Graphing Virality

Context Matters

Posted 1 year ago by Tom Maiaroto.

So I never was real keen on the whole "velocity" graphs that Mashable started putting on their stories. The main reason for this was that was no context. Second, you really had no clue exactly what they were measuring or how they came to their conclusions.

This brings us back to my number one point when talking about virality. Context. Context. Context.

How do we know 100 shares is something to be excited about? 100 shares over what time period? Did we stop watching after a while? What date range is this graph for?

Simply put, you can't just make up some graph without explaining what the values on it represent. It's meaningless.

In fact, if you look at the screenshot below here you'll see several stories with the same looking graph! However, they are not the same. The trend may be similar and the graph may look the same because we're looking at normalized values, but the two stories here in the first row across from each other are quite different. Engadget's story on the new Sony camera is far more viral than Boy Genius Report's. However, you wouldn't know that just by looking at the graphs. Again, context matters. It really, really matters. 

Viral Trend Graphs

However, through user studies, I do know that people like to see these trend graphs. We get excited to see lines trend upward and, in Mashable's case, I'm sure colored lines are all the more attractive. Oh, it's orange or red, that must mean it's hot! Right? Well sure, they do give you a sense of what's going on. However, when combined with a little context, they are even more powerful. That's exactly what I do with Virality Score. You know the current score and then you can see the trend. So it's very easy to draw conclusions. The graph does its job - you know if the virality for the content has gone up for down. With the current score, you know exactly where it stands in comparison to the rest of the content across the internet. The graph does it's visual job of communication while at the same time providing contextual value to a viewer.

Of course we could just simply show people the current level of sharing and graph that. Unruly does this with their viral video charts. However, without this reference (part of Virality Score's secret sauce), it's literally impossible to tell just how well (or poorly) the content is performing across social media.

Being viral is more than just a gut feeling or a label that someone applies to something that they like just for the sake of liking it. Virality can literally be observed and measured through mathematical means.

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