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.’

Ragan Insider Content

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.” “During such an event, individuals in a population essentially stop behaving like individuals and start to act more like a coherent mass,” he writes.

What is fascinating about information cascades is that, once they begin, they are virtually unstoppable

“What all information cascades have in common, however, is that once one commences, it becomes self-perpetuating; that is, it picks up new adherents largely on the strength of having attracted previous ones,” Watts writes

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.