If you are an unheard of person trying to make your mark on the Internet, then going viral is a dream come true. It means instant exposure to a huge audience, some part of which is probably going to find you and your content wildly appealing. That, in turn, means that you will get even more exposure, popularity, fame, wealth and general dating ability.

A brief interlude, in which I will explain what “going viral” means to my readers who are not “down” with “internet jive” (hi mom!) Going viral refers to when something on the Internet experiences a sudden boost in popularity entirely by word of mouth. News of the viral event travels from person to person and usually happens with little or no need for a middleman, much like an epidemic, from which the term “viral” comes. Social media has made it easier and easier for things to go viral over the Internet, just as modern transportation has made epidemics more and more of a worry. Any piece of media can go viral, but it typically refers to a YouTube video or, in rare cases a comic (as in a stand-alone illustration, although it sometimes refers to serialized webcomics).

A very recent example of a viral event is PSY’s Gangnam Style. If you are one of the five people in America who aren’t familiar with this little bit of Korean absurdity, let me spread the infection a little bit more.

Wasn’t that fun? Whether you like it or hate it, Gangnam Style is now a part of the American consciousness. A year ago, how many people you know could answer the following question:

“Who or what is Gangnam?

A) A district in Seoul, South Korea.

B) A battle mecha franchise from Japan.

C) A new kind of inner city gang.”

If you’re like mot people, the answer is none. But now they’ll all say, “Oh, that’s the song with the Asian guy who rides the ponies, right?” And they’d be right, because going viral has the power to define things in the cultural consciousness. And that’s on top of the fame, money and hordes of attractive single people.

Many people come to the Internet, and indeed to blogs such as this one, with a fairly simple plan in mind:

Step 1. Go viral.

Step 2. ???

Step 3. Profit!

What they quickly learn is that it doesn’t actually work that way. In fact, the order should probably be:

Step 1. ???

Step 2. Go viral.

Step 3. Profit!

You see, all the real work goes in before you make the big break. Even in the age of the Internet, there’s no easy win. You have to put in the time and dedication to make even a little bit of a mark. Viral videos generally have three things in common.

First, there’s the dedication to craft. PSY was a successful Korean pop artist long before he went viral. One of the earliest viral events was “All Your Base“, a video put together by video editing students as part of a major project. In fact, look at pretty much any major viral event that has resulted in lasting success and you’ll find that it had a higher than normal level of finish work, proof of a dedication to making good content. The creator probably had a string of much less successful work before they made their big break.

Second, there’s a love of what’s being done. Look at AutoTune the News, makers of more than one viral video. Sure, their videos are silly and the music isn’t really that memorable. But the real magic is that they bring out the music the creators hear in every day speech. That love goes into the songs they right and attracts people to them. By the same token, PSY has said that Gangnam Style was not created to be an international sensation. It was a love song to the Gangnam district, a celebration of all the things that make it unique and lovable.

Third, there’s a willingness to have fun. I’m not aware of any viral events on the Internet that are people playing things completely straight. If you want to go viral, you can’t take yourself very seriously. Again, look at Gangnam Style. PSY blows himself up, engages in a dancing duel with a man in a plastic suit and rides invisible horses everywhere. And he obviously has a great time doing it. We want to share that fun with him, and we’re sucked in with him.

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone can intentionally go viral. But your can create in such a way as to make it much more viable. On the other hand, when you go viral there are far fewer people who have been with you since the beginning and come to have a true appreciation of your work and goals. You may not have the support and emotional maturity to deal with the sudden exposure. And you may not want the huge, impersonal masses staring over your shoulder, wanting you to repeat the old successes when you’re seeking to press on to newer and better things.

Should you go viral? Well, that’s really up to you. It will probably be a fun and wild ride if you do. But whatever your goal, it’s best to work relentlessly at something you love. Keep presenting your work in the right forums, taking feedback and never give up and you’ll be surprised where you wind up.


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