Click & Share: Why Things Like #AlexFromTarget Go Viral

First things first: I think #AlexFromTarget is the stupidest hashtag of the year, maybe even the decade. When I first saw this excessively shared photo, I curiously googled the hashtag, hoping to find that #AlexFromTarget was secretly Justin Bieber trying to make amends. I read and I reread article after article only to find that #AlexFromTarget is just…Alex who works at Target.

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How could something this absurd go viral? Did Alex really achieve minor stardom solely on luck? Well it gets a little complicated when certain organizations claim that it was a marketing ploy, but it turns out that yes- some things go viral based on luck. That being said, viral content has to have certain attributes that make people want to share it. Here are three that I’ve identified as the most likely components to send something viral:

1. Emotional appeal: Remember #Kony2012? Produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children, KONY 2012 was a half-hour long documentary focusing on the murderous acts of Ugandan radical leader, Joseph Kony. The atrocities committed by Kony were detailed, leaving viewers with a feeling of sadness, fury and necessity to act. Within five days, the video had 120 million views and was being shared by celebrities from Rihanna to Bill Gates.

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Emotions are hard for people to ignore. Since we all have them, it is easy to feel connected to something that other people are experiencing. Finding something you feel passionate about will make you want to share that passion with others.

2. Storytelling: If you ask any good marketing professional these days, they will tell you that people don’t want to be sold; they want to hear a story and connect. Take for example the phenomenal video that P&G created for the Winter Olympics, “Pick Them Back Up.” Focusing on the relationship between the child and the mother, the commercial walks through the various ages of adolescence in sports. You see the mother and child go through triumphs and failures as a unit until the child finally reaches the Winter Olympics, where he or she wins a medal and turns to immediately thank the mother.

Not once throughout the commercial does P&G attempt to sell the viewer anything, which would take away from the art of the story. The ad went viral immediately, securing the no. 1 space on Unruly’s viral global video ad chart within the first week.

3. Humor/Social timeliness: Whether it’s Charlie biting his brother’s finger or Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell rapping about cupcakes on Sundays, humor plays a huge role in sharing. Political gaffes are popular, as everyone likes to see an elected official say the wrong thing.

People like to be the first people to share funny news with others, even if it’s been floating around for a while. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see Makayla Maroney flash her iconic “I’m not interested” face at cameras

At the end of the day, things go viral because people see a need for others to see them. Sometimes it’s luck and sometimes it’s an elaborate campaign orchestrated by professionals, but we as consumers seem to be the ones in the driver’s seat. So fellow digital sharers, I implore you to prevent the next #AlexFromTarget by only sharing unique, creative, funny and wonderful things. Trust me, everyone will be better off.

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