by Kelland Drumgoole
In a new study looking at â€˜How Stuff Spreadsâ€™Â FaceÂ has identified key components that make things go viral. Looking at the spread on Twitter of two global memes,Â Gangnam Style vs Harlem Shake, Face discovered eight common characteristics which it says led to them becoming viral phenomena, generating thousands of spin-off versions and billions of views.
The eight common characteristics are:
1. Bursts and Rises: There are 2 models of virality.
The Burstmodel isÂ bottom-up:the variations are more powerful then the original seed and thereâ€™s no clear leadership or narrative. The meme relies on community relevance to spread.
The Rise model isÂ top-down: the original seed is always stronger than its variations and has a clear leader dictating the narrative.Bursts spread widely more quickly but donâ€™t endure. Rises spread more slowly and less widely but they tend to endure because the meme has a focal point. Chose your model of virality and plan according.
2. Triggers.Whatever the model, virality is triggered by surprise, cultural relevance to a community, and endorsement by a leader or the media.
3. Waves.Â Whatever the trigger, virality is not asteady affair; it spreads in waves and spikes.
4. CommunitiesÂ drive viral spread way more than influencers.
5. Glocality.Â Memes transcend geography but a successful meme needs a balance of both local relevance and global appeal.
6. Leadership.Â A meme needs a focal point to live longer. Virality is only sustained through a strong narrative and leadership.
7. Slow and spikey wins the race.Weak ties and communities sustain for weeks but they donâ€™t give you scale in the short term. Top-down media and celebrity endorsement gives you instant scale but burns out within a couple of days by decreasing the shareability of the meme.
8. Memes are like currency:Â you need to balance supply (or accessibility) and inflation.
In order to achieve high shareability and high popularity the meme supply has to be expansionary but strategically controlled so that it doesnâ€™t negatively affect its shareability. This at the same time gives the meme the scale that can trigger and sustain exponential growth.
Face compared how the top 5 versions of each video were shared on Twitter, looking at 8 dimensions of each meme: Shape (number of shares per video, over lifetime of the meme); Lifespan (number of consecutive days where people shared the meme 500+ times); Popularity (number of unique users sharing the meme over its lifetime); Shareability (total Twitter shares per each million of YouTube views; Globality (how international was the meme); Amplification (how influential were the people who shared the meme); Variation (how much did attention to the meme vary day-by-day); Diffusion Network (hubs and nationalities who drove the spread of the meme).
Using their recently launched social media intelligence tool,Â Pulsar TRAC, they tracked any social media conversation containing a specific URL and analysed who is talking about it, gateways and hubs, topics of discussion, geography of the discussion and key channels.
WhileÂ Harlem ShakeÂ turned out to be 3x more shareable thanÂ Gangnam Style, it still ended up being 4.5x less popular in terms of the number of uniqe users sharing it. It is a difficult balance for a meme to strike. Popularity doesnâ€™t mean Shareability, and Shareability doesnâ€™t imply Popularity. Community drives Shareability but doesnâ€™t give you Scale (Popularity). Top-down influence drives Scale (Popularity) but kills Shareability. While Shareability is a key requisite of virality, scale is what enables and sustains exponential growth.
written by Francesco Dâ€™Orazio and Jessica Owens @Face Group