The anatomy of a viral hashtag

What does it take for a hashtag to go viral? The answer lies simply in human nature and how we respond to everything around us. After watching a few hashtags trend for hours, days and even weeks, I decided to take a closer look at what made these tags more prone to virality. The common denominator in my opinion has been it’s ability to tap into a human emotion.


If we closely examine the campaign tag for the ALS association, #IceBucketChallenge. It didn’t take much for this tag to spread like wildfire. It may have taken a few celebrities for the campaign to reach more people but I would also like to believe that even when we can’t give, we do care. Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. Maybe you know someone or maybe you don’t but we still are driven to publicly show our support, fill that bucket with ice and dump it on our heads in recognition of someone who may not have long to live but are glad to be alive. Why? Because as humans, compassion is an emotion that we are born with. Other hashtags which have achieved this effect are:#YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls.


Most of the World Cup hashtags trended for the four weeks matches were being played. It was a global competition that naturally brought the world together under one feed.  #WorldCup as well some of the team hashtags were to go-tos for many fans. Most sports, though extremely stressful at times, can still bring smiles to the faces of millions around the world. Whether you share those moments with your loved ones or random people in a bar, it was simply an event that kept us happy and excited. Humorous hashtags such as #MySexLifeInMovieTitles and #WhyImSingle, tap into this psyche as well and thus become an experience we naturally want to share with others.

✨Futbol Party✨ Hermosa beach was packed for the USA game. So many soccer fans! New and lifelong soccer fans. It doesn't matter if they play it or not, if they understand it completely yet, or if they know the importance of the World Cup yet, new fans or lifelong fans, they're supporting the sport and that's what matters! Together for growth of the sport in this country! All level soccer fans welcome:) "bandwagoning" is welcome lol futbol es vida :) #worldcupparty #worldcup #hermosabeach #futbol #friends #family #soccer #growth #impact

A photo posted by Raul Dominguez (@24chango) on


Though the  #myNYPD campaign was meant to celebrate the New York Police Department who work to keep our streets safe, it ended in disaster. Not only did people reminisce on the good moments but it quickly escalated into a public display of the bad moments as well. For every positive event we experience in our lives, it only takes one negative event to stir our outlook at any given time. Many of us lash out in different ways when we are angry, but we are all still vulnerable to that feeling. Another hashtag which spurred up some social feedback was #HasJustineLandedYet which was made in response to a racist tweet posted by Justine Sacco.


The ‘Throw Back Thursday’ hashtag,  #TBT, which is usually trending every thursday is the time we use to reminisce and reflect on our past lives and experiences. Despite the nature of the past, most of us have fallen into the habit of reflecting on where we’ve been and where we are now and giving others a glimpse into the life they may have never known. Not only do we share our own past but we also remember the lives of other people and occurrences. In some ways it can be a helpful reminder of the present. Another hashtag which prompts reflection is the 9/11 hashtag, #NeverForget.

When content spurs up some feeling inside us, whether it’s happy or sad, we naturally feel the need to share it with others and so the cycle continues until the entire world knows what we know. How do you explain the virality of a hashtag?