Aug 2, 2010

9 Elements of Viral Images

Adam Singer of Future Buzz shared the 2010 edition of 50 Viral Images and How they Spread. In his post Adam also shared an overview of the online platforms and tools (from message boards to social networks) that are used to spread viral images.

According to Adam, “Images are perhaps the most powerful form of content to spread on the web due to their portability, instant gratification, and impact.  Studying the images that resonate is vital to learn how you can package your own ideas in similar formats to successfully spread.”

So how can you make content that is guaranteed to go viral? The answer is simple: you can’t.

I agree with Brian Solis’ opinion that “There is no such thing as viral marketing.” According to Solis, “Content doesn’t make something viral; people are the primary source of powering social objects across the attention nodes that connect the human network.”

With that in mind, let’s examine these images from another angle: what do these 50 viral images have in common? What trends, themes and ideas have a history of engaging people and inspiring them to interact with the content (and with each other) by commenting, engaging and sharing?

  1. Tell a story.
    Storytelling is a fundamental part of every culture; stories are told (and re-told) as a way to educate and entertain. Gabe Perez’s student ID cards illustrate the story his progression through high school.
  2. Entertain with humor. Many “viral” images and videos are shared because they’re funny. Like this comic about life before Google, these awkward moments on Facebook, or this “conversation” between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
  3. Share new information or illustrate information in a new way.
    This desire for easily consumable information has contributed to the rising popularity of infographics. An informative graphic from the United Nations Environment Programme illustrates the global distribution of world’s water.  This entertaining infographic from The Seventeen Magazine Project resolves the dilemma of Who Can Wear Pigtails?
  4. Capitalize on a popular internet meme.
    Internet memes spawn conversation and content throughout the social web. The #Fail meme is an ongoing conversation on Twitter. It is also the subject of several popular blogs and the punchline for several viral images. As another example, the Rickrolling phenomenon is an internet meme that popularized an online video and spawned several viral images.
  5. Share a new perspective on something we’ve all seen a hundred times. Like laundry on the couch. Or swimming pools.
  6. Illustrate cultural pain points in informative or funny ways. Here’s a graphic explanation for why freeways come to an annoying halt and a great comparison of rock vs. iPhone. And as a Tetris addict, I can relate to this Tetris comic.
  7. Offer funny insights about sub-cultures or demographic groups. For example, did you know that where a student sits in class speaks volumes? And have you ever wondered what girls really mean when the say they “like nerdy guys“?
  8. Present ironies or juxtapositions. Several viral images demonstrate examples of irony and unexpected juxtapositions.
  9. Beautiful and inspiring. After all, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.


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