Why Do Memes Go Viral
Why Does Alice Follow Bob?
The answer to the question “Why Does Alice Follow Bob?” is a simple one. Barring simply knowing Bob as a friend or from work, people follow one another on social media platforms when they see another individual post content that interests them. If Alice is friends with someone Bob knows and sees many comments and “shares” from Bob in her feed, she will likely eventually connect with him (Menczer, 2013). Of course, that sharing must be something Alice is interested in and feels sympathetic towards. A good meme is one which Bob is likely to share, and one which resonates with Bob’s friends and followers that they are likely to share as well. Conversely, if Alice is friends with someone who shares information which is uninteresting, repetitive, and offensive, she is more likely to unfollow that individual. The drawback with attempting to shortcut the time it takes to establish social connections and share a meme, is that even if one or two bits of information by an associate are interesting, the connection may be severed if the relationship does not continue.
Of course, memes which are highly durable, like the famous “cheating man meme” must have resonance with a wide audience. Memes with low durability have few applications outside of a specific situation or social circle. Memes which can be applicable to a wide range of situations and are likely to resonate with a wide range of ages, political persuasions, interests, and demographics in a topical fashion are more likely to have a long life. But even after a meme grows outdated, if a person regularly shares appealing content, their friends are likely to continue to associate with them. Longer lived memes are also those which are more apt to be shared by friends, preferably friends with wide social networks. Thus, if someone wants a meme to go viral, the ideal is to make it appeal to someone who will share it who has a built-in online following. Viral link sharing mimics that of actual viral spreading, as one contagious sharing leads to multiple associates sharing the image or link.
Menczer, F. (2013). The role of information diffusion in the evolution of social networks. Video Lectures. Retrieved from: http://videolectures.net/kdd2013_menczer_information_diffusion/
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