The Science Behind Viral Video Content

The Science Behind Viral Video Content 3 min read

Last year Elon University conducted a study on the various factors that make video content go viral. They evaluated 20 viral videos and came to a few conclusions:

  • Title Length: 75% (15/20) of the videos had short titles of 3 words or less.
  • Run-time: 60% (12/20) of the videos had short run-times of 3 minutes or less. Average: 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
  • Element of Laughter: 30% (6/20) of the videos featured the element of laughter. Each video was viewed twice and results were recorded if the participant laughed within the first 30 seconds.
  • Element of Surprise: 50% (10/20) of the videos exhibited the element of surprise (visual or audible).
  • Element of Irony: 90% (18/20) of the videos featured an element of irony (an element contrary to what was expected).
  • Ethnic Minority Presence: 20% (3/20) contained an ethnic minority presence while 80% (17/20) did not.
  • Musical Quality: 60% (8/20) of the videos displayed someone singing, made references to a popular song, contained background music or was a music video.
  • Youth: 35% (7/20) of the videos featured children under the age of 18. Of those, 20% (4/20) of them displayed children under the age of 10.
  • Talent: 30% (6/20) of the videos were composed of songs, dances, or performances that required practice and talent.


What were these 20 viral videos you might ask? For your viewing pleasure:

  1. Charlie Bit My Finger,” a young English boy gets his finger bitten by his younger brother.
  2. Evolution of Dance,” a man shows the evolution of music and dance through choreography.
  3. David After Dentist,”a young boy experiences side effects to anesthesia from a dentist visit.
  4. Here It Goes Again,” band members perform on treadmills in one continuous take.
  5. Rick Roll,” an Internet meme where a person provides a seemingly relevant hyperlink that actually links to Rick Astley’s music video for his song, “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
  6. Leave Brittany Alone,” a man tearfully defends Britney Spears.
  7. Don’t Tase Me, Bro,” a University of Florida (UF) student is tasered by security personnel after being forcibly removed from a session with U.S. Senator John Kerry.
  8. Keyboard Cat,” a cat plays the keyboard.
  9. Dramatic Chipmunk,” dramatic music is played and a chipmunk turns his head to look at the camera.
  10. Hitler’s Downfall,” a video that depicts a scene from the movie Downfall where Hitler is very outwardly angry about the war. Captions are shown to suggest that Hitler is angry about the iPad.
  11. Flea Market Montgomery,” an advertisement for a flea market.
  12. United Breaks Guitars,” United Airlines breaking breaks a man’s guitar. He makes a music video about it.
  13. Kittens, Inspired by Kittens,” a young girl narrates a book about kittens.
  14. Potter Puppet Pals,” Harry Potter character puppets perform a puppet show.
  15. Jill and Kevin’s Big Day,” a wedding in which the bridal party dances down the aisle to Chris Brown’s song.
  16. Sneezing Panda,” an infant panda loudly sneezes.
  17. Otters Holding Hands,” two floating otters hold hands.
  18. Literal Music Videos,” the lyrics to popular songs are rewritten to reflect exactly what happens in the music video.
  19. OMG, Shoes,” a man dressed as a blonde woman sings about being obsessed with shoes.
  20. Baby Laughing,” a baby boy laughs hysterically at the noises his father makes. Aww.



Four of the most important conclusions confirmed by the Elon University team were that of the:

  • Title Length — 75% had short titles comprised of only 3 words or less
  • Element of Irony — 90% contained some element of irony
  • Video Length — 60% were 3 minutes or less
  • Musical Quality — 60% had an element of music associated with them


The other factors had some commonalities but didn’t prove to be statistically significant.


If you pair these lessons learned with Jonah Berger’s formula for Why People Share Content you might be setting yourself up for greater success. For those of you who haven’t read up on that yet, I implore you to give it a read.


You’ll certainly have plenty of time while researchers continue to try to answer the vexing question — How do you make video content go ‘Viral’?

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