Want to go viral? Create something ‘awe-inspiring’

Have you ever been tasked with creating a "viral video" or told by clients that they want their content to go viral, as if doing so is as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning? If so, you know that it isn't as easy as it seems and a lot of content that does go viral often happens much to the surprise of the creators. Think the wedding dance on YouTube . I'm sure they knew their idea was novel and fresh and would be the topic of the year, or even the decade among their family and friends, but I doubt they set out to make their wedding the YouTube sensation it has become. The concept for the Will it Blend videos happened by accident after one guy was so disgruntled with the fact that he couldn't sell the blenders that he decided to take out his frustration on the appliance by attempting to blend branches from his backyard. It was a complete accident. But the branches blended, and the rest is history.

Just like videos, news stories are circulated around the social web at warp speed. We are inundated with emails and links from our family, friends, followers and extended networks and when the source is someone we trust, we usually check it out.

But what does this content have in common and why are people sharing it? This is what is revealed in a recent study of the New York Times most-emailed list as reported by John Tierney . I took a look at the complete study this morning and was quite intrigued by the methodology and the fact that the researchers analyzed the virality of more than 7,500 articles. (Major kudos to Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman , both assistant professors at The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School for what was surely an exhaustive experience!)

The four common denominators of the stories are as follows: They were awe-inspiring, emotional, positive and surprising . Keep in mind that the research did focus on text, and the assumption that this translates to video and other online content is mine alone.

But sharing is sharing and these four variables clearly resonate with the human spirit. If you’ve shared something via e-mail recently, chances are you can use one of those four adjectives to characterize the content.

Is it a science? Certainly not. But the information gleaned in this study is too valuable to overlook. I would encourage you to read the entire study for yourself. I found it awe inspiring, positive and surprising, and three out-of-four isn’t too shabby.