Sharing, organic engagement, virality, trending, taking off, shooting the moon—call it what you will, there’s no doubt that it’s a thing. But is it even remotely a new thing.
No. No it isn’t, dear reader.
Let’s hit pause for a moment and dive into what makes something take off online. It’ll be a harrowing journey full of knuckle-whitening twists and turns, but in the end, I think you’ll find that the answer is thoroughly unsurprising and obvious, perhaps even mundane—you can be the judge of that. What isn’t debatable is the truth of the message.
Anyhow, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Since the dawn of time, hominids have enjoyed sharing good stories. At first, there were savage grunts around a raging fire as we feasted on mastodon tartare—yes, oral tradition was the first kind of ‘viral.’ And really, its thousands-of-years-and-still-going run probably makes it the undefeated all-time champ of the genre.
Later, as humanity became more genteel, we’d pile into playhouses, or pick up the hottest essays and literature in pamphlet form from street vendors—word of mouth was what made this stuff travel. So it went ‘viral’ slowly. But still, viral it went.
As our species became electrified, we’d gather around the water cooler and gab about the best shows and commercials. “Where’s the beef?” we’d ask. “Wassup!” we’d exclaim. This was the golden era, especially for those of us in the business of building brands and selling stuff. The speed of sharing was ramping up fast.
Then…POW! The social web happened. The era became even more golden.
Sharing has accelerated like crazy—listicles, quizzes, branded journalism and video clips have taken over. People are making their own content, which jams up the airwaves and makes it more difficult for hard-working communications professionals like us to cut through. But when we do cut through—wow. Word spreads faster than ever before.
And so we go, hurtling forever forward at ever-increasing bandwidths. We often feel like we’ve arrived at the endgame, but we never do. There’s always some new and amazing technology on the horizon waiting to push sharing into wild new places. Just a few weeks ago, we were all raving about meerkats and periscopes, for example.
We sure live in some crazy times.
But here’s the thing—at the gooey centre, what makes shareable content resonate never really changes. While the way we package and share content certainly evolves over time, the reason we share always stays the same. Whether we’re picking our teeth with splintered mastodon bones or devouring endless videos on our LTE smartphones on a jet-powered aircraft, good stories told well get shared–full stop.
The warp-speed acceleration of technology isn’t going to stop and it makes our jobs as communicators complex. But the core principal of getting eyes remains the same: tell a good story and tell it well.
That’s what people are going to share. That’s where virality comes from. It’s boring and it’s obvious, but it’s also unwavering. As a species, we are wired for stories.
Now, where does a guy get a good rack of mastodon ribs around here?