Guest Column: Understanding the science behind virality: Anirudh Pandita, Founder, Pocket Aces

Brands have discovered the immense potential videos hold in today’s socially connected world and organic video virality has become every marketer’s dream

e4m by Anirudh Pandita
Updated: Jan 20, 2018 9:55 AM

The term “viral” defines the phenomenon on the internet where a piece of content spreads far and wide in a short amount of time, much like a contagious virus does in real life. This modern aspect of the internet culture has come to define how word of mouth spreads at scale over the World Wide Web.

Meanwhile, the ease of access to social media on smartphones due to the reduced cost of broadband connectivity and cheap smartphones, has led to the rise of digital video as a medium. India today has 160 million digital video viewers and this number is expected to reach 450 million by 2020. Furthermore, platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and YouTube all have ~200 million MAUs in the country. With short form being a primary consumption media through the day and people acting as distributors of content thanks to social media and messaging apps, we have seen a massive rise in the scale of distribution of ‘viral videos’.

Brands too have discovered the immense potential videos hold in today’s socially connected world and organic video virality has become every marketer’s dream. The digital advertising market in India is expected to go from $1 billion currently to $4 billion by 2020. A large part of that budget will go towards digital video.

Given the importance of video for audiences and advertisers it is critical to understand what virality means and why some videos go viral while others don’t.

A key aspect of what defines a viral piece of content is not well understood today. Often, people look at the number of views on a piece of content and use that to judge virality. Views however are an incomplete measure of virality. In order to judge virality it is critical to understand the speed at which people interact with the video or a particular piece of content. The most important parts of these are the shares and comments that any video receives.

A content creator should look at audience engagement as the key metric to measure the virality of a piece of content. Over time, several videos may garner millions of views but every user that shares it is effectively the distributor of that video. The comments are also an indicator of its effectiveness and platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow tagging of other user which increases the number of eyeballs on it.

Treat content like a science and while there isn’t necessarily a set formula for virality that content creators can follow, there are certainly some rules of thumb that one can use to achieve desirable results. Today, the right content can create distribution and the content becomes critical to virality. The most viral videos (i.e. the ones with lakhs of shares and comments) have certain features that contributed to their success:
● Relatability in the content that can help strike an emotionally authentic chord with the target audience
● Target communities, whether it is couples or doctors or college going students, the content must target specific communities
● Identify universal relationships and key aspects of those relationships
● Use comedy and humour to make the video more engaging
● Authenticity and believability is key in ensuring the viewer relates to your content
● Ask and answer specific questions - who and why will someone share this content? Will they tag people?

By following these rules, content creators can take full advantage of the two way communication offered by digital mediums. This two-way flow is unique to digital and not available to traditional media, which is mostly one-way communication only. Also, unlike traditional mediums, key performance metrics (whether it’s views, comments or shares), are measurable and readily available on various platforms. This makes the direct impact of every piece of content tangible. What audiences feel about the content becomes amply clear to advertisers as well as creators.

There are a few metrics we have developed to measure the success of a video which take into consideration not only the views but also the comments and shares. Engagement rate (share rate and comment rate) as well as watch percentage (i.e. retention rate through the video) are critical metrics. Most viral videos have very high figures under these buckets. Most importantly, the engagement rates for videos are available publicly and can be seen by advertisers and peers alike. Watch percentages are not publicly available but must be kept in mind to ensure that the content is being consumed in its entirety and that the minutes watched are tracking views as well.

In conclusion, in order to run a successful digital entertainment company today, one must marry excellent creatives with a deep understanding of the real drivers of virality and the metrics that define a piece of “viral” content.
(The author is Founder,

Pocket Aces)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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