How to go viral? Do you know what it takes?


What makes a social media post go viral?

A few days ago, I read a newspaper article shared on Facebook about a mini-documentary that had gone “viral”.   It did not appear to have the usual “hooks” of sex, scandal, stardom, big money or drugs to garner attention.  Instead it was a story of an Inuit elder in a remote Arctic community filmed in Inuinnaqtun (a lesser known Inuit language).  It made me wonder what makes a post go viral?

“Documentary on Kugluktuk elder goes viral”, Nunavut News,

So where did I go to find the answer?  Google, of course!  According to  “What Makes Something Go Viral?” the experts have a number of theories.  I’ve set out a few below.

According to Kevin Allocca, YouTube Head of Culture and Trends at Google, it comes down to three things:  tastemakers, communities of participation and/or unexpectedness.  Tastemakers of individuals who have influence and can spread an idea or product through their vast network to spark interest.   Does Kim Kardashian come to mind?   From there, communities of participation can rally around an idea or product to help spur it further.  Typically, the item of focus must have some element of uniqueness or unexpectedness about it.

Jonah Berger, a Wharton marketing professor and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, outlines 6 main reasons why a video goes viral and summarizes them as STEPPS.  Broken down, STEPPS stands for:

  • Social currency
    • Is there some social value in sharing it? Do I look cool?
  • Triggers
    • What is the predominant need or desire of the sharer? We tend to focus on those things we may be longing for.
  • Emotion
    • What emotion does the content evoke? Positive or inspirational stories are more likely to be shared.
  • Public
    • Sharing information that is out there and shared may make you feel part of the larger group
  • Practical Value
    • What’s the top 10 ways to cook a chicken? 5 must do behaviours when looking for a mate.
  • Stories
    • Everyone loves a story particularly a heartwarming one.

Berger goes on to say that ALL viral content share these 5 attributes: SurprisingInterestingIntensePositive and Actionable.

So how does this relate to the mini-documentary, I AM HITKOAK?

There were no tastemakers or big name celebrities or personalities from all accounts that brought forward the mini-documentary into the public eye.  However, its promotion by Reel Youth, a national organization that promotes visual arts among youth may have given recognition of the film through a community or communities of participation to spur its sharing.  Its uniqueness in content, language, location and subject could not be more unique or unexpected, reflecting Allocco’s third element.

Looking at it through the STEPPS lens, the intrigue of the north and ability to gain a glimpse of traditional life may have led to social currency in sharing the story.  It may trigger a desire for connectedness and adventure by those more familiar with a stale urban backdrop.  The short duration (just over 6 minutes) gives rise to a number of emotions including playfulness at the opening scene to the desperation of starvation that was all too real in Hitkoak’s life and the Inuit.  Sharing the story may highlight that you are part of a sensitive caring public.  While the documentary may not provide the practical tips that we’ve all become accustomed to seeing on social media, it certainly highlights the basics of a nomadic traditional lifestyle where food, shelter and clothing cannot be assured.

I AM HITKOAK provides insight to a lifestyle that is far different from many and leads us on an emotional ride in a short time.  The story of the film’s making is particularly heartwarming.  The two young women took time to listen, to hear and to learn from the elder, HITKOAK.  The intergenerational respect, caring and sensitivity to while making the production which is truly inspiring as well.

So what have we learned from this?  Want your post to go viral?  Is it unique?  Does it take have emotional appeal?  Does it have social currency?  Can you win favour with the tastemakers?  Then you too may be able to go viral.

 Going viral?  What does it take?

 Do you know what it takes to go viral?

#respectingElders  #Inuittraditionallifestyle  #goingviral



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