Going Viral! How to make your ideas spread online with Seth Gobin

It’s important to every netizen trying to establish themselves online: going viral!

Viral videos are hard to initiate, and even harder to predict. This is because there’s no cookie-cutter formula to producing a viral video. Do you really think the first person to Harlem Shake in front of a video camera expected half the world to film themselves doing it, too? Probably not, but it had what any YouTube sensation needs to go viral: a remarkable experience.

It was new, unique, and spreadable; but most importantly, it was “worth making a remark about.” These are the words of Seth Gobin, a well-established entrepreneur and blogger on the marketing of ideas in the digital age. A decade after his TEDTalk on spreading ideas online, we revisit his speech and apply it to the trend of going viral.

Gobin establishes 3 rules for spreading ideas online, that are worth noting before we visit the practice of going viral:

  1. DESIGN IS NOW: people who find a way to be remarkable make design work for them.
  2. SAFE IS RISKY: the safe thing to do now is to be risky; appeal to the fringes and be remarkable.
  3. GOOD IS BAD: very good is boring, because no one is going to listen. Stand out!

[SETH GOBIN]: “In a world where we have to many choices and too little time, the obvious choice is to ignore stuff.”

In a time of information-overload, audiences are way too quick to practice their ignorance. They aren’t going to give their attention to the vast majority of images and texts that cross their screen, because they simply don’t care! So, like Seth Gobin explicitly acknowledges, we have to find the people that do care; we have to find our target audience. Gobin’s solution is to appeal to the innovators and early adopters of the “Adoption Innovation Curve” because they care; they’ll spread your unique ideas.


The Curve is meant to illustrate the ways that consumers adopt new innovations; or, in our case, ideas. Twenty years ago, it made sense to market to the early and late majority, appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Now, online marketing makes your audience directly accessible. Businesses and organizations alike can easily reach their audiences online through tools like social media target-marketing and Google Ad Words. However, (1) we need to know our audience and (2) our messages simply have to be “remarkable”.

Seth Gobin uses the work remarkable specifically, because online ideas need to be worth making a remark about. A viral video cannot simply be a repeat of another, unless you hop on the Harlem Shake bandwagon early enough. Instead, think of something new; something your audience is going to want to spread because it’s unique. It’s up to you to be remarkable!

Remember this?

It was truly remarkable! Honda’s “When Things Just Work” commercial was rumored to need over 600 takes before finally getting the shot to work. It was interesting and innovative, and it spread across the Internet like wildfire as a result. Preceding social media websites like Facebook and YouTube, having been released in 2003, the video spread mostly through email. Quite simply, it was remarkable; people wanted to share it because it sparked their interest, and they knew it would spark the interest of their friends.

[SETH GOBIN]: “figure out who does care, who is going to raise their hands and say they want what you have; sell your stuff to them and they’ll share it.”

THAT’S the secret to going viral! Don’t invest in sterling production value, don’t pay to have your content promoted across the web, don’t even bother getting superstar-power behind your promotions (although it’s definitely been proven to help). Just put time into knowing your audience and provide them with an experience; an experience that’s worth making a remark about.

Social media will adopt your content, if it’s worth adopting. Use the target-marketing tools that social media has to offer; use it to know your audience and understand where they are going online. After you know that, provide them with an experience; something they are going to want to share. Once you’ve posted your interesting, unique, and spreadable content somewhere where your audience is prominently established online, just sit back and watch the hit-counters rise!