When talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted out a selfie of her and other A-listers at the Oscars earlier this year, she quickly broke Twitter history. Her selfie became the most retweeted tweet ever.
South Korean pop star Psy released his “Gangnam Style” video in 2012 and as of today it is the most-viewed video in YouTube history.
"For a company it (going viral) can increase brand awareness and overall exposure," Danny Groner, Manager of Blogger Partnerships & Outreach for Shutterstock, said. Shutterstock is a stock photography agency headquartered in New York City.
While going viral may be coveted by brands and individuals alike, Groner said no one knows the exact formula.
“If someone says they know the right formula to get something to go viral, they deserve skepticism, not accolades. There is data to support trends, but there's never going to be a guarantee.”
Social media success is being measured and celebrated with awards. For the sixth year in a row, the Shorty Awards honored the best of social media Monday evening, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
“The Shorty Awards are a bridge from social media to mainstream media, and a larger population,” said Greg Galant, co-founder of the Shorty Awards.
He calls the awards career accelerators, helping winners accomplish more in their fields. Finalists are determined by the Shorty Awards Nominating Board and millions of tweeted nominations from active social media users.
The Webby Awards are another example of an honor given to those who have seen web success. Established in 1996, the awards honor excellence on the Internet.
John Lincoln, with the Internet marketing company, Ignite Visibility said a winner of these awards is “someone who is an excellent thinker, curator, and predictor, all in one. These are all independently different skills, and it's rare to find someone whose social shares are at the top of all three areas.”
Coke’s Happiness Machine video has more than 6 million views on YouTube. Coca-Cola has more than 200 thousand subscribers on the its channel, but the critical mass of followers is only a part of the reason it went viral, said David Erickson, vice president of online marketing at Karwoski and Courage.
“The reason people shared it was because it was delightful,” Erickson said. “What makes it delightful and worth sharing is the expressions of the people interacting with the Happiness Machine.”
A recent Dove campaign sketches a person’s true beauty. It has more than 62 million views on YouTube.
“It is a heart warming campaign that has seen tens of millions of views,” Lincoln said.
Most social media and marketing experts agree, ultimately it is the public who will decide if something goes viral.
“The content must invoke an emotional response in the audience at a high level,” Lincoln said. “The larger the promotion of the content, the better the chance that it will go viral.”
“Having a critical mass of followers on social channels certainly helps content go viral but it's not necessarily required,” Erickson said. “If the content isn't compelling, no amount of followers will make it go viral."
The credibility of the person behind the post or video also matters, according to Bryan Vu, a social media manager for MyLife.com.
“If Michael Jordan shared something about basketball, it almost certainly would go viral as it creates a spark,” Vu said. “If he tweeted about women's clothing, it's a little less likely because his audience doesn't care about that as much."