What Does it Mean to Go Viral? Are you Next?

June 19th, 2021

Pexels Terje Sollie 320617

Let’s break it down like that container ship in the Suez Canal broke down global shipping infrastructure. (See what we did there?)

How to define “going viral”

You know, during the plague in the 1300s, going viral wasn’t nearly as cool as it is today. 

But our definition of going viral definitely comes from the medical definition of a virus–a microscopic pathogen that infects various organisms. But for us in 2021, the little infectious agent we’re talking about is you! 

You never thought you’d be called a little infectious agent, did you? Well, today’s your lucky day.

On social media, content can spread just like a viral infection–people can even become “infected” when they see it. The infection happens when the content evokes a strong emotion from the viewer, and they’re compelled to share it and discuss it with others on social networking sites. The best viral marketing campaigns are tear-jerkers, knee-slappers, and–for better or for worse–hair-pullers. Viruses cause strong reactions, too.

Going viral means creating and posting internet content that is then shared and spread exponentially on the internet. In other words, you can create content that creates a high level of engagement. Your viral content could even become the focus of news stories across the country, creating a level of brand awareness you previously only dreamed of. If you’re active on social every day (especially during work like me. Sorry, Helen! I swear it’s research!), it’ll feel impossible to avoid the next viral trend being shared by your friends and followers.

A real-world example of going viral 

Creating a viral phenomenon isn’t just reserved for internet celebrities and YouTube content creators. Literally, anything can go viral on the internet–whether it’s an article, a tweet, a blog post, an e-mail, a quote, an image, an idea, an event, or even a person. It bears repeating: ANYTHING can go viral if it has mass appeal and is shareable by regular people. Twitter sees millions of retweets every day on its platform.

Format: Video | Platform: Youtube | Title: Walmart yodeling kid 

It feels like 2018 was decades ago (or maybe 2020 just felt decades-long). But, as the spring arrived and warmed our weary winter bodies, so the yodeling kid came along and warmed our weary hearts. The setup for this promotional viral video is simple: Walmart, an Android camera (probably), a yodel, and a young kid dressed as a rancher from an old western.

Mason Ramsey exploded onto the internet scene by busting out a magical yodel at a Walmart in Harrisburg, Illinois. His innocence and charm oozed through the screen, and that’s why the yodel video went viral.

Evokes Emotion 

It’s almost impossible not to begin rooting for Mason as soon as you watch the video. The tiny little kid, standing amidst the vast shelves and aisles of an Illinois Walmart. Immediately, everyone invested themselves in Mason’s future and became his fans. That emotion and investment compel people to take action and share the content. Everyone wanted him to succeed. 


Everyone knows what it is like to be a young kid with a big dream. The passion in Mason Ramsey’s yodeling was captivating and charming, and the innocence he exuded was hard to ignore. It was easy enough for people to share his video, reminiscing about the days they too dreamed of being a star with child-like confidence that compelled them to sing/dance, generally perform in public.

Broad appeal 

The Mason Ramsey video was a curious melding of young and old. A young boy is dreaming of being a digital-age viral star and a traditional deep-south country music performer. The easiest way to describe his mass appeal: In the same week, he performed at Coachella and the Grand Ole Opry.

Going viral with different platforms 

Each social media platform has different definitions of being viral and connects to different types of audiences. Let’s review three social media platforms so you can get an idea of the differences to look out for.

Tik Tok 

Many different genres of content succeed on TikTok–all in short-form video style. In its current form, the app gives any video a chance to be picked up by showing it to a small, targeted audience on the For You Page. If your content performs well on the For You Page, the app will put it in front of numerous online users with similar interests. With this format, you should be able to tell if you’ve gone viral within the first few hours of posting.


Going viral on Facebook is typically defined as “the number of people who have created a story from your post as a percentage of the number of people who have seen it.” Therefore, your post needs to travel beyond the people on your friend list–and the best way to do this is to create a buzz around something shareable. 

Facebook is a social media app for all types of content–images, copy, and videos are all content mediums available to Facebook advertisers and marketers. However, the virality of your post depends on how many people have taken action after seeing the video. For example, your video might be showing 10,000 views, but if only two people liked it and your grandma is the only comment, it is not considered viral. Sorry, grandma. 


Viral content on Instagram is much more likely to go viral when it is unique. On Instagram, the content that gets attention has the following traits: emotionally engaging, controversial, newsworthy, and visually stunning. Instagram is a very image-focused platform, after all. Instagram can host videos, but compared to videos, photo content reaches double the amount of people.

Also, consider having a pre-built brand prepared for the chance that one of your pieces of content gets picked up. To continue working off the wave of attention, Instagram users look for real accounts, so it is key to have your Instagram page already up and running so people can follow you for similar content.

When do you know that you’re going viral

We all know a viral video when we see one because it becomes impossible to avoid. Technically, however, the border between viral is not well defined and still debated. Many analysts argue that the benchmark for a viral video is 100,000 views.

Now, it is essential to factor in the rate at which you have gained the views. Receiving one hundred thousand views over a year doesn’t constitute going viral.

Basically, the threshold for going viral is relative to the context, timing, and quantity of views. So there is no one simple answer. However, when you’re notifications are blowing up, and news outlets begin to reach out, you can be pretty confident you’ve gone viral.

You went viral. Now what? 

To make money when a video goes viral, it is vital to be prepared to monetize it (if that is the kind of thing you are into). Most viral videos generate anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, while massive hits can earn more than $1 million. 

One way to make money is to license your content. Getting the content licensed protects you from negotiating bad deals with agencies and production companies who may want to use your content. However, If your content is hosted on youtube, you can monetize via the AdSense program, allowing Youtube to place ads in your video.

Finally, the best and longest-lasting way to capitalize on going viral is to make that content into a brand. As Mel Brooks once said in Spaceballs, “Merchandising, merchandising – where the real money from the movie is made A catchphrase on a t-shirt, your face on a Christmas ornament, your Instagram handle on a pair of socks, the opportunities are endless..”

The key is in building a brand and viral marketing practices that reach a large number of people. Intelligent, strategic maneuvering and a measure of interaction around a viral video are essential. That strategy is what turned an 11-year-old kid yodeling in a Walmart into a country music star and cultural icon. Posting lots of videos does not equal a viral movement–don’t bother trying the “throw it at the wall ’til it sticks” method. 

Remember the little people when you’re big and famous 

We might consider ourselves little people, but we produce big results for brands looking to take it to the next level. We can create the perfect piece of shareable content for whatever floats your boat.

If your brand needs a little extra boost and your social media campaigns a little more zhuzh, let Nowadays masterfully show you the art of viral marketing. We’re experts at modernizing your marketing message and injecting it directly into social media to reach the right audience. Our proprietary Social Scripting process will get the right content on the right page at the right time.

So yeah, not to brag, but we are f***ing awesome. Contact us to get your brand in front of millions of people.



Social Media Vs. Newsletter Effectiveness | Chron

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Here’s How People Make Money From Viral Videos | Time

How to earn money on YouTube – AdSense Help | Google