What Does Going Viral Mean?

As a marketer, community manager, or social media user, you probably have a pre-existing idea of what “going viral” means.

According to Urban Dictionary, something that “goes viral” is an image, video, or link that spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared with a number of individuals.

Surprisingly, Dictionary.com’s definition of “viral” isn’t too terribly different: Becoming very popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the Internet.

While “going viral” is a relatively simple concept, defining the threshold or benchmark for when something has actually “gone viral” is complicated. There are a number of controversial factors to consider, including: number of views/shares/links, how many unique users the content has reached, the rate at which the content is consumed, and the lifetime of the content.

Some video data analysts argue the benchmark of 100,000 views, since 53% on YouTube videos have fewer than 500 views, with less than 1% having more than 1 million views. On the other hand, some analysts argue that it’s not the number of views or shares a piece of content receives; it’s purely the rate at which the content is consumed. If it receives 40,000 hits in 4 hours, but then dwindles, it could still be considered “viral”.

The bottom line is that the threshold for content having “gone viral” is relative. Regardless, in this day and age, we tend to know something has “gone viral” when we see it.

For further discussion on virality, check out my post from a while back on why making your video go viral isn’t always the answer.

Reader Interactions


  1. Mark says

    I’ve been wondering what viral means. I recently saw an article referring to something going viral with less than 5000 views. Really? I vote for speed and number, because the words “gone viral” imply speed and a lot of views. I vote for top 1-5% in speed AND over 100000 views. We need a standard, because now anybody can claim anything.

  2. John says

    In a day and age where it seems like everyone is trying to go viral, it’s important to know what that means, and I think you’ve done a great job at explaining it. The fact to remember is that content going viral is not something people can plan for (not exactly, anyway… yet). Some things go viral simply because they were made fun of, which could be good or bad. In any case, viral content doesn’t offer a lot of longevity, so it’s important to get the most out of it while it’s on top. Thanks for sharing.

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