Five Rules For How To Make Things Go Viral (TCTV)

Making things go viral on the Internet is an elusive art, one that Jonah Peretti has studied and tried to perfect for more than a decade. He once got on the Today show for an email exchange he orchestrated with Nike asking them if they would customize a sneaker for him with the word “Sweatshop” on it. That email was forwarded millions of times. Later, he created the Rejection Line, a phone number women could give to guys at bars which went to an automated rejection recording (“Unfortunately, the person who gave you this number does not want to talk to you or see you again”).  He also co-founded the Huffington Post.

Today, as CEO of BuzzFeed, he is making a business out of making things go viral. At a meetup last night at BuzzFeed’s New York City offices, he gave his five rules for making things go viral (slides below), which I made him repeat in the video above (yes, that is 4Chan’s Moot in the background). The rules are:

  1. Create media for the Bored At Work Network: There are hundreds of millions of people around the world bored at work sitting in front of their computers connected to high speed networks.  This network is bigger than any traditional media network like CNN or ABC. Create something they will want to pass around.
  2. Practice The Mullet Strategy: Business up front, party on the back.  If you have a Website, keep the front page serious so as not to scare off the casuals.  Give all the crazy commenters and contributors space in the back, and only show them to the rest of the world when they create something that catches on.
  3. Try Big Seed Marketing: If you are  brand trying to create  a viral campaign, it might be hard. True viral memes are hard to reproduce.  It is much easier to make something that still gets passed around, but you might have to spend some money to seed it around the Internet.  The more seed you spread, the more chance it will grow. “Buy the seed, get the viral for free,” he says (this is basically BuzzFeed’s business model).
  4. Target The Maniacs: The Web is ruled by maniacs, people who get worked up about things and push their ideas out.  “Content is more viral if it helps people express their personality disorders,” notes Peretti.
  5. Be A Mormon, Not A Jew. This one is tongue in cheek.  But Mormonism is a growing religion, whereas Judaism is stagnating in terms of population.  Why?  Mormons are better evangelists.  “The problem with Jews is that they suck at marketing,” says Peretti.  “It’s almost like they don’t want anyone else to be a Jew.” His point is that it is not just the quality of an idea that counts, it is how much effort you put into spreading it.