Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Virality and the Diffusion of Music Videos

Posted on | January 10, 2013 | No Comments

I’m talking at the Viral Summit next week in Las Vegas so I thought I’d finish up on some topics I’ve been working on that address viral marketing and the music industry.

With over 1.148 billion views since July of 2012, the Gangnam Style music video has us all scratching our heads. The parody of South Korea’s ritzy Gangnam district in Seoul has rocketed its Asian metrosexual singer to immediate international stardom. Park Jae Sang, better known as PSY, has gone from relatively well-known rapster in his home country to international celebrity, even making an appearance in Madonna’s latest NYC concert.

Gangnam Style also highlights the power of viral marketing. With nearly 36 million shares since its release last summer, primarily via Facebook (33,886,323 shares) but also through Twitter (1,790,190 shares), it already features second on the all time viral chart. The graph below tracks the Gangnam Style “epidemic”.[1]


Virality refers to the diffusion of messages through the help of cooperating individuals. Often referred to as a word-of-mouth (WOM) process, it has received new emphasis with the decline of broadcasting and the rise of network effects on the Internet. The name derives from the term “virus” and their epidemiological spread from person to person until a critical mass erupts into a major outbreak.

According to Unruly Media, the top spot on the list of all-time viral shares belongs to the video by Jennifer Lopez – On The Floor featuring Hispanic-American rapper Pitbull. The disco duet leads the virality list with 37,405,834 Facebook shares and 271,177 Twitter shares since March of 2011.

The success of a viral message depends on such factors as the interest in the item, the timing of message, the network structures available, and the cost and ease of moving the message forward. Good content is obviously a key and it should be no surprise that creative composition, humor and sex appeal are important. Also important is taking advantage of topics that are trending. In addition, knowing how and where to seed content into a target audience on the web through opinion leaders is crucial to a successful viral campaign.[2]

The attention given to music videos had been on a steady decline since their heyday during the 1980s on MTV and VH1 but social media has provided a fascinating new venue to entice audiences and distribute musical creations. Youtube has provided the main new distribution channel but it has been Facebook and Twitter that have provided the network mechanism to propel music content out to their intended and unintended audiences.

Compared with traditional advertising, viral marketing offers music videos better audience targeting, lower communication costs, and faster diffusion. But will it make money? Music piracy has been plaguing the industry since Napster was introduced in the 1990s. A newer challenge has been the number of software applications have been developed that allows MP3s to ripped from Youtube, but ITunes, Amazon MP3, and GooglePlay have now provided easy-to-use platforms to search, sample and buy music. The real test for viral marketing is whether the sharing of music videos will circle consumers back to sites that will monetize music products for the artists.


[1] Stats on viral shares from Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart.
[2] Check out these tips on how to make a music video go viral.
[3] Mashable maintains a top viral media list.




Anthony J. Pennings, PhD recently joined the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University in Austin TX, after ten years on the faculty at New York University.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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