Jonah Peretti created a number of virally popular websites a few years back, including Crying While Eating, Black People Love Us, and The Rejection Line prior to starting the hugely successful Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post. Some of us also know Jonah as a board member of F.A.T. Lab.
On Saturday, Jonah gave a presentation called “Mormons, Mullets, and Maniacs” detailing a number of reasons why content goes viral. The most refreshing part about his presentation (and most others I saw) was how he wasn’t trying to sell people on his ideas. There was zero social-media-douchebaggery in his tone.
He raised a lot of interesting points in his presentation, so I thought I’d post the notes that I took. This isn’t a complete summary, but it’s what I took away from it.
The Big Question: How can you spread your ideas and make them “go viral?”
MANIACS: Content is more viral if it helps people to express their personality disorders. This isn’t to say that we need to prey on real disorders, they’re just used to refer to behaviors present in us all at some level.
NARCISSISM: Media is more viral when it is ego-gratifying for the consumer. Elf Yourself, Avatar-Me, and other simple vanity tools appeal strongly to one’s ego.
This tweet was retweeted thousands of times because of it’s ego-gratification: “Twitter is a simple service for smart people, Facebook is a smart service for simple people.” When people read this, the message they receive is “I’m a smart person because I’m reading this on Twitter. I’ll share this and everyone else who shares it also gets to feel clever.”
JEWS VS. MORMONS: Judaism is a high-quality religion, but it has not grown significantly in comparison to how Mormonism has. Mormonism is a younger religion, but evangelism is one of the core features. Mormons want you to also be a Mormon. This is why Mormonism has grown so quickly.
THE NETWORK DECIDES WHAT GOES VIRAL: It’s less about the existence of certain groups of influential people, and more about the interconnectedness of a network structure.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” the success of Hushpuppies is credited to hipsters. Because “the cool kids” were wearing them, Gladwell suggests that everyone else took their cue from them. But the practice of crediting a meme’s spread to its source isn’t enough. It’s not all about the influencers, or even the quality of the content.
Instead, contagious media has three key features:
- It’s easy to understand
- It’s easy to share
- It contains a social imperative.
easy to understand
Weegee isn’t as popular as lolcats because in order to appreciate the meme, one has to understand the context. Lolcats require very little prior knowledge in order to appreciate them.
easy to share
Digg, Reddit, the “Like” button, all of these things make it extremely easy to share.
Is there a social reason to share the content? Will it make people laugh? Will it make people angry enough to join a crusade? Why will people WANT to share it?
People say “The internet is for porn” but porn is not viral. This is because the behavior of searching for content is entirely different from the behavior of sharing content. Even if people seek out porn, most will not be motivated to share it. For most people, there is no social reason to share porn. This means you can’t expect your content to go viral simply because it contains sexual imagery. If it’s sexy, it still needs to be funny and/or clever in order for people to be motivated to share it.
And here’s the most important phrase from his entire presentation that I wish EVERY know your meme user would put into practice in the creation of their meme submissions:
Focus on the mechanics of how an idea spreads, not the idea itself.