I can’t remember the last time I shared any audio content. It was probably a bootlegged cassette tape back in the eighties. Now if I was to recommend a tune or comedy show, I’d just click the share option on a YouTube video.

As a travel show podcaster I have been struggling to go viral for years, and it appears that I’m not alone.

To investigate this lack of audio sharing, Eric Athas asked “What can make audio go viral?” in an article for The Nieman Journalism Lab website.

His report was based on a series of experiments carried out by NPR Digital Services. The experiments discovered three obstacles preventing audio clips going viral;

  • Finding shareable audio takes too much time
  • Sharable audio isn’t portable
  • Sharable audio isn’t produced for virality

With most audio content listeners really have to invest their time to listen to it. Athas quoted a Jesse Thorn observation from a Digg article called “Is this thing on?” that listeners are doing something else while they are listening. And “when you’re driving a car, you’re not going to share anything.”

To overcome the obstacles, the NPR experiment had three steps. The first was to find a short clip of audio just had to be listened to. The experience of listening to it had to be better than either watching or reading the content. News, analysis or complete shows were not used.

Step two was to package the audio with web-friendly elements. The final step was to see how people respond to the clip.

The success of the clip was measured by asking five questions;

  1. Did people share it?
  2. Did people comment on it?
  3. Did visitors click play on the audio?
  4. Was it a popular story on the radio station’s site?
  5. Did it attract a social audience?

The most popular content was a ten-second clip of a volcano’s primal scream taken from a longer story on erupting volcanoes by KPLU reporter Gabriel Spitzer. The clip was played over 6,200 times. Other successful clips were the sounds from inside a hurricane, and what prison sounds like.

Athas concluded from the research that any clip that overcame the three obstacles has the potential to go viral.

His article has made me realise that I have to decide how I’m going to promote my show in the future. Do I want to regularly go viral with a short highlight from the show, or is my goal still to get people to listen to the whole show?

From now on, every show will need a question that can be guaranteed to produce a must-listen response from my guest. Not only that, I will have to ensure that the guest answers the question in around one minute and to do it in an entertaining way.

The more I can generate per show, then the more viral opportunities I will have. It’ll also mean a more entertaining show.

Then perhaps I can go viral and also increase the number of listeners.



What can make audio go viral 

Is this thing on?