Virality and the Internet

I was wondering the other day about who the first used the word viral in the context of the internet and the spread of content. The Wikipedia page on Viral Marketing says the term was first coined by Tim Draper, a venture capitalist. This was in ’96 and the social network in question was probably email. From those humble beginnings, virality has turned into a multi-million dollar industry where success stories are measured by views, clicks and shares.

So what makes internet content go viral? Are there a set of common factors that can ensure the success of your video or tweet? Is there a silver bullet? Over the last few years a number of companies, researchers and phony social media gurus have tried to explain the phenomenon. But it is still difficult to replicate the success of one campaign directly in another.

A paper by Berger & Milkman [pdf] looks at an interesting link between the emotion generated by the content and the degree of social transmission, or the virality factor. Articles which generated emotions like awe, anxiety or anger tended to be more viral than content which generated emotions such as sadness.

This brings me to why I am bothering with this right now. I have taken up an unpaid job with after I finished my MSc in Computing Science. Being a startup I get the chance to work in multiple areas – from advertising to web design and optimization. But my main job is to deal with the social outreach of the site.

So I have started with the basics. Its only been a few days and we are looking to improve the site layout in such a way that it is easier to share content. Now we are looking into starting a campaign on facebook with the goal of increasing the audience of the site’s content. There is a lot of hard work still to be done and a site redesign is still in the works. I’m now thinking of ideas to create a good viral application which can launch the social aspect of the site.

Well, its only been a few days.


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