Nobody knows what will go viral next. People try to make online content that will be the next trending topic, but the people of the Internet work in mysterious ways.
Understanding Search Engine Optimization and knowing your target demographic are helpful skills, especially for someone looking to work in the field of Social Media. But we need to understand Internet culture. Where people see something is just as important as what they see because how people use social media varies from platform to platform.
Social media outlets are turning into hotbeds for news, discourse, memes, and personalities. What trends you know about are mainly determined by which site you go to. Major players that everyone has at least heard of are Youtube, Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook.
While news can be obtained anywhere nowadays, stories see plenty of traction on Facebook. While some percentages conflict, a reasonable percentage of the adult population in the U.S. site Facebook as a source for their news. Facebook is also the main source of traffic to news sites from social media platforms, with over 80% of readers of long- and short-form stories being referred from Facebook.
Today many producers of news content are aiming to grab your click or get you to share their piece by taking advantage of Facebook’s algorithm. Several changes are being made to generate organic reach. Still, plenty of stories begin to trend or see increased circulation because of the public. A desire to spread information, and spread it quick, propels clickbait and incorrect coverage straight to our news feeds.
Writers know conflict sells. Or in this case, conflict gets views. Depending on the time, the types of jarring content you will come across differs. It used to be videos and stories of fights were all the rage. Now police shootings, shots at mainstream media, and political drama get the attention of the people and news organizations now this.
Many Facebook pages know that when online tension builds from the onslaught of negative coverage, there needs to be some cathartic release for the masses. This is usually when short videos of people experiencing joy (Chewbacca mom) or old vines begin to get shared around more.
Facebook is a fast-paced environment for trending news (good or bad) with a side of light-hearted, funny viral pick-me-ups.
Since 2006 Youtube has slowly evolved into a space where normal people can express creativity and gather an online following. With over one billion users, one billion hours of video watched daily, accessibility in 88 countries and 76 different languages, Youtube has grown into one of the largest video sharing websites to date.
Back in the day (way back, we’re talking 2000s here people) when someone referred to something as “viral,” it was a video. Videos are no longer the only things that trend, but we still see a video blow up on occassion. What Youtube has really become is a place where the average person can become a creator and develop a large social following.
Over its lifetime, Youtube has seen a surgence in different types of videos based upon viewcount. Skits, gaming videos, daily vlogs, prank videos, “social experiments,” news shows, gossip/drama videos, and challenge videos in-between have all seen their time come and go. One thing tends to stick though: the creator a.k.a Youtuber. Once they’ve gained an audience, it can be somewhat hard to lose it.
Youtubers have become grassroots personalities. Not only do people watch their content, viewers follow these Youtubers on other social media platforms and create fanbases for them. There are even conventions that were created specifically for Youtube’s content creators to allow them to speak on panels, meet up with fans, and network. Many Youtubers get invites to host or be guests on panels for other conventions unrelated to Youtube. Some even have brand deals, sponsorships, or shows on TV (MirandaSings’ Haters Back Off; Bo Burnham’s Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous).
They themselves have become a trending topic. From beef stirred up between fellow creators, to scandals of misconduct with fans, Youtubers—instead of popular videos—are becoming the topic of conversation more and more. Whether these personalities are in the news or becoming the butt of a joke, they tend to come paired with the topic of interest.
Youtube’s Youtubers are all the rage.
Objectively speaking, I’m not sure what social media platform has the most memes. Subjectively speaking, I believe it’s Twitter.
The 140 character format has always felt stifling. Text language and abbreviated writing has evolved to compensate for this restriction. Another marvelous innovation this has led to is the use of media to express thoughts and emotions. Hence why I believe Twitter is meme central for the average Internet user.
Twitter’s user base continues to see an increase in prolonged activity on the platform. One result of this increased daily activity is that content often gets circulated more than once through your timeline. While it can seem bothersome to see the same thing twice, it’s interesting to imagine the scope and speed at which a tweet can spread.
Reddit is a little special. Founded in 2005, it’s an OG social media platform; being one of the—if not only—surviving forum-style social media sites. Unlike the design of other prominent domains, Reddit was specifically made to be an aggregated, curated site by users for all things news, culture, and beyond. People can create forums around any topic imaginable. These are known as subreddits.
Subreddits are overseen by volunteer moderators and have their own rules for what can and can’t be posted. Aside from moderators, Reddit’s voting system allows the community to promote the content they want to see. The popularity and trendiness of content is managed by users rather than the site.
Consider Reddit as one big Show & Tell but all the kids in class get to vote on whose presentation was cooler. Anyone can post make a post on any subreddit, but it will be vetted by users.
Comments on posts are also one of the highlights of Reddit. Many Redditors use comments for comedic purposes but there are many who use the comments for discussion or as an opportunity to inform. It’s not uncommon to find a comment from someone providing an explanation, or several people having a discussion about the post.
TL;DR: Reddit is the all-in-one place to go for trends and having smart discussions about animals being jerks.
The vague answer would be “the unknown.” There have been plenty of studies, articles and explanations provided by professional digital marketers about shareable content, but there are plenty of content out there that makes us think “why is this a thing?”
Why was planking so popular a few years back? How has Spongebob half-morphed into a chicken become a massive trend on Twitter? What is it about Nicki Minaj’s sassy turn to get on a plane that inspired others to parody her?
If something is surprising, relevant, generates arousal, or is relatable to a target audience, you can expect it to be an attention grabber.
With so much overlap between the main social media outlets nowadays, you will more than likely find out about something trending say on Reddit on your Twitter, and vice versa. But normally not immediately. Which is why exploring each platform individually can yield differing results on what’s trending.
Examples of recent trends: (timeframe: within several months of 7/5/17)
- The Trump v. CNN wrestling gif Trump tweeted out was created by a Reddit user—> Link
- Twitter users creating threads of responses to their own tweets to inform or entertain —-> Link / Link / Link
- The most subscribed Youtuber, Pewdiepie, was embroiled in conflict with the Wall Street Journal as they did a piece on a controversial video —-> Link