Are you doing the Harlem Shake? What makes videos go viral?

There is a craze sweeping the world at the moment… It’s called the “Harlem Shake”. An internet meme that’s gone massively viral. It involves a person doing the Harlem Shake, (a not so popular dance that was originally invented back in 1981) usually wearing some form of headgear with their face covered, whilst everyone else in the shot carries on about their daily business. But when the music drops, theres a dramatic change. Each video lasts only 30 seconds.

At the time of writing this a search on YouTube for the Harlem Shake returns approx 26,500 video results. Some of the first ones created just one week ago have received views well in excess of 5,000,000 views. There’s even an underwater version performed by the UGA Mens Swim & Dive team!

Harlem Shake on Trends

The graph above, taken from Google Trends, depicts how quickly this meme taken off. And those lucky or quick-thinking enough to get their version of the Harlem Shake uploaded to YouTube in the last week are reaping the benefits of a huge amount of hits to their videos.

What makes videos go viral?

There are over 48 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. So what makes these video’s go viral? How can a search term gain momentum so quickly in such a short period of time? Well according to Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube, there are three main things that combine to achieve this. They are;

1. Tastemakers (people who bring a new and large audience)
If you can gain the attention of a tastemaker, somebody with hundreds of thousands of active followers on social networks, and they share your content, they are introducing a whole new and large audience to your video.

2. Communities of participation
If viewers enjoy your video enough they will contribute by making their own videos which parody your original. In these instances the communities that participate are often sending a video viral.

3. Unexpectedness
Nobody can predict which videos will go viral and which will not. But in a world where more than two days of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute only that which is unexpected will ever truly stand out from the rest.

We need only look at the Harlem Shake to understand these last two statements to be true. But could there be a more scientific reason?

Charlie bit my finger!

Charlie bit my finger!’ is another video that went viral. At the time of writing this article these two little boys have received over 500 million views on YouTube. But there’s nothing really unexpected in this video, it’s just 56 seconds of two little brothers sitting together when the younger one (Charlie) bites his older brothers (Harry) finger and giggles. Yet at the end 2007 it went viral and made stars of the two little boys.

So what caused Charlie and Harry to gain so much attention from the world? According to its all about the visceral emotions that are awoken within the watcher. The fact that Harry and Charlie are so expressive, watching the way that their faces change as they go through so many emotions in such a short space of time, we feel it with them. Watching a video like this, or any other brings about the same type of psychological changes, such as an increased heart rate, you may experience when watching a scary film. Its these feelings that make us want to share the information and experience with others. The sharing of a viral video is our own way of telling somebody else, that for a short time, we want them to feel the same emotions that we did. No matter what.