What Does the Fox Say? I’M VIRAL-OOO-OOO-OOO!

After reading @EmAkin3 ‘s post on the viral “I Quit” video and discussing it more in class, it got me thinking – What exactly makes a video viral? Have people created a scientific method or discovered a secret ingredient to becoming a Youtube star?

Take this ultra-viral video. What does the Fox Say? by Ylvis has become an international Youtube sensation, becoming viral in a matter of hours rather than days or months. There a couple of painfully obvious reasons that explain why this vid could have spread so fast:

  1. It is a song and dance craze. Need I mention Gangnam Style or the Harlem Shake?
  2. Ylvis is a Norwegian band that already had a following – their last concert had 120,000 people and they have been together since 2000.

So that guarantees a number of views, but in comparison Psy also had a fan base years before he had a video go viral. And 120,000 fans does not translate into over 1 million views.

But before I get into the magic of what makes a video spread like wildfire, what does it actually mean for a video to be viral? Is it the rate of growth? Or perhaps the number of views? A Mashable article explains that a video that gets over 1 million views is in the 99.8th percentile of all viewed videos, which makes the fox video’s 102,457,081 view count all the more impressive. Or is it the amount of sharing that deems a video viral? Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart ranks the top videos in terms of sharing. Guess who is still number 1 on the list even after a month of virality?Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 9.40.53 PMScreen Shot 2013-10-09 at 9.42.08 PM

So now that we understand just how viral the fox video is, lets get into why…….

This is a TedTalk from the Trends Manager at Youtube, and he says that there are a few main reasons why a video goes viral. Totally watch it – it is only 7 minutes – but if you don’t here are his viral video characteristics.

Unexpectedness: Who would’ve guessed that after listening to an Old McDonald-esque children’s song for the first 30 seconds of the video, you would then see an adult man dressed in a fox suit, screaming loud noises, and doing odd dances to strobe lights in the woods? The old bearded grandpa reading to his son in a rocking chair and contorting his face to the fox sounds doesn’t hurt either.

Tastemakers: Tastemakers are people with great influence that introduce new and interesting things to their audiences. With many videos, there is a lull period between when the video is uploaded and when a tastemaker spreads the word. But the fox video was a different story. One blogger tracked down the “1st tastemaker” of the fox video, the Pleated Jeans Tumblr account, who posted about, “One of the best videos ever,” the day that the video was uploaded, and a day later had 1,400 views on their blog. However, the tastemaker that really kickstarted the fox video was Gawker, who also posted about the video the next day and linked to Pleated Jeans at the bottom of their article.

Participation: What do these tastemakers do when they share their favorite videos? They take a viewpoint; they make fun of them, say why they don’t like them, etc. And when this happens others want to share the video and their opinion. By participating people can become a part of the viral video phenomenon, either by spreading or by doing. The amount of parodies, remixes, covers, etc. that are made based on viral videos is insane. Herehere, and here are just a few What Does the Fox Say? video interpretations (The last of which actually explains what a fox says).

While tastemakers get the job started, and certain qualities like humor, catchiness, or cuteness lend themselves towards virality, the participators are who really decide if a video will be viral or not. And this choice, where the people decide what is popular, is what social media is all about. Would a cable TV network ever think that 100 million people would want to watch a music video about what sound a fox makes – would this idea ever have been approved and broadcasted? But that is the beauty of social media – creativity and innovation are encouraged and we can be inspired, shocked, or brought to tears and laughter by anyone who has the guts to post.

So post away. Even if your video is about a fox.


  1. Sydney, I love that you wrote about this topic and that you backed up your thoughts with research! As soon as I heard this song for the first time, my first response was that it was really dumb and I didn’t understand why it had gone viral. However, you explain the trend really well. I think the idea of the tastemakers is really interesting and helps to explain how something so bizarre (and childlike, in a way) could have millions of views already. Also, this video is certainly unexpected. However, when you don’t think about the words or watch the video, the singer actually has a pretty good voice and the tune itself is catchy! Still, I wonder how the “tastemakers” find these videos in the first place. Great post!

  2. I’m glad you picked up this topic. I believe that the data you have presented are very interesting! I think that there some other main characteristics that help a video going viral, actuality and multi platform accessibility overall, but you picked up the most important three. Unexpectedness and partecipation are essential, but what has really stricken me is the role of the “tastemaker”. I think it would be really interesting to analyse what makes a tastemaker a tastemaker! I can take this as clue for my next post.
    By the way, it have never seen “what does the fox say?” before. I have just share it on my facebook page. Virals never stop! Good post Sydney!

  3. Sydney, I’m so glad you chose to write about this because I was actually wondering the same thing. I could never quite figure out how certain videos became so popular, especially when they are posted by average people. I guess it makes a little more sense in this case since the band already had a following, but videos made by unknown people have definitely gone viral as well. Now I think that the main question I have is what makes a tastemaker so influential and how do you ensure that your video will be viewed by a tastemaker? I also really liked how you pointed out that it really is social media that gives the people the power to decide what becomes popular. We have definitely had the opportunity to be exposed to many different types of entertainment since the onset of social media, since just as you said no television station would ever have aired a video of a man screaming fox noises.

    1. I agree with you Brooke about the average people. I wonder if now a lot of people try to create and post videos that they hope and anticipate going viral. While reading this I kept thinking of the poor girl who was twerking for her bf and then set herself on fire. I admit I laughed – but she will never live down that humiliation. Plus, was she ok or severely burned? She must have posted it with the hope it would go viral, because she did record it on her computer – right?

      In regard to participation, as Katie talks about below the Tipping Point here is pretty fascinating. Viral videos get to a certain point where everyone is talking about them, so you almost HAVE to go watch them to be part of the conversation and then they continue to grow indefinitely. Thanks for sharing your really interesting insight on the HOW.

  4. This was a really great post for a number of reasons! First of all, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the video until reading your post. I’ve heard people talking about the video but just haven’t gotten around to actually watching it. My initial thoughts on the video: very funny, random (the grandpa in the woods?!), and entertaining. However, while I certainly laughed at the video, would I post it on my Facebook.. probably not. Meagan’s comment showed a similar response to the video.

    So why then did the video become so popular? I thought your blog post did an awesome job of explaining and I’m so happy that you did so. I have a feeling that SO many people wonder why certain videos, like this one, go viral. I absolutely loved the TED Talk, and agree that the role of tastemakers is so fascinating. In a sense, it seems like it is the tastemakers are the ones who really establish the trends, find the cool/ funny things going on, and then see what the “participants” think. This concept reminded me of something similar that Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book The Tipping Point.

    If you haven’t had a chance to read it, Gladwell explains what makes something “tip” into widespread popularity, i.e. why certain trends take hold and others don’t. According to Gladwell’s Law of the Few, there are connectors, mavens, and salesmen, and it these three types of individuals who contribute to the proliferation of an idea, trend, or in our case video. Gladwell’s connectors reminded me of the tastemakers described in the Ted Talk (in fact I saw a bit of maven, connector, and salesmen in the tastemakers.. I’m going to include a link below to explain). Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred (taken from WIkisummaries). While it seems like connectors are individuals with large circles of friends and networks, tastemakers are similar in this sense; however, tastemakers, in the case of the video, strongly rely on social media to establish the connections and influence (i.e. Gawker). Overall, I think its really interesting that it’s the tastemakers who are initially deciding what they think is cool.. and then gauging the rest of the population’s reaction. I really liked how your blog picked out a few tastemakers that helped contribute to this videos popularity. The tastemakers are usually the hardest ones to identify when something becomes this popular, and I would argue (although I don’t think everyone would agree) are the most important. Overall, this was an awesome blog post! Thanks for sharing!

    Here’s a link that describes Gladwell’s concepts, for those interested: http://www.productiveflourishing.com/maven-connector-or-salesperson-whats-your-archetype/

  5. When I saw the title of this blog post, I knew I had to watch it. I have to admit that I have slightly been addicted to this weirdly hypnotic video since the first time I watched it, and I could never figure out why. Your blog post hits the characteristics right on the head.

    By showing something wildly unexpected, the audience has a natural tendency to keep watching and waiting to see if something else happens. How many times have you watched a music video and it seems to be the exact same video from a different song? These videos never become viral just because the audience knows what to expect and doesn’t ever feel compelled to wait for that element of surprise. For instance, people watched all sorts of Harlem shake videos knowing that people would start doing crazy dance moves once the beat dropped, but we still seemed to want to see what specifically just for the element of shock.

    The “tastemaker” element seems to be spot-on as well. Once a video is posted to a reputable sight that attracts a wide variety of viewers, a video is in swing to go viral. A couple of my friends made a video in high school interviewing the healthcare bill, but used terms from Pokemon just for laughs. The video seemed to go semi-viral overnight when it was posted on a skiing blog and a wide array of viewers saw the link. At the same time, I do agree that participation does allow videos to go viral. My friends never had that unique participation needed in order to make the video go truly viral, and I think that is one of the biggest factors in determining the “viral-ity” of a video.

    One element that I believe may also create viral videos is commitment to the video. Many viewers won’t want to waste their time watching useless videos, and will often stop watching a video after a few seconds if they aren’t draw in immediately. This may mean it is usually easier for shorter videos to go viral, but if you remember the Kony 2012 video, this hour-long documentary went viral. What people looked for in this video was some sort of commitment to the cause that could help better others’ lives. In Yvlis’ videos, I would suggest the audience is committed to looking for a high level of entertainment. In both cases, a viewer will watch these videos and feel a sense of “accomplishment” to their committed goal once they finish watching.

    This was a great topic, and I begin to wonder if there may be even more elements that cause a video to go viral.

  6. Awesome topic! The amount of time I spend watching viral videos is absolutely ridiculous. I totally agree with the Ted Talk message of why and how these videos become viral. I think the biggest reason videos are viral are because of the Tastemakers. I think of it like a forrest fire, once it starts it is extremely hard to put out. It’s interesting to see the different categories of viral videos. There are those that are created for inspiration, others for humor, and others dancing. One aspect I feel all these categories have in common is the emotional attachment you gain after watching the videos.

  7. Thanks for all of your comments!

    Kathryn — I have to let you know that they Youtube video of the girl twerking and falling into the fire was actually a fake vid! Check out an article here that explains:

    But this just goes to show that Jimmy Kimmel knew this video was going to go viral and that there is indeed an art to virality! (especially after he spread it in the beginning). So don’t worry she didn’t get burned :)

  8. We’re actually watching that video for class later in the semester. Actually, other research shows that there is no way to predict what goes viral. You can improve your chances, but that’s about it.

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