We’ve all heard about things that “go viral”. (You’ve watched the poor little dude weeping about how we should leave Britney alone – admit it!) But why do we do it? Why do we jump on the bandwagon and then spread the word about these stories?
It’s a pinch of guilty pleasure, a dose of tapping into our collective cultural consciousness, and a cup and a half of voyeurism – but it all boils down to attraction.
What attracts us on YouTube is, in general, one or more of the following:
1) the gross
2) the famous
3) the sexy
4) the freakish
5) the stupid/risky
6) the really, really funny
7) the beautifully, poignantly human
8) the very cool/absurdly cute
9) the unexplained/legitimately mysterious/magical
People think “going viral” – the hockey-stick pattern of exponential growth in viewers – was invented by YouTubers. But how about books? What attracts us in literature is slightly more complex than what attracts us in the world of YouTube – but not much. How about Harry Potter (life/death struggle – and a mixture of numbers 5, 8 and 9)? How about Twilight (love/loss/finding oneself – 3, 8 and 9)? Both went spectacularly viral.
Although social media is a terrific tool for making it happen – viral is a concept that pre-dates YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. It happens in book clubs, it happens with newspaper reviews, it happens in libraries, etc. It’s the old Breck commercial: I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on.
Once you get a story over the wall – into the loving hands of a publisher – the best way to earn out your advance is to have it go viral. But it’s hard to make it happen. One could argue that you can’t MAKE it happen at all. It all comes down to content. Content and attraction.
Just watch how Mockingjay does it.