Upon hearing the word “virality”, perhaps what first comes to the mind of many is Buzzfeed, the digital news and entertainment company. Ever since Jonah Peretti founded it in 2006, the internet has seen a huge influx of the listicles news format, in itself considered a major part of “viral content”.
This type of content seems to be contributing to the need for us to remain connected. Just imagine three close friends mentioning a topic, then a colleague asking you “Are you serious you haven’t read it yet?”. While reading this text, you might even be thinking about “what went viral today”, or feeling you really need to view the latest Twitter trends.
However, if we were to agree with Kevin Kelly in his book “The Inevitable” that we’re “marching inexorably toward connecting humans and machines into a global matrix”, and that matrix being merely a process where there is a constant need of being connected to a machine, then is virality in its current form a requirement of this process?
Virality seems to have become a major element for brand success, and also one of the main reasons for generating words such as “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). A Forbes article titled “How to Brand a Contagious Idea” by Lu Chen, Senior Director of Growth Marketing at THINX, Data scientist, and Digital Marketer, mentions that “as a brand owner, you should focus on creating FOMO around your products in social media, thus generating social sharing and virality”. Chen used two major words in this regard, FOMO, and virality to mention them as a major part of success.
As the global matrix takes more shape, with various new media forms being revealed, perhaps it’s time to think not only of the success virality has had for businesses, but also of the changes it’s having on our uncontrolled behavior as social media users/humans. This could lead us to know which form of virality we require.
In its current form, virality is consuming users’ attention, a consequence of information influx Herbert Simon has foreseen since 1971. For businesses, such as Buzzfeed, virality is driving more success (80% of Buzzfeed’s reach exists beyond their website, according to Naytev). Buzzfeed itself has been changing the listicles format which wasn’t providing much in-depth content to more long-form, condensed articles or short yet informative ones.
Buzzfeed’s move contributed towards a contagious movement since businesses realized that what would keep the users’ attention for a longer time isn’t only a catchy title and photo, but more in-depth information.
While a global matrix is just beginning, it is time that virality in its current form starts shifting to a more humane level, meaning that tech companies’ main goal should go back to enriching users’ social lives, instead of focusing on how much time and attention they can give or saying that algorithms are going out of their control.
Virality is one of many reasons for changing world behavior and awareness, and Tech experts sounding the alarm on the dangerous human impact of social networking in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”, is more than a reason for users to have a wake-up call.
Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable, by Kevin Kelly, 1st ed., Penguin Books, 2016, pp. 296–296.
Chen, Lu. “Council Post: How To Brand A Contagious Idea.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Sept. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2017/09/25/how-to-brand-a-contagious-idea/.
Orlowski, Jeff. “The Social Dilemma.” Netflix Official Site, 9 Sept. 2020, www.netflix.com/watch/81254224?trackId=254814401.