I totally believe we have a lot of instincts that come into play, from our savage animal side, that is lurking deep within our psyche, and all that goes away on the internet (or changes). This is why people have "computer courage," to state their opinion and verbally attack others that they would NEVER do offline. Think about your friends you know online and offline, and how different are their behaviors on the computer and off the computer?
The act of many people obsessively sharing, liking and talking about a certain meme, whether it's a video, the act of planking, or a funny some ecard, is something of a conundrum.
Some of the most famous meme encounters include:
- Planking where you have someone take a picture of you laying flat on your stomach in some strange place
- The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge where you dump ice and water on your head for charity
- Some Ecards (it can say ANYTHING and people will like and share)
- Cereal Guy, a sarcastic stick figure eating cereal
- Tyrannosaurus Rex not being able to use his hands, whether for pushups or clapping
- Willy Wonka questioning your hypocrisy
- Gangnam Style (a video of a song nobody knows what it means with a crazy dance and humorous satire of a common popular music video)
I mean look at these descriptions. They are odd. Random. And how, HOW could one know this would get famous?
So I researched a bit about virality of a meme. It seems, according to empirical evidence, that virality first happens on the level of the community. For instance, the military niche shares a lot about the military not many civilians are interested in. While a meme that says, "What do I feel after shooting terrorists? Recoil," is virally famous among military members, it's not so famous in the community of mom bloggers. Some bits of content then continues to flow outside of the community into other communities. This is where you can achieve true internet fame if you are the meme.
Some things I've noted in my research:
- Viral Memes are often adopted as awesome the more people see them. They may not like it the first time they see it, but after the 5th time, they start to accept it and embrace it. This is why your newsfeed and radio station overplays the same thing over and over again.
- Viral Memes are cultural. They speak of the culture they pertain to. What is famous in America isn't often famous in China, and vice versa.
- Memes are timed when things relative to it happens, like Batman memes being out there right after a Batman movie is released.
- They should be relatable. That gets more likes and shares. This is why there are a lot of memes that say things like, "That moment when..." The only reason people like those are because it relates to them.
My theory basically takes out all the differences between online instinct and offline instinct, and looks at the psychological instincts that hold true in both places.
The first one is that the herding instinct takes on a new form online. The Tribal mentality often takes over and people do what they see other people doing, just because other people are doing it. This is something we do naturally offline because you want to appear normal. Things that stand out from normal are often spotted easily by a predator in cases like sheep, and the same holds true for humans. A person who parents very differently than the norm is more apt to have CPS called on them than someone who conforms to the norm, such as whatever the norm is for discipline and housekeeping.
Take the tribal phenomenon of where you see someone post, "I have a troll on my page." Most people's reaction is to go find that page, even if you have to search it, and then read through 50 different posts to find the post that has a troll, and then jump in on the shaming of the troll. The threat against the tribe is what fuels this type of behavior. Now if someone they don't know is being attacked by a troll, their mentality is more, "I don't know why you guys are behaving this way! Let's just be at peace with each other!" This is why trolls often bring traffic to a post. They force people into taking a stance.
Another phenomenon where this is a big deal, I noticed, is in the heat of an argument. I can simply say, in a comment arguing with someone who is NOT a bully, "You are a bully. I won't put up with it anymore. I will no longer be a victim of your cruelty..." While all the comments do not show the other person is being a bully, I bet you most of the people who read my comment will decide the person I'm speaking to is a bully just because I called him one. They don't want to read all the comments and formulate their own opinion. They take my word for it. I've seen this time and again. Sometimes it's name calling. Other times, it's the argument. I can be typing an argument about gun control, and the person arguing with me will argue me as if I was promoting gun use. Other people will jump in and argue against gun use, to me, even though nothing I said promoted gun use. It's mind boggling when that happens to you, but it's part of the herd mentality. Herding trumps logic in most cases with humans.
Online, when we see one person do something, we form an opinion about it, one that is our own opinion. When we see 50 of our friends doing the same thing, then we want to jump in and do it just for the inclusiveness alone. There will always be a handful of outcast misfits who wish not to partake in a shenanigan just because it's mainstream.
So for something to be viral, it has to already be viral for most of your audience. This is why people are most apt to comment on a blog post if there are already comments on your blog post. According to Psyc Central, "Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it."
The way around this is to create a tribal feeling to your meme, where inclusiveness is inviting, and all the cool people are doing it. If you can get two or three leaders of mutual packs to do your thing, you will go viral in that community. You also want to Position yourself (see link below) as something the cool people are doing.
Another important aspect I've noticed in virality is the emotional appeal. In marketing, they tell you that logic can be argued, but emotions cannot. Nike did it best with Just Do It. It has a strong emotional appeal that inspires their target market well, a theme song for their target market of athletes, but it also appeals to non-athletes. You can't argue it. Even better than being against it, you want to be it. You want to be the winner of the race all of the sudden because Just Do It.
Fear is a huge emotion that triggers our behavior; for instance, Vaccination and School Shootings are trending topics. Where you stand on any debate is often dictated by our tribes, but the debate itself is usually dictated by emotion. Politicians play this card frequently, as well as insurance companies. I don't think fear should be manipulated in order to achieve fame for moral reasons, but it does work, and there are probably posts you have made that you can spot that was fear-driven.
Belonging is an emotional trigger that ties in with the herding instinct. "The neurochemical oxytocin triggers a “bliss response” in the brain whenever we are engaging in social behavior," according to ASTD. Everyone wants to belong to a Tribe, and they tend to choose tribes they most relate to, that feel right. In my case, I jumped head first without a parachute into the mom blogger tribes because those were definitely my people. But your memes and advertising can relate to this with things like, "Join us," and "Solidarity!"
In addition to belonging, trend setting is an emotion you can position with your product/meme/concept. "Be Like Mike" is a perfect example of trend setting. People don't just want to belong to a group, but they also want to belong to a "Cool" group, whether it's a group of cheerleaders freaking out about a lipstick shade, or a group of nerds talking about Star Wars like it's cool. You don't have to be cool. You just have to make whatever it is you are selling sound cool.
In the end, it doesn't matter what you do, whether you post popular pictures on your facebook page or invite discussion with compelling questions, it's how you do it. I've noticed that actions stand out more than content. People are bored on the internet, and they are always looking for something that makes them laugh or cry, but they are also looking for something to do, something that their tribe is doing. It doesn't matter if it's planking, video taping an ice bucket challenge, or creating a one liner with a specific hashtag on twitter. I think the act of doing increases the feeling of belonging.
where we explore viral media and things that contributed to its virality
Now I know what you are asking... Where did you get this information? Well I'll tell you... Some of the sources where I gained this knowledge include, but are not limited to due to my memory...
Virality Prediction and Community Structure in Social Networks
Virality Prediction and Community Structure in Social Networks
Twitter Trends Help Researchers Forecast Viral Memes
Fear Factor: How the Herd Mentality Drives Us