Why ‘10 Bands’ Viral Success on Facebook Was Inevitable

Opinion: We love talking about ourselves, and the nature of the post is just a premise to do so

The “10 bands” post that’s been sweeping through Facebook over the past week has been omnipresent and seemingly unstoppable, until it runs its course and shuffles off into obscurity in the very immediate future.

Whether you think it’s fun, annoying or a mix of both, dissecting the underlying fundamentals, its viral reach seems almost inevitable and provides some great lessons for digital content writers.

It’s about you: Nearly everything that spreads well on the internet talks about the same subject: the person sharing the post. We love talking about ourselves, and the nature of the post is just a premise to do so. 10 bands succeeds because it lets us talk about ourselves in a way we want to talk about it, makes it very easy to do so and hits some very popular stopping points on the way.

Nostalgia and pop culture: Nostalgia can be a fun place to dwell, and pop culture ties the nostalgia I identify with to a set of common shared identities. I might remember the details of my first awkward movie date, but does anyone else remember Pump Up the Volume, starring our generation’s inevitable Jack Nicholson, Christian Slater, and his pirate-radio high-school rebellion? Facebook is particularly good at connecting you to people you know in real life, and there’s probably at least one connected friend for each one of those nine shows you’ve seen, so when you’re talking about yourself, your friends are reading about themselves and the shared overlap.

It’s easy: In two key ways, it’s quick to complete, but also really hard to mess up and embarrass yourself. It’s a top 10 list: You know what to do. You’re also coloring inside lines that are pretty hard to mess up. Quick, share 10 surprising things you learned about your significant other’s ex-girlfriends. Yeah, hard pass.

It’s very important that one is a lie—meta-about you: Now you’re not just sharing what you care about—you’re talking directly about other’s perception of you.

The reveal: People like to be surprising and show unexpected depth, frivolity and range. They also like to be clever, capable of planting that perfect red herring.

It solicits an easy response: Validation is the grease that moves the gears of the social web and most of our social interactions in general. It’s easy to chalk up to ego, and it sometimes is, but it’s also more than that. We want to host conversations that others find interesting. We want to connect with the people we know and care about. Nine bands with no lie is a list that drives passive consumption. There are rare occasions where that’s a decent goal of brand content, but that almost never holds true for personal content. Likes are nice, particularly for photos and content requiring simple acknowledgement and appreciation, but a comment back is significantly more validating. It’s constructed to ask others to respond, and that ask, like the post itself, is straightforward, quick and provides a chance to seem clever without much room to mess up.

Interspersed numbers, alphabetical letters title format: Numbers that aren’t directly adjoined and words that are structured alphabetically are not scientifically proven to drive engagement. That one’s a lie, but maybe now you know how clever I might be.

Dan Sullivan is the founder and CEO of word-of-mouth marketing channel Crowdly.

Image courtesy of GreenPimp/iStock.