Speaking of Disney, they’re old hands at a variation that Jordan Kasteler calls “The Incredible Story.” It’s all about the dog who traveled cross country to get back to his family, or the three-year-old girl who saved her mother by calling 911, or the man who pulled a stranger from the railroad tracks just before an onrushing train. These human interest stories warm our hearts, reawaken our sense of wonder, and reaffirm our belief in people.
You can’t always predict when these kinds of stories will pop up. Kasteler mentions the “Force is with Katie” story as an example. It started as a mother writing about her first-grade daughter Katie getting bullied for bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school with her lunch, and reflecting on the nature of bullying. At least one popular blogger picked up the story, and Katie and her mother soon saw an outpouring of support from the Internet…to the point that Katie got enough comments to make into a book – something to read whenever she feels “too different” or thinks no one else understands.
If you can’t tug on the heartstrings, you can at least tickle the funny bone. There are a lot of ways to do this; Kasteler’s suggestions hint at short and surprising being the best approach. For example, when he’s discussing one type of content he calls “The Knee-Jerk Reaction,” he explains why the sneezing baby panda video has gotten so many millions of shares: “it’s short, simple, and straightforward: a baby panda sneezes, and it’s cute.” Well, the panda sneezes so hard and suddenly that his mother jumps, which also makes it very funny. If you want to use this technique, content based on this approach needs to be fast, fun, and easy to understand.
Now we go from the sublime at the start of this article to “The Ridiculous.” Kasteler puts the Old Spice man in this category. Make it bizarre, off-the-wall, over the top, and hilarious. It also needs to be original, or it probably won’t work. As Kasteler notes, “Content that catches your audience by surprise and then makes them laugh is some of the most successful viral content out there.” It can also be among the most challenging, but if you do it well you can expect to see a lot of people sharing it – and imitating it. I’d also put Nyan Cat in this category, and I can’t begin to tell you how many versions of that are out now.
That’s all I have room to talk about this time around. I’ll be writing one more part in this series, to cover some educational approaches to creating viral content. Don’t miss it!