The science behind huge viral campaigns

Why did the Ice Bucket Challenge and #thedress explode in the public consciousness? One author explains the phenomenon with the concept of the ‘information cascade.’

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What makes some stories and phenomena seem unstoppable, while others that are just as interesting, and often more important step out of the front door of an organization and, to put it graphically, die on the doorstep? It was the subject of endless debate last year, when the Ice Bucket Challenge swept the globe. It happened again last month, when “The Dress” hands-down won the Internet.

In “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age,” Duncan Watts tries to formulate answers. Some of the findings have immediate implications for every PR professional today.

“Information cascades”

The Ice Bucket Challenge, says Watts, is the same phenomenon that occurs when you’re at a concert, and all of a sudden everybody starts clapping in the same rhythm. It’s also quite similar to the way crickets somehow seem to chirp synchronously, he says, and it’s called an “information cascade.”

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