It’s Official, “Going Viral” is Dead.

Alethea Cho
Thought Vault
Published in
4 min readJan 16, 2020

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Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

I remember the roots of “viral content,” back before everyone had a smartphone with no less than 15 social networking applications installed. The first few waves of viral content came and went without much fuss. This was before the term “going viral” had entered our everyday vernacular.

While this history of viral content is mildly interesting, and now a required course for many business, marketing, and tech-related studies– I’m not here to roadmap how we came to this point in history, but to reflect on the now: In the new decade, going viral is old news.

If you would like to brush up on how we got here, you may want to check out the Viral Phenomenon page on Wikipedia or this Wired article about one of the first viral videos.

Trends change. That’s a given inevitable reality. However, the rate at which change happens in the modern age has been gaining momentum like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. What’s important today is already less important than it was yesterday.

The first time my content went viral on Tik-Tok, I didn’t even notice. I woke up to a Messenger message from my friend saying that one of my videos had gone viral. When I finally got around to checking it, a little bubble with “99+” hovered above the Tik-Tok icon. Honestly, I probably would have never noticed had my friend not messaged me, I am not an avid user of the platform.

“Your cats went viral on Tik-Tok.”

In the following weeks, my numbers steadily improved. It was nice, but, did it really matter? Turns out, it doesn’t. I was never really planning on being Tik-Tok-famous. And the truth is– I’m still far from it.

Apparently people still like cats. Screenshots from the “viral” video @alethea.writes on TikTok

One of the reasons this is happening is because we have become too successful at creating algorithm-friendly tailored content. With everyone so involved in their own highly-selective, automatically-curated content feeds, it is both easier and harder to “go viral.”

It is easier to have content that is tailored for one particular niche to go viral within that community– But, it is harder for viral content to travel across communities and really reach a wide, global, audience. Moreover, going viral hardly has the same impact it had when the trend first started.

When Instagram introduced the ability to follow hashtags, all I wanted was to see one of my pictures take one of those top-trending spots. And finally, one did. In the beginning, I was excited. It was fun to periodically glance at my feed and see piles upon piles of new likes. They were coming in by the hundreds. Then, all of sudden: They stopped. Crickets.

Nothing good came of it. Nothing. I didn’t get a single new page like or follower. My shop sales didn’t increase. Nothing of significance happened.

Why?

I realized, after swallowing my own disappointment and moving on to schedule new content, that the reason it didn’t matter was that this was happening to someone every day. Every day some new picture, publication, video, song, whatever, becomes popular and we are so used to it that we all just move on and wait for the next big thing to populate our feed. And this happens unnervingly fast.

It’s not surprising when I stopped to think about it, that even though my content has gone viral on several platforms, almost no one took the time to look at who the content creator was or really gave even glancing at my profile a second thought. These platforms are designed to pump out content so fast, no one has time to care.

In some ways, it is liberating. In others, it’s depressing.

On one hand, we no longer have to worry about viral content driving business, and for a lot of us who were never particularly good at it, it’s a relief. On the other hand, when you spend a few years mastering one kind of content creation and see your numbers skyrocket overnight, it’s depressing to think how little it all pays off.

Due to the constant algorithm and pay-structure changes across all of the different social media platforms, it has become less and less possible to actually profit from viral content. Instead, building a strong, dedicated and loyal fandom by catering to one specific niche, no matter how low your numbers may be, is a much more important piece of the puzzle when looking to achieve success in today’s constantly shifting digital society.

So take it as you will, love it or hate it, either way– Viral content is no longer important.

Jiji doesn’t even know he is famous anyway!

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Alethea Cho
Thought Vault

Wandering Sun Witch 🌞 Writer of movies, books, blogs, and everything in between. IG: @lady.alethea | FB: Alethea Cho https://linktr.ee/aletheacho