A (very) Brief History of Virality

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Virality. It kind of hits a different nerve now right?

As a virus spread through the world, leaving many of us forced to be locked inside with nothing but the screens of our phones as a connection to the outside world – virality led to, well… virality.

The over-saturation of social media posts, especially in the video sphere, meant that many ‘experts’ in 2018/2019 began to predict some sort of ‘end’ to the viral video. Seemingly, the internet had broken up into niche subcultures with little unification. Enter: COVID19.

In 2020 the fractured internet began to crave unification and mass interaction to find an escape from the four walls of lonely bedrooms across the globe. This led to a reconfiguration of virality, that manifested in many different ways – for example, that awful video of celebrities singing to us; but, also much broader effects like the HUGE acceleration of the TikTok user base.

Virality certainly isn’t anything new. Whilst it is a buzzword to describe videos on social media – the first thing we should do is recognise its looooong history. We can learn a lot from it.

The 19th Century

Ahhh the 19th century. The cardboard box has just been invented, Mary Shelly publishes Frankenstein and Van Gough paints the Starry Night (and cuts off his ear 👂) Wait…, what do you mean TikTok wasn’t around?

In the 19th century, mass amounts of people began to migrate from farmlands and rural areas to the growing cities. Fractured smaller village societies began to combine to create larger communities (much like seen with the impacts of Covid19 on socials) of like-minded ‘city people’. Not only was this movement somewhat viral in itself, but it also created the first set of opportunities to reach a huge amount of people in one go (instead of just within your local village). Art and literature all came more accessible, widely spread and viral.

As this urbanisation rapidly commenced, there was a huge fear of people ‘losing themselves and their identities in the modern city’ (sounds a lot like social again 🤔) – leading to loads of social and scientific theories of imitation, contagion and suggestion. A huge interest peaked in ‘crowd psychology’ (this is still well used in some marketing) – which studied how ‘rational humans’ were turned into reckless automations.

Whilst, not the entire blueprint for virality on social platforms, a reminder that the history of virality is long and complex can lead to out of the box creative thinking – harking back to the good old days of… Thomas Edison? 💡

Chain Letters

Fast forward to the early 20th century in Denver, Colorado. The first known chain letter was sent by an unknown trend-setter who claimed their letter originated from the biggest influencer at the time – The Pope.

This letter was sent around Denver and encouraged the population to send it forward, and donate money. Whilst, obviously, this is some sort of fraud – it is probably one of the earliest examples of some sort of social virality.

This old-ish trend took off and was remediated in many different forms. From scary urban-myth letters (Carry on reading! Or you will die, even if you only looked at the word warning! Once there was a little girl called Clarissa, she was ten years old….) to very serious issues of fraud and scams. Chain letters may have an old origin, but they are a great example of this ‘crowd mentality. A lot of the time, we know Clarissa isn’t going to kill us (we hope) but people sent it forward anyway to be part of a social movement.

This sort of virality has been reconfigured over and over again from those strange emails we all got as a kid to those weird Instagram and TikTok posts about Bloody Mary 🩸. Although, we can also see it in less spooky things like the very recent Instagram trend of sharing a picture of your dog to ‘plant a tree’ (lol) – or even tagging multiple friends in giveaway posts (although its best if your brands dont pretend to be The Pope – or Bloody Mary for that matter).

The Golden Age (of YouTube)

Finally… the good old days. This was the time where there was a new viral video every few days. Meeting up with friends and family irl often prompted conversations anchored around “Have you seen that Old Spice video” or chatting about that kind of weird aggressive panda advert.

Obviously, we can not talk about the Golden Age of Youtube without acknowledging the viral behemoth: Friday. Often described as the worst YouTube video ever made, Rebecca Black’s magnum opus was the second most disliked video in 2011 just missing out on the top spot of Justin Bieber’s Baby. Despite this, Friday was the most-watched video on Youtube that year. What can we learn from Friday? Well, firstly going viral isn’t ALWAYS a good thing – and at this time people launched videos into the viral sphere through ‘hate-watching’. It’s a classic case of being ‘laughed at’ rather than laughing with. But hey, it works?

On the other side of the spectrum (laughing with) there is Charlie Bit My Finger. A video uploaded (originally) purely for the joy of a family – it soon became a force to be reckoned with. It was reported that the Davies-Carr family made over £100,000 in advertising revenue from the video alone. And the latest update? An NFT of the video was auctioned off in May 2021 for $760,999.

What was the difference between these two videos? Rebecca Black’s video was hated due to its cringe overproduction (both sonically and visually). Whereas, videos that were better received, especially in this era, were funny and candid home videos (Think the same vibe as You’ve Been Framed). It seems the more production and human mediation involved – the worse the reaction. It was kind of a tricky place for brands to enter and they had to tread carefully.

(sidenote: Rebecca Black re-released Friday recently)

Trying to get a Slice.

It’s now 2015 – and all across the world viral videos are being shared and remixed. Most importantly, people are pouring buckets of ice-cold water over their heads – raising over $220 MILLION for charity. You couldn’t even log on to Facebook without seeing all your loved ones, friends and enemies soaking themselves for charity.

What made the ALS ice bucket challenge so successful? In a nutshell: Its seamless combination of social media pressure, competitiveness, low barriers to entry (literally just a bucket and a camera) led to more than 2.4 million videos circulating on Facebook.

The challenge also echoed one of the previous viral movements we explored – chain letters. Through a mix of mass interest and individual identification, part of the ALS challenge was to identify and ‘tag’ potential candidates. Much like sending forward the story of Clarrissa the dead girl forward, people felt compelled to extend the virality themselves. Never underestimate the power of a participatory campaign! Giving people the opportunity to remix and remediate a viral campaign leads to reach and creativity.

But the search for virality doesn’t work for everyone – and this next campaign led to the death of over-produced virality. When Kendall Jenner offered a Pepsi can to a police officer to solve the tension at a protest, it went viral for all the wrong reasons. Twitter users expressed distaste for the clear attempt to create an overproduced, fake-‘woke’, and tone-deaf ‘pop culture moment’. As sites like Twitter and Reddit became more active, people became less and less happy with overproduced content – and became happier and happier to voice their opinions.

What started with Rebecca Black, quickly became part of the general public’s hatred for overproduced, clinical and corporate attempts at virality.

Here lies manufactured virality.

Rest in Peace.


Unless? What’s this? A new challenger approaches?

TikTok completely re-invigorated the viral video. By taking aspects of the most successful viral campaigns – viral videos on TikTok are often casually produced and candid, invite remixability and remediation from the audience and think quite deeply about crowd psychology; TikTok has become the new breeding ground to head to if you want to try and get viral.

Yeah, it’s still hard work and requires some (Spin) creative geniuses – but there doesn’t seem to be a better time to give it a shot!

But, listen, we aren’t going to give all of our secrets away in one singular blog post. So keep your eyes peeled on our Instagram for the very best TikTok tips. And who knows… maybe there will be some useful stuff posted here soon?


🚀 Make your content remixable.

🧠 Take inspiration from past examples of virality.

🎉 Overproduction is not good! So, watch out!

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TikTok x Ticketmaster: Buying concert tickets through your FYP

What do Demi Lovato, the WWE, and Usher all have in common? Well, they’re just three of the artists and entertainment companies who are now benefiting from TikTok’s latest partnership with Ticketmaster. The new feature will allow users to purchase tickets for events directly through the TikTok app, meaning that you can go from scrolling through your FYP, to dancing along to Usher’s “Yeah!” in just a few taps.

Eligible creators will be able to search for relevant Ticketmaster events through the “add link” function before posting a video. They will then have the option to “add to video” which will display the Ticketmaster link to the event towards the bottom of the video once posted. Users will then be able to click on the link and, in a similar fashion to the Tiktok shop, will be taken to the Ticketmaster website in-app to continue browsing.

Spin Welcomes Fujifilm & Instax to the Roster

Japanese multinational conglomerate Fujifilm has appointed Spin to carry out an ongoing strategic social media service to continue to drive and develop their growth to new audiences.

A brand that is world-renowned for their work in the realms of photography, optics and wider electronics. Headquartered in Japan and first established in 1934, Spin couldn’t be happier to partner with the brand and support their innovation across social with the intrinsic synergy from their image-focused products to the constant evolution of the platforms we use to share this very outcome.

Explore more from Fujifilm & Instax here:



Spin is an award winning pure-play social media agency that combines the sharpest creative minds with the smartest performance specialists. For more information or to enquire about scaling your brand through social please email

Instagram in The Age of Video

Things are changing… again (and again, and again).

Instagram has, rather ironically, faced widespread backlash from a static asset created by photographer @illumitati and shared by thousands, including the queen of lip kits (and chickens) Kylie Jenner. We all know the famous phrase ‘a picture can say 1000 words, but here we are seeing the defiant power of a picture when put in the hands of everyday users

Here’s a quick Spin-centric rundown of why this happened, what happened next and what this means for brands.

Why Now?

It’s simple really:

When we think of TikTok we think of short video clips.

When we think of YouTube we think of lengthy videos.

When we think of Twitter we think of sassy snippets.

When we think of Facebook we think of our mums.

And, when we think of Instagram we think of a feed of static images.

Not so fast! Early this year, Instagram began testing a brand new version of its app’s home feed that featured full-screen photographs and videos, similar to TikTok, and the response was very very loud. Users said the feed was cluttered, ugly and pushing for the primacy of video far too hard. This was no accident; this feed re-jig came hand in hand with other recent changes which include an increasingly algorithmic main feed, a push for TikTok-style “reels” videos, and the increasing presence of a remix function.

These changes have led to everyday users struggling to interact with their friends and family’s posts which get sucked down the bottom of the algorithm in favour of ads and (poorly) recommended posts, hand-curated by the algorithm.

Soon, the post by @illumitati began to spread like wildfire, with a whole app seemingly uniting behind a shared hatred for the new update. The post, overall, gained 2.2 million likes and 43k comments. And, eventually, the spreading of this post led to collective action – with a petition being signed over 300k times.

What may seem like a funny or playful post, could be disastrous for Instagram. Let’s not forget that when Kylie Jenner last talked smack about a social media app, the tweet reduced its market price by $1.3 BILLION (🪦 RIP Snapchat).

What’s Going on Now?

Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s CEO (aka the cause of many SMMs’ stress and anxiety), quickly responded to the widespread criticism with a video (lol) carefully doubling down on the controversial changes. He told his audience that Instagram would “continue to promote photographs,” but made sure to reiterate that: “over time, more and more of Instagram will become video.”

The reaction to this? Similar to this brilliant slack from a client:

What does this mean for brands?

It may seem like a lose-lose scenario, but fear not, here are some quick tips on how to ride this wave for social success:

Push for authenticity 🔥

Audiences are sick of their feeds appearing manufactured, ad-centric and controlled by the algorithm. Now, more than ever, producing authentic and engaging content is key. Show a little humanness with friendly faces or relatability. Gone are the days of a polished Instagram (whether that be in video or static format), so act like the best friend and not like the big brand.

Use (real) reel content 📹

Look, video isn’t going anywhere. So, it’s a perfect time to experiment with reel content and see what sticks. The likelihood is your reach will Skyrocket. Again, just keep it as authentic as possible.

Keep in mind what people want 🪧

Maybe it’s wouldn’t be a bad idea to play around with statics and see if you can hit the sweet spot of engagement: people are hungry for the return of pictures. Yes, your reach might drop, due to the ever-changing algorithm, but your audience will appreciate a feed made up of a variety of content. Don’t be a one-trick pony: have a content plan based on statics, Carousels, Reels AND Stories.

Virality is still a thing 🦠

It’s kind of crude, but the mass spreading of this post shows us that ‘things’ can still go viral. Don’t give up hope! Here is our go-to guide for all things viral.

Play it by ear 👂

Things are changing every day. New trends rise, and old social media sites fall. Algorithms change, but sometimes the users do not. A great social media presence requires A LOT of social listening, reading and knowledge. Keep up to date on everything social.

Or, what if we told you that there is a dream team of social media experts waiting to help you out with this confusing digital landscape? Experts in the algorithm AND the everyday user. We are here to help. Spin is an award-winning pure-play social media agency that combines the sharpest creative minds with the smartest performance specialists.

For more information or to enquire about scaling your brand through social please email

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