I don’t want to start this blog by saying I don’t know why something goes viral.
I don’t know why something goes viral. Who does?
That’s exactly what happened when we posted a simple video to CSU’s social media accounts of a dog licking snowflakes falling from the sky during Colorado’s first snow of the season. Here are a few thoughts on why it went viral.
Gracie is a golden retriever who was born with only one kidney, and became a patient at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She wasn’t expected to live, but she did 💚
Fast forward to November 2017. My colleague Rachel Yager, assistant director of communications for CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, actually grew up with Gracie’s owner, and saw an adorable video of Gracie catching snowflakes on her tongue. Rachel knew this was worthy of a post on the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s social media accounts, and emailed the video to me to post. (Thanks Rachel!)
We immediately recognized this post was going to be popular, but we had no idea just how popular. Chase is blogging more in-depth about the analytics on Gracie, so I won’t get into it too much. But, the video of Gracie reached 20 million people on CSU’s Facebook page alone 🙉 Not to mention, the countless brands that also shared the video to their pages, including NBC Nightly News and Barstool Sports.
But…why? The Veterinary Teaching Hospital shares plenty of cute client pics and vids with CSU. Why did this go viral?
We’ve already established that I have no idea. But, here are some ideas 👇
Easy on the brain
We work hard and use our brains all day (hopefully). When we scroll through our social feeds, sometimes we just want easy content. The video of Gracie took very little brain power to process for viewers. We weren’t sharing a complicated research story; it was a cute dog video.
Simply put, people might have been more willing to consume the content because it was simple.
A lot of our content is tailored to our CSU community (as it should be). Sure, Gracie is a client at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. But, you don’t have to be a CSU fan to fall in love with this adorable dog. Anyone who has a dog or even likes dogs can enjoy this, which opened up the video’s reach potential.
As a brand, we posted a video that others self-identified with so much that they adopted it as their own and decided to share with their own community. Or, if they didn’t self-identify with the content, they knew somebody who would and tagged that friend in a comment. We helped our audience engage and interact with friends, family members, and even strangers. The best part? CSU’s brand was getting 👀 the whole time.
Of course, the majority of the 20 million people who saw our video probably don’t care (nor will they ever) about CSU. The actual value of a viral post for brands could be a whole different blog in itself.
All those feels
It’s no secret that the most popular content on social media makes viewers feel something. Happiness. Sadness. Anger. Hope. The more intensely the content makes a viewer feel, the more likely they are to engage with that content.
We’ve heard them called, “high-arousal emotions.” Jonah Berger provides a theory as to why these emotions cause us to share more: “Emotional arousal activates our nervous system, getting us all fired up. Sharing can provide a kind of closure that releases us from this state.”
Gracie is cute. Maybe she’s so cute people needed closure to get the golden of their noggins. Maybe not. But, I do know Gracie created a lot of happiness for people, and people like to share happiness. I’ll talk more about emotions (especially how they’re related to weather) below 👇
The first snow of the season is kind of a big deal. Everyone freaks out like they’re Buddy the Elf waiting for Santa to visit a department store in December (me included). It’s magical.
We timed the post just right by sharing it first thing in the morning on the first day of snow in Colorado and many cities across the country. The video instantly became more shareable based on its timeliness.
Through researching the topic, I found an article that discussed two studies on how weather and emotions influence each other on social media. Researchers tracked the emotional content of Facebook posts over two years to see if users’ posts were more negative on rainy days, and if those negative posts affected their Facebook friends. They found that negative emotions from people’s posts in rainy cities actually affected the emotional content of posts from their friends who lived in cities where it wasn’t raining. Basically, bad moods are contagious.
The second study found that good moods/positive attitudes are actually more contagious than bad ones. When people posted positive posts about the rain, their friends were more likely to also post positive content. Not everyone loves snow (shockingly). But, we decided to take a positive approach to the snowfall, and maybe it paid off.
The journey (and power) of a share
The journey of a share is the most fascinating part of virality to me, and the most unknown. There’s no way I know of to track the one share that eventually made its way through social media for someone at NBC Nightly News to see it. There has to be a few key shares by influencers that are highly responsible for different content going viral, and it would be so cool to be able to track the journey of a share.
But, we do know why people share on social media. Ispos did a study on why we share, and they found these 10 reasons:
- To share interesting things
- To share important things
- To share funny things
- To let others know what I believe in and who I really am
- To recommend a product, service, movie, book, etc.
- To add my support to a cause, an organization, or a belief
- To share unique things
- To let others know what I’m doing
- To add to a thread or conversation
- To show I’m in the know
In the case of Gracie, I believe many of these reasons influenced the millions of viewers who shared it. I also think the timing of the post acted as a catalyst. Many weather stations were looking for content to share about the first snow in Colorado. By posting the video in the morning, we gave them the cutest snow clip they could wish for to share on their social media accounts and on live TV. I think their shares sparked a flurry of additional shares outside of CSU’s audience that grew and grew until so many people were liking, sharing, and tagging their friends that even Barstool Sports couldn’t ignore it.
Some ideas from my boss
Kris Browning-Blas, director of communication for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, stopped by my desk as I was typing this. She had some additional interesting thoughts about why this went viral:
- The influence of the mass: Are people more likely to engage with a post that millions of other people are also engaging with simply because everyone else is?
- Artistry: There are plenty videos of dogs who bite at snowflakes falling. Why did THIS video go viral? Does virality have something to do with the composition/artistry of the video because it’s more appealing to the brain? (Major kudos to Gracie’s owner on getting this amazing video of her dog’s private and pure moment.)
Plain old luck
Let’s be honest. There’s a little (maybe a lot?) bit of luck in every viral post.
Thanks to Gracie’s owner for allowing us to post her video. And thanks to Gracie for just being Gracie.
To learn more about the analytics behind Gracie’s video on CSU social, read Chase’s blog this month.