The Oxford English Dictionary officially made Selfie (a term us social-media obsessed have been using for what seems like forever) the word of 2013, and said the word had evolved from a social niche social media tag into a mainstream term for a self-portrait photograph.
It seems everyone in the spotlight is taking Selfies and posting them all over their social media sites. Before social media, we used to have to wait for each new People Magazine or Us Weekly to see glossy pictures of our favorite stars taken by the paparazzi. But now, all we have to do is check out Kim Kardashian’s or Justin Beiber’s Instagram accounts to see a plethora of daily Selfies.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these self-portraits is those few notorious Selfies that have gone viral in the last year, including the first-ever “Papal Selfie,” and President Obama’s ill-received Selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Unlike Pope Francis’s Selfie with a few teenagers outside of the Vatican, President Obama’s infamous 2013 Selfie created a viral outpour of disappointment at the President’s seemingly inappropriate decision to take a picture of himself alongside Denmark’s Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Britain’s David Cameron during a world-leader’s funeral.
The news coverage of this particular Selfie was abounding, with the picture itself quickly splashed on every online news outlet and shared by every social media user. After the image’s rapid, viral spread online, the White House even released it’s own set of photos of the President’s trip to South Africa to do some much-needed damage control.
According to Wikipedia, a viral phenomenon refers to the mass dissemination of an item on the internet or other media. Besides Selfies, we can all easily think of some viral videos (Call Me Maybe, Gangnam Style) and news stories (Kim Kardashian’s engagement to Kanye West, Prince George’s birth) that blew up on social media this year.
Sometimes the best viral videos, photos or stories happen by accident, as was the case of the “What Does the Fox Say?” video by the Ylvisaker brothers. In the New York Times article, “The Fox Says, ‘I Can Make You Famous,'” author David Itzkoff states by October, 2013, the viral video had reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart and quickly become both a “blessing a burden” to its creators.
Similarly, the article, “When Your Storm Photo Goes Viral,” by Brian Morrissey recounts the perfect timing of a Hurricane Sandy photo posted to Instagram that quickly reached the Twitter audience, mainstream news outlets and web publications. The photo was “almost immediately spread all around,” Morrissey explains, and “it was shared nearly 20,000 times, appeared on The Huffington Post, HLN, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, among others. Some have called it an ‘iconic’ image from the storm.”
What makes a particular video, news story or image, like the aforementioned storm photo, go viral? While the timing of the post definitely helps, I believe the posts content means even more. As Scott Stratten states in his book, UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging., the overall quality and authenticity of a Tweet, Selfie, or story is what makes people want to read it (or view it), talk about it and share it with others. At the end of the day, we’re most interested in videos like “Call Me Maybe,” or “What Does the Fox Say?” because they’re funny and/or catchy songs. We’re most interested in viewing Justin Bieber’s Instagram account because it’s authentic, raw and a direct insight into who the singer is a person, not just a celebrity.
So, the next time you think about sending an awesome Selfie to your friends via SnapChat or posting a cool video on your Facebook, think about it’s value to your audiences. If the timing is right and the content is interesting, it might just go viral and make you our next favorite online sensation.