Essay: Viral videos

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published: 22 September 2015*
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We go through this research assuming the fact that videos just happen to go viral and while it might be the case that the makers of a particular video might want their video to go viral it would be rather difficult to predict if the video would eventually go viral or not. However to better equip a video creator into making content that has high viral potential we analyze the who, when, why, what and how of the videos that have already gone viral.

Reasons for going Viral

One of the first things to study why a video goes viral is to study if there is a particular pattern or a particular component in the videos that is common to them. While such a study would not be able to predict if a video will go viral or not, it will allow a content creator to effectively connect with the audience by providing a platform for higher engagement from the viewer.
The study done on the virility factors of various videos by Tyler West states that some of the factors that affect the popularity of videos are the title length, brevity, humor, surprise, irony, minority, music, youth and talent. (Tyler 2011.) West analyzed the top 20 videos on the Time Magazines viral list to conclude that these 9 factors were used as hooks to gain the audience attention thus generating a certain level of emotional engagement with the viewer. It is this ‘participation’ or engagement that is the key to the popularity of YouTube and its videos’ success (Burgess 2008). Friedman in his research states that ‘Watching media’ is not merely a passive exercise, but rather an activity that involves active interpretations of that film or video that shape reception of media messages, and thus he concludes audience involvement as a necessity (Friedman, 2006). Further research also lists this emotional engagement as a key to the virility of any online video, i.e. for the video to achieve a viral status it is important that it must elicit some type of emotional response in the viewer. (Berger and Milkman, 2010.)
Apart from viewer engagement researchers have also agreed that emotion plays a large role in viral success, irrespective of the medium. Phelps through his research concluded that participants were most likely to forward an email that contained humor, as the major reason to forward them was as ‘enjoyment’ or ‘entertainment’ (Phelps, et. al, 2004). While the more awe-inspiring or positive content has a higher tendency to go viral and sadness inducing or negative emotions content are less so, however some negative emotions have been noted to be positively associated with virility. Anxiety and anger inducing stories both make for content with a high sharing probability. This suggests that there is more to viral marketing than just sharing positive things and avoiding negative ones. Thus the content that evokes high-arousal emotions, regardless of its context, is noted to be more viral. ( Berger and Milkman, 2010)

Effect of Creator

Often one of the more active roles in the action set of a viral video is that of a content creator. This creator may or may not have an intellectual copyright over the material uploaded or in some cases may not be the owner/creator of the material in the first place, however for the ease of research we take into consideration any up loader with a YouTube channel to be the creator of the video being uploaded.
It is this creator who manages the subscribers, optimizes the keywords for the search engine to ensure that the video being shared has higher relevance (Angwin, 2009). Angwin mentions that three key factors for a video to go viral are: great content, building a fan base and search engine optimization. While the definition for great content would depend on the audience perception, it is often the creator who is solely responsible for generating a base of loyal subscribers on YouTube and other social media
It is often the popularity and reputation of the sharer that serves as the medium between the creator and the viewers. If the creator does not have a big enough viewer audience then the video is less likely to reach viral status. Also, if the initial sharer is not well respected by their viewer audience people are more likely to not watch or think the video is spam (Vogelbacker, et al.)
In her research on viral videos on YouTube Priya Shetye found out that the popularity of the author had an obvious impact upon the ability of the video to go viral. Upon time a creator manages to build up a loyal base of subscribers who get notified of the videos he/she publishes. The more number of subscribers, the more views the video stands to get. (Shetye,)

Comedy And Popularity

Off lately Comedy and viral have become terms that have become synonymous with each other. A major part of the videos that have gone viral globally, be it ‘The Harlem Shake’ or Psy’s ‘Gangnam style’ have an element of humor that has been a part of the overall plot. Comedy happens to be the most popular category of videos on YouTube after music and entertainment.(Cheng et al. 2007). The onset of the digital age has seen the comedy industry is alter the way the humor is produced, as well as the system for producing comic talent. Younger comics are ditching large corporates and existing systems in favor of setting themselves up as independent artists/collectives to ensure greater freedom of content and genre. A number of them have taken to video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo to upload their content and generate a loyal fan base. It is this network of subscribers and fans across other social media that often act as the first set of viewers and referrers for the content. Often unpaid and self-funded this approach allows them to develop their profiles and gain entry into the tightly controlled cultural industries. (deveau, et al.

One of the major reasons for the popularity of humor is because of its cross-platform mobility, and its ability to act as a bridge between traditional media conglomerates/popular media norms and transgressive online material (Gurney, 2011). An investigation done by Kathryn Vogelbacker and her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh identified comedy as an important factor for many of the popular videos on Internet. Whether the humor irrespective of its style is present in the Internet’s most viewed amateur videos. It is this segment of amateur comedic videos that has gone viral as user generated content online. (Vogelbacker, et al.) Berger and Milkman in their research stated that it was only people would often share videos that they found funny or entertaining in order to spread the good vibes (Berger and Milkman, 2009).

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