The videos that get shared again and again - here’s what makes them click

The how is easy to understand: all it takes is sufficient clicks. But the why is harder to get: what decides why some videos go viral and others languish unseen? The one video of people kissing for the first time gets recommended on Twitter and soon it's everywhere. Video from a poetry slam goes up on Facebook and next thing you know, everyone has seen it. But why?

"We create profiles of ourselves by what we share," says media researcher Sebastian Buggert of the Rheingold Institute in Cologne. "After all, sharing is easier than producing something yourself." That means someone who shares a funny video hopes to be seen as funny in turn. "You can express your humour that way," says Buggert. "Or show: I'm resourceful." Here's one thing a lot of people were finding online recently: the video First Kiss by artist Tatia Pilieva for fashion company Wren. It's been clicked 80 million times on YouTube. It circulated heavily on Facebook and Twitter for weeks, ebbing and flowing. Of course, YouTube doesn't allow researchers to check how often a video was shared, but the high number of clicks indicates how many people have stumbled across First Kiss. "Usually it's thanks to prominent placement which the creators make sure they get and sometimes even pay for," says Buggert. A lot of companies shepherd their content so that it's seen by many people.

Role of companies

Indeed, large companies are often behind these internet hits. One popular hit in the German-speaking world shows late-50s actor-singer Friedrich Liechstenstein bathing in milk for a grocery chain, Edeka. The video helped to convey the claim that the supermarket company is innovative. "The entire thing is a play on regular advertising and gives you a surprise," says media researcher Guido Zurstiege. But not every internet hit is a front for a corporation. Kony 2012, created by the American organization Invisible Children was a huge success. Released two years ago, it was designed to inspire people to bring alleged war criminal Joseph Kony to justice. Despite being nearly half an hour in length, it was still accessed about 100 million times. Anyone who shared this video saw a chance to portray themselves as "good and part of a powerful and seemingly sensible movement," says Buggert.

Still, there's no patented formula for making a video go viral. "It has to speak to people, to move them and be noticeable." Regardless of whether it’s an ad, a campaign or just your luck: as a user you'll have either a feast or a famine. Once a video goes viral, it will be recommended to you over and over on Facebook and the like by your friends and even by elderly relations you thought didn't use the web. "The more it's shared, the more likely it is to snowball," said Buggert. After all, social media makes it easier to share. "Sharing belongs to the system."

More In: Signpost | In School