Theory of social validation, viruses and viral videos
Subject line: How can I make a viral video? [EOM]
Thought #1: WOW, at least one person is taking the Email Charter seriously. Impressive.
Thought #2: You really don’t want to make a viral video. People don’t like viruses, offline nor online.
I get it. In an age of social media every brand, regardless of size, wants all 1 billion people on the Internet to see every single piece of content they produce. And many people have theories on how to make viral content: anything from length of the content to including specific elements such as someone getting hurt, kittens, babies, unicorns, rainbows, monkeys, etc. or even paying for tools and/or people to spread the content across sites and platforms.
The reality is that there is a difference between making something viral and something becoming viral. Making something viral requires just contact. It works just like a virus, you open a file or watch a video and it automatically gets shared with your networks. But that’s not how content becomes viral on the web. What many people call “viral” content has the result of a virus-like activity, but doesn’t function as a virus. Usually, it happens because many people make the decision to share that piece of content. It requires more than just contact; it’s a decision. And that’s the big question: How do people decide to share something?
Quick answer: theory of social validation. Our actions are governed by our desire to be liked by others; to be perceived as smart, witty, funny, environmentally responsible, fashionable, intellectual, goofy, accomplished, etc. And that’s why we share, because we want the people that matter to us to perceive us as [insert your desired attribute].
A bored at work guy browses the web to find something hilarious and sends it to his bored at work buddies who will perceive him as funny. Social validation. A young professional digs into The Harvard Business Review to find a brilliant article to impress her boss. Social validation.
We share branded content not because we like your brand, but because we want to be liked.
If you want your content to become viral, make content that says how awesome I am to the various people in my life. Produce content that makes my parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members that I see once every five years, coworkers, potential coworkers, bosses, potential bosses, friends, ex boyfriends, future ex boyfriends, high school classmates, frenemies and everyone else to like me. Make people to perceive me as awesome. However, awesome is defined differently by the different circles of my network (not just Google+ circles). We all have multiple personas based on the context: what makes me awesome at work isn’t always awesome according to my friends, thus what I share with my coworkers is rarely what I share with my friends.
That’s my theory on viral content. What’s yours?