September 12, 2018

The Secret Formula Behind Going Viral On Social Media

A tweet can be read by millions around the world in minutes. An unknown man or woman can become an international celebrity overnight. Virality: humans create it, brands crave it.

But what is virality? And how does it come to pass?

After starting with a “Spark of Ignition,” there is a “Stickiness” factor that keeps it going. It must have emotion, be ethical, or logical—maybe it was something unexpected or simple. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell describes these factors and more in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. The book, published in 2000, includes examples and case studies of situations where ideas, products, messages, and behaviors spread and rose into popularity and public consciousness.

In today’s day and age, we have the internet and social media, which spread ideas, products, and messages to the people who use it and more often we see pictures, videos, or other media going viral as they spread through the internet world.

This has been quite the year for viral moments–from memes like the Walmart Yodeling Kid and Yanny or Laurel to name a few, to fairytale events like the royal engagement of England’s Prince Harry to American Meghan Markle. To understand how something goes viral online, let’s take a look at three brand examples of virality.

“Rick and Morty” and McDonald’s

Let’s start with Rick and Morty. For those of you who don’t know, “Rick and Morty” is a cable animated show, where the lead characters in an episode went crazy over McDonald’s Szechuan Dipping Sauce. It created a viral demand both in social media and at McDonald’s locations.

The random mention of the Szechuan Sauce in the show had the right amount of “Stickiness” factor to get the show’s audience to remember the sauce and demand for its return at McDonald’s. The audience was involved in the consumption and distribution of the media content. But most important, McDonald’s responded to its audience and returned the beloved dipping sauce at restaurants in the United States. Its response is what kept the virality going.

Anything can go viral with a giant audience to back it up. Even a dipping sauce.

IHOP/IHOB: The Name Change Fiasco

In early June of 2018, the pancake house chain IHOP (aka International House of Pancakes) announced via a tweet that it was changing its name to IHOB (the B standing for Burgers) to coincide with the addition of burgers to the restaurant’s menu. To say that this exploded on social media would be quite the understatement. Many people took to Twitter to express their feeling in all sorts of comical fashions, including plenty of memes. Even some fellow franchises, like Wendy’s, Burger King, and White Castle for example, joined in on the shade.

It was revealed in another tweet from the restaurant that it faked the name change to promote the new burgers, but this viral move proves just how bold this campaign was in grabbing people’s attention. It got the audience talking, and the virality kept going through the creation and spread of response tweets on Twitter. The memes and sassy responses helped fuel the fire as well. IHOP will always be known for its pancakes, but it certainly fooled audiences into thinking it might be changing its name for good.

Tide Confronted a Dangerous Trend

When “Rick and Morty” reintroduced Szechuan Sauce to the public consciousness, it quickly became a funny meme. Memes can be silly at times, but could they also be dangerous? Let’s take a look at Tide Pods.

In early 2018, a dangerous trend of teens eating Tide Pods laundry detergent went viral. While funny to the teens, eating laundry detergent is absolutely not a laughing matter. Tide itself could have easily kept quiet with the negative publicity going around, but instead it tackled the problem head-on with a viral tweet.

The tweet explains how Tide Pods should be used for doing laundry only and includes a video from professional football player Rob Gronkowski repeating the word “no” to eating them. The tweet was shared over 92,000 times on Twitter and the video currently has over 400,000 views.

What made this tweet go viral was how Tide responded to the trend. The brand understood the personality of its audience and was able to balance the seriousness of the dangerous trend with humor from the Gronkowski video. Using a familiar face that people would recognize, in this case Rob Gronkowski, also helped in spreading the virality of the tweet and video since many teens recognize him from the New England Patriots. As of now, the trend has seemingly died down since no new cases have come up, but when this trend was at a dangerous peak, Tide was able to confront it with a serious yet humorous message that ended up going viral.


The bottom line is: no one knows the secret formula for going viral, but with the continuation of creative ideas from brands, the creation of great videos or posts that wow, entertain, or shock, and a little humor thrown in, there should be no lack of viral content going forward.

Tags: Big Brands, Content Marketing, Real-Time, Strategy, Trends, Twitter

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