Achieving viral: Here’s the secret sauce behind images that win the Internet

what makes a viral image nyan cat

Memes are big business, and “going viral” is now a marketing strategy, not just a term doctors say with worried faces. And images are more likely to get shared than text, which is one of the reasons why Imgur, the photo hosting site started to spread images through Reddit, has now eclipsed Reddit’s traffic.

With the burgeoning importance of online image virality in mind, Italian researchers used Google+ to try to unlock the key to viral success online (they probably could’ve just asked Jonah Peretti, but whatever).

They looked at images shared by Google+ users with high follower counts, and looked at a few factors as viral influencers, comparing static images with animated ones, examining which photo orientation is most popular, and examining the importance of faces in viral success. The researchers discovered that GIFs and animated images are more likely to be shared than static images. They explained this by noting that GIFs are usually “funny, cute, or quirky.” Astute observation. They also found that portrait pictures are shared more frequently than squared, Instagram-style ones, and landscape photos are the least likely to achieve viral success. Photos containing one face are shared slightly more than others, and colorful images are shared more than those with subdued or black-and-white color schemes.

The researchers noted that resharing an image and commenting or endorsing an image are two very different phenomenon. When someone clicks +1, they’re giving an image their stamp of approval, but not necessarily using the image to represent themselves. When someone reshares an image, on the other hand, they’re doing just that. People tended to reshare positive images more frequently than negative ones, presumably because they want to portray themselves as a upbeat.

So, if you’re trying to get an image to go viral on Google+, choose a happy, colorful GIF with a portrait orientation.

But what about other networks?

This isn’t the first time researchers have tried to figure out why certain things go viral. Researchers at University of Alabama examined why videos go viral, and discovered the most important factor was emotional connection — if someone finds a video especially delightful or disgusting, they’re more likely to share it around. They dubbed this phenomenon “emotional contagion” and I’m pretty sure it explains why Upworthy exists. Although their study focused on videos, it is reasonable to assume the same would be true of images, and that emotional connection would play a role in image virality.

On Reddit, a user’s personal brand is important when it comes to virality (known users have more success than people using throwaway accounts) and the same images are shared by multiple users with varying degrees of success, depending on the caption, who is submitting it, and what type of day they post it (lunchtime is the best for peak viral potential).

Facebook employees looked into why certain photos go viral on the site, and found two distinct paths to viral status: First, if a high-profile user is the source, the photo is more likely to go viral (something that explains the popularity of whatever George Takei shares). But they also found a second, more organic path, where photo virality wasn’t attributed to the source’s popularity. The researchers didn’t delve into what made certain photos more shareable than others (and since Facebook doesn’t totally support GIFs, we know that GIFs have no edge there). Because Facebook’s News Feed is a big ole mess, shared images often get buried, which negatively impacts their chances of going viral.

No one has figured out a surefire method for going viral using images, but based on what we know, you’ll want a peppy, bright image with an emotional punch — preferably a GIF, depending on where you’re sharing. And, since cats rule everything around me when it comes to Internet fame, putting a feline in the frame certainly won’t hurt your cause.

Based on my calculations this would do VERY well on Google+ (if I, you know, actually used the service):

cat (7362) Animated Gif on Giphy

Just please, for me, don’t use the phrase “restore your faith in humanity” when you’re sharing an image.

Computing

Google denies claim that it’s tracking internet users when incognito mode is on

Google is denying claims leveled against it by rival privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo. The rival alleged that even when incognito mode is on, Google is tracking users in order to deliver personalized search results.
Smart Home

Which is better, the Amazon Echo or the Google Home? We took a look at both

What happens when you compare the Google Home vs the Amazon Echo? Both smart speakers have good qualities, but what happens when you compare they're features side-by-side? We think one of these smart gadgets wins over the other.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.
Social Media

Survey of teens says social media lets them connect with friends and get support

A survey of teenagers shows the ways that social media sites can be beneficial to them, like feeling more connected to their friends, the ability to interact with different people, and as a venue to get support when they are struggling.
Social Media

Hotel chain offers an Instagram ‘sitter’ who will post photos for you

If the pressure to post stunning Instagram photos is ruining your vacations, then how about hiring a local Instagram influencer to do the job for you while you go off and enjoy yourself? Well, such a service now exists.
Social Media

Ride the rails and share your stories with Amtrak’s new social media residency

Amtrak is looking for travel fans with a knack for telling stories on social media. The new Amtrak social media residency program wants amateur travelers to share photos, video, and written content from aboard long-distance trips.
Social Media

Hangouts isn’t being hung out to dry in 2020, Google says

According to a report, Google may shut down Google Hangouts by 2020. While Hangouts was once Google's top-tier messaging app, the app has since been neglected in favor of Android Messages.
Social Media

Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

Tumblr will soon no longer allow images with adult content. The company says the change is one that's designed to help more creators feel comfortable sharing on the platform, but admits the change won't happen overnight.
Social Media

Members can share the same Story with Facebook’s new Group Stories

Facebook Group members can now view and share Group Stories. Unlike the Stories for an individual user, the new tool allows members to contribute to the same Group Story, if the feature isn't turned off by an admin.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.
Mobile

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.