How to Go Viral According to Science

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Have you heard of the person who created a multi-million dollar business after their TikTok video went viral? More than one maybe? From healthier pet food to allergen-friendly makeup to up-cycled silverware jewelry. How exactly does one go viral – according to Science?

With a billion active users globally, TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. But it also boasts something no other platform can - an average time spent on app of over 45 minutes per day in the US. How do they keep users engaged and scrolling for so long? What makes TikTok so unique is its focus on short, bite-sized videos that allow creators to communicate their message quickly and effectively. 

The science behind going viral

A recent study from researchers at the National Science Foundation explores what exactly it is that makes a video go viral on TikTok. 

What are the indicators of virality?

Here’s a quick glimpse at the indicators they explored and why they were picked: 

Content Elements: 

Elements of the video’s content have an effect on the likelihood of its virality. As earlier research in human vision suggests that the viewer’s attention tends to be attracted by faces. 

Recommendation System: 

The study posits that successful users frequently try to promote their videos by utilizing TikTok’s recommendation system. To this end, creators publish their videos including the hashtags that are trending on the Discover Page (whether they’re related or not!). 

Creator Profile: 

Finally they explored whether the creator’s profile may influence their videos’ virality. TikTok provides a verified badge for some users, and popular creators have (obviously) more followers than average users. The study hypothesized that the creator’s relationship with the platform impacts their video’s virality. The deeper you are in the platform, the deeper your reach can go! 

Type of subject: 

The types of subjects that can be depicted in a video include scenes, people, animals, or objects. Something eye-catching or unique can be a winner, or something that a wide range of viewers would be attracted to- like a funny face, delicious food, or cute puppy.

The leading causes of going viral

Number of followers

Overall, the results show that the number of followers is the most reliable indicator of a video’s virality; a creator with over 10,000 followers is more likely to make a viral video than one with under 10,000 followers. It’s likely not a surprise that a creator’s follower count is the most important factor in a video going viral, but the study also notes that how a video is shot influences this virality too.

Close-up or medium-shots

Close-up or medium shot videos that use a second-person view are more common among viral TikTok videos. What does that mean? Second-person view is when the subject is talking to the viewer in front of the camera. Most TikTok videos are shot in this way, with the creator talking or dancing to the audience. This perspective helps to get a clean and steady shot.

Text on screen

What about text on your TikTok? In contrast to previous studies on image memes, text does not impede video’s virality but rather facilitates it. That means, the right strategic text can actually help your video go viral.


Finally, videos created more recently are more likely to go viral. That’s probably because of the instantaneous nature of TikTok, where trends can grow rapidly. The more often you create, the higher your chance of viral success. 

The study also found that emotion has little bearing on the virality of a video, which is consistent with marketing research: basic emotions (sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust) do not predict the viewer’s reaction to an ad or its effectiveness. Another interesting finding is that common practices thought to improve the chances of content going viral, like hashtag stuffing, do not seem to have much of an effect on virality on TikTok. So don’t overdo your hashtags! 

How you can create viral TikToks

  • Keep posting what is genuinely interesting to you – others might find it interesting too! 
  • Add text to keep your message clear and accessible
  • Use the second-person perspective by having a friend film it, or using a tripod
  • Spend extra time on the platform and engage with content in your niche
  • Identify trending topics and hashtags and relate them to your content

Looking to level-up your TikTok presence and create videos that authentically resonate with your audience? 

At de Castellane Creative, we specialize in strategizing, planning, and creating TikTok accounts that build awareness, encourage engagement, and grow revenue. If you’d like to set up a 20-minute no-pressure exploratory call with us to find out how we can take your brand from run-of-the-mill to TikTok legend – fill out this form today.

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