What makes something go viral?
If I had the answer to that, I’d command a much higher salary than I do now.
While the sheer number of readers, the volume of online clicks, and droves of viewers are not the sole reason we produce news content, like everyone else we do to some degree chase that viral moment. It makes our bosses really happy when we get big numbers. And who doesn’t want millions of people to see, read or otherwise pay attention to something they create? We’re usually proud of the things we write and produce, and we want as many people to see them as possible.
I pondered the question of what makes a viral video this week as I contemplated the huge success of the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association’s “Ember has a Dream” piece. The video has more than 1 million views and the CTRA has gotten messages about it from around the world.
There are a few things that we know a wide variety of people want to look at. Anything with animals touches many, many people from across the political, age and income spectrums. So do children doing cute or touching things. It’s something so many of us have in common, it creates a bit of a universal language.
Things that pull at the heartstrings, or provide inspiration or laughter also seem to be common denominators. Most of all, perhaps, most things that go viral tell a story. And that’s at the heart of what we do in this business, and why most of us went into it in the first place: to tell stories.
So are we all set to unleash as slew of viral content? Not so fast. It’s not as tangible as following a checklist. Whether something actually goes viral (as opposed to just being popular) is almost totally unpredictable. It’s the whim of the moment. Capturing a particular happenstance.
You can spend hours, days, years fruitlessly pursuing a viral moment. And so for newspapers there have to be other considerations than chasing an ephemeral five minutes of fame.
We also write and produce things that we know full well are not going to go viral. We do this because they are important, usually informational subjects that our local readers need to know about. We know that nobody in Australia, Thailand or Mexico is going to care about the development going in down the road, but our readers do. No matter how unlikely it is that the rest of the world will care, Cowichan residents are still our first priority. With the hope that we can occasionally enjoy a viral moment.