook; they want to have a dialogue, start conversations, and seek opinions. That’s why they’re on there; it’s a real-time way to get feedback on things from their friends (and acquaintances).

I have no real idea what “zeitgeist” is supposed to mean in the chart above (sounds buzzword-y), but note that kudos/authority is pretty low. That’s interesting, especially for people trying to chase that “thought leader” space.

I would guess “social utility” here means knowledge of issues, inequality, sharing stuff about shootings, etc. I could be wrong there, though. (Here’s a little bit on how Unruly defines motivations.)

OK, so … this is one study, on one video, and the virality isn’t necessarily even tied to a huge amount of dog food sales or anything. But still, it’s interesting in that social media, at base, is still a very social thing. It’s not inherently a good place to go jam product down people’s throats, even though the audience could be vast.

Ted Bauer


  1. I really heart puppies. Could we just start an open dialogue about that?

    • I’m good with that dialogue… I’ll have my people get with your people.

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