The term of virality is often applied to each success on the web without anyone realizing exactly what it means. The Chair in Social Media Monetization tried to decipher this notion at a conference on December 13, which was dedicated to the model of audience in social media.
1. Virality as a success curve
Success curves on the web are characterized by an exponential rise to a peak from which the sharing of content declines gradually to oblivion. Social networking can be viewed as a series of collective relatively focusesthat succeed each other. Modeled in the form of curves, these sequences combine two factors:
By combining these components, of mimicry and novelty, the researcher Huberman has developed a method to predict the success of content from its initial audience.
However, there is a weakness in this model: from the curves’ aggregation of several effects (contagion, editorial …); it is difficult to ascertain the ideal combination that guarantees the virality of content. The video of Susan Boyle, for example, has benefited from the combined effects of person-to-person circulation and from the repeated reproduction on traditional media.
2. Pure contagion analysis
A second approach aims to identify the results of word-of-mouth, isolating the other factors. By studying the success of a set of photos on Flickr, a group of researchers has been able to conclude several trajectories:
The authors of this study have demonstrated the equivalence of these two factors in the success of image viralization: if the word-of-mouth can claim to be 53% responsible for their circulation, their editorial exposure is by 47%.
3. Are individuals « virulent »?
The third approach does not concern the structure of successful content, but the people using it and their potential virality.
In the 50s, Katz and Lazasfeld outlined the supposed influence of media on people: it would happen in two stages. The « opinion leaders », sensitive to media messages, would redistribute the information in their networks. As a result, recommendations of their environment would impact some people’s voting behavior or consumption habits, much more than the media.
That concept in the world of marketing would be translated into the « S curve »: the information, when discovered by a few influencers- sensitive on innovation, is transmitted to the whole population. From this arises the importance of targeting opinion leaders, as explained Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point.
This pattern, little doubted for half a century, was reviewed by J. Duncan Watts and Albert-László Barabásiqui, who tried to complicate the issue: if a network is not very concentrated, influencers cannot be highly influential. However, if a network is highly concentrated, while the influencers are very difficult to influence … the virality is therefore based on very specific conditions. It is necessary that the network is hyper-concentrated and that the influencers are easily influenced themselves … which makes those individuals appear paradoxical.
To understand the dynamics of distribution of information on the internet, the researcher Watts proposes the metaphor of fire: the wind and the dryness of the ground are just as critical as the number of outbreaks in the release of a forest fire.
Similarly, for virality, it is interesting to identify the source and the crossing points of content, but one should also take into account the intervention of external parameters: for example, the work done by conventional media or advertising, which can raise awareness to the population in order to accept innovation and share it.
4. The nature of content
Three theoreticians propose focusing on specific characteristics of viral content.
In conclusion, these different studies make possible the identification of viral forms through sequences of focusing public attention, but it is very difficult to identify the ways of pure contagion.
The only certainties:
For further study, Jean-Samuel and Kevin Mellet have written « Le succès sur Internet repose-t-il sur la contagion ? Une analyse des recherches sur la viralité (Is success on the Internet due to contagion? An analysis of research on virality)« , an ar
ticle in the journal Tracés, n° special issue « contagions » (co-written with Thomas Beauvisage and Thomas Couronné).
Video interviews of Jean-Samuel and Kevin Mellet (in french with english subtitles) here.