I recently received a link to a video featuring a hamster eating a mini-burrito. I don’t know why my friend felt the need to send it, but her email said, “I don’t usually forward videos, but this is great!!!” I won’t question her judgment (yet) as we have all been victim of the infamous viral video.
A viral video becomes popular through a “viral” process of online sharing, typically through websites, social media, and email. These morsels of cultural sustenance have an addictive quality that quickly spreads – they are viewed by millions of people, often discussed on legitimate news programs, and become pop culture references and part of common vernacular. Workplace-based viral content is prevalent in the workplace, as well.
Our responsibility as leaders is to be aware of the viral fragments in our organization. However identifying them is easy; the real challenge is how to create one. There’s an entire industry dedicated to generating “the next big thing.” Why did an unknown South Korean singer with a unique dance move generate over 1 billion views in three months? And why was there a national debate on the color of a dress? We may never know, but there are methods within our control to help craft a viral message in your workplace:
Trigger an Emotion
A study out of the National Science Foundation recently found that emotional triggers are a significant factor in determining potential virals. In itself, this was not a surprise. What did surprise my cynical disposition was that content evoking positive emotions had greater viral potential than content evoking negative feelings (I apologize to the human race for expecting otherwise). And both positive- and negative-geared content were more effective than neutral content.
The leadership lesson is to link your message with positive emotions. Instead of threats or offering ominous implications of possible failure, discuss the benefits and positive results.
Tell a Story
One of the best ways to trigger an emotion is by telling a compelling story. Relate your message to something that happened in the workplace or an article you read in the news. If you want to make it lighter, tell a story about your kids or when you were a kid. Your narrative will draw in an audience. It will make your ideas relatable and entertaining, and people will be more engaged in what you have to say.
In the world of viral videos, shorter is better. The same is true at work. No one wants an hour-long lecture, nor do they want a multi-page email. Make your message as concise as possible while maintaining the heart of the story. If it can fit into 140 characters or can be as short as a 15 second video, great. This may be constrictive for more complex ideas, but you get the idea.
The factors that make a video go viral are the same factors you can use to spread your message. Craft content that people want to share. Consider how the audience will interpret the message and re-work your approach until it matches what you are trying to convey. Don’t shy away from incorporating a little humor and, based on personal experience, a hamster eating mini-burritos is always a hit.