Can You Predict What’s Going to Go Viral Online?

Can You Predict What’s Going to Go Viral Online?

When something goes viral, it usually only takes a matter of a couple days, or even hours, before a friend will send me a link via email, Gchat, Facebook, IM, Twitter, or some other social networking site I’m a member of. More often than not, the viral content is a funny video, photo or website, but, no matter what it is, I’m usually not the first one to have seen it. I have often thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I were the one to know about or share this for the first time?’ But, how can you predict what’s going to go viral online? Well, Bit.ly thinks it has the answer.

Recently, Bit.ly, a link shortening and social web analytics provider announced a new service that it claims will predict which online pages will receive a lot of traffic in the future. Since Bit.ly shortens around 80 million URLs every day, it has easy access to links and is able to drill down into the content, determine relevance and then predict if the link will become popular.

Now, forget funny video clips and photos, imagine what this kind of predictive power could do for companies, brands and even ideas or trends. Having the ability to know in advance what’s going to be the “next big thing” could put you ahead of the curve. And, for PR teams, this could help shape clients’ messaging, campaigns, news announcements and marketing schemes.

So, how does it work? Bit.ly evaluates the likeliness for content to spread based on three main criteria:

  1. Pace – Bit.ly calculates whether or not a link is being shared more frequently as time proceeds
  2. Reach – Bit.ly examines if a link is being shared outside of ‘normal sharing circles’
  3. Influence – Bit.ly assesses if key influencers online are sharing a link

The second point is pretty amazing – hard to believe services can actually notice which users share content frequently with each other as compared to when they’re shared with, or shared by, new users. But, I suppose, if there really are only six degrees of separation between everyone in the world, things can spread pretty quickly – and that’s exactly what Bit.ly aims to monitor and predict.

In a recent article, Andrew Cohen, General Manager at Bit.ly, noted that even though future viral links don’t come up very often (yet), it’s kind of like a smoke alarm in that it’s rare when it goes off, but you don’t want to miss it when it does! So, it’ll be interesting to see this service grow and how companies choose to implement its predictive capabilities.

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