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The Web’s Most Viral Colors

Do the colors of photos help make content viral?

Virality Score
Sep 25, 2013 · 3 min read

I do a lot of social media research because, well, I love it. One thing I keep telling people is how I could figure out the most viral color(s) on the web. So I figured, why not take a few minutes to prove it and see if there are any interesting observations to be made?

For those unfamiliar, Virality Score measures the virality of web content. It does this through an algorithm that measures the change in sharing over time to build an index that can then be used to measure any individual piece of web content. Think of it like the stock market for the internet. However, within this tool and ranking algorithm also exists a set of rich meta and semantic data — including color palette information.

I ran a simple aggregate query in the database over all viral content (tens of thousands of examples) from September 19th through the 24th and it returned some interesting results. The dominant colors in the photographs for the most viral content for this period of time are as follows:

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Viral colors for Sept. 19th — 24th, 2013

They seem to get, sharply, less viral after that (these are in order of virality; left to right, right being less viral). I’m also not showing white or black values and while that tan you see is a bit bright, I left it in because it’s actually a very light shade of yellow/orange.

You’ll also notice that some of the colors aren’t that different. That’s because I’m aggregating by hexadecimal value (though I also store HSB, RGB, YIQ, and luminance). If I took the time to be more clever, I could aggregate by color range. For example, all “blues” and “reds” etc.

Already though, without trying to out trick myself, we can see that blues and oranges are the most viral. This is actually pretty interesting because there’s already been quite a bit of research and observations with regard to these colors in particular.

…orange/blue just so happens to be the most common set of complementary colors because blue is “cool” and orange is “enthusiastic” and “energetic.”

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In this case, we aren’t dealing with movie posters. These colors come from photographs associated with viral stories across major news outlets (the data set, for the most part). However, it would appear that people may select photographs for editorial use in much the same manner. It would also appear that viewers may respond to, and engage with through sharing, these types of colors on the web.

Are we conditioned for this? Is it advertising psychology? Will this always be the case? Would we see different viral colors based on seasonal factors? I’m not sure at this exact moment, but I’m certainly going to continue my research and answer some of these questions. In the meantime, this certainly makes for one interesting observation.

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