What Makes an Idea Viral Part 1

Let me start the series off with a two part response to Seth Godin, here’s part 1:

No one “sends” an idea unless:

a. they understand it
On the surface this would seem to demand that the idea be simple, shallow, but it only dictates that the initial learning curve is slight. The iPod is dumbed down, it is simple but it is very smart. Everyone gets it, but nobody feels they are a too advanced user to buy one.

b. they want it to spread
I think this point should be rolled into the next one. Nobody does anything unless they want to do it, and so conversely if they want it to spread, it will. This means that the idea must give them benefit in spreading, as in Win Friends and Influence People, you must speak to what the target wants, not what you want.

c. they believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind
This doesn?t take into account viral creatives like the subservient chicken, where sheer humor was the driver, and I think peace of mind while clearly including things like urban myths, fails to address political messages explicitly enough. I would say that the idea must provide some benefit for the user if she/he passes it. There are too many ways to discreetly identify.

d. the effort necessary to send the idea is less than the benefits
Making a comparison like this seems like apple to oranges, and with the internet, the effort necessary to spread most creatives is extremely low. Most ideas, if they provide any benefit can arguably be said to provide more benefit that effort. I think this is better understood in two parts:
1. The idea must provide more benefit than predefined user-specific threshold. This threshold is roughly comparable to a sort of internet-jadedness quotient.
2. The person must have friends who they deem appropriate to spread the message to. This refers to obvious patterns like the fact that dirty jokes don?t get sent to mom, and general people only spread ideas to people they think will be topically interested in the message. Several factors influence what level of intimacy is required with a potential receiver for a person to send the message, probably the most important being the benefits described in point c. The amount of benefit is inversely proportional to the intimacy in some cases, that is, the more beneficial a message is, the further outside her close circle of friends someone will send an idea.

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