You can plan to go viral… or at least increase your chances.

Confession: I low-key thought I was going to become Vine famous the summer after my freshman year.

Every week, my friends and I would make hilarious (using the word “hilarious” generously) videos to post on Vine. The summer of 2013 was the first summer anyone had with Vine – people were becoming Vine famous left and right from videos that would go viral. There were vines about pancakes from this creepy guy (who has 4.6 million Vine followers):

Nicholas Megalis:

And vines about just about anything from this funny woman I had never heard of (she has 9 million Vine followers):

Brittany Furlan:

I figured, “Why not me?”

Maybe I was trying too hard. Or maybe my Vines lacked some of the essential features necessary for a viral video. I’ll never know for sure, but I did learn in this class that intentionally designing viral content is a thing. (Notice that I’m not embedding any of my Vines into this post – I’m a little glad they didn’t go viral.)

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In March, we discussed why certain content goes viral. Things like the value of a retweet over a favorite and the significance of list-style journalism stood out in my mind as viral content I see all the time but would never think to create.

As a college student who hasn’t yet entered the real world of journalism, it’s easy to gage my online popularity on the number of likes, favorites, and Snapchat story views I get. (Not at all saying this is okay – but it’s true for almost everyone my age that I know.) But if I write an article and I want to share it with as many people as possible, do favorites do me any good? Not necessarily. Asking friends with a large following on Twitter to retweet the article would get it seen by even more people.

Then, there’s the actual content. People love lists. In class, we discussed the number ten. Top 10 reasons to go to school in North Carolina. Ten grilled cheese recipes that will change the way you think about grilled cheese. Ten ways going to UNC will impact your life. In a quick Buzzfeed search with the number ten, 50 articles showed up from the past ten days. We discussed an article in class from OkDork that supplied a ten-ingredient recipe for a viral post. Had I even thought about this before? Not at all. But once I considered the value of lists, I realized how often I choose to read them.

We discussed the value of visuals. A post with an image or video is going to get twice as many shares as a post without any visuals. Why is that? People love to look at things. We choose videos and pictures over words all the time – this explains the growth of Snapchat as a news source. We like to communicate with each other using videos and images as well – Snapchat and Instagram are arguably my generation’s favorite media outlets for this reason.

We learned to promote our own content. If you want something you post to get attention, seek attention. Ask high-profile friends to share your post. Ask professors with influential Twitter pages to share your post. Share your own post a few weeks later. You never know who might see your work.

I noticed in this class that we didn’t have a lot of discussion about anonymous social media posts, and I think that speaks to some overall themes of the lecture, like the large influence we can all have on the media and what circulates networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. As journalism students, it’s important to post for the good of society and always to have integrity in what we put online (or in print). We explored our opinions on new technology and issues in mass communication that none of us had thought of before, and attached these opinions to our names and faces. This is the most significant thing I got out of this class, even if my posts never go viral.

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