The face behind #PhelpsFace

Becoming viral is something of a rather broadly unpredictable art. In a world of constant social exchange there is truly an endless amount of content that can suddenly burst onto millions of screens around the globe. And while much of the viral content that we are exposed to seems to act unpredictably, there seem to be some peculiar similarities among the worldly recognized sensations.

Take U.S. Olympian Swimmer Michael Phelps, for example.

(Michael appears to be pretty pleased by our choice to use him as a demonstration)

Michael GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

During the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, Phelps was preparing for a race by listening to music when all of the sudden #PhelpsFace started trending worldwide on various forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to what appeared to be angry scowl in the moments leading up to Phelps’ race, the hashtag quickly became one of the most searched terms across the world.

Guy GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Memes began popping up left and right.

Given Phelps’ global presence and the stage, it’s easy to depict on the surface why his possessed disgruntled facial expression was able to garner so much attention. But, there’s more to his viral explosion than just his fame.

One of the reasons that #PhelpsFace went viral (among others) is the image owned a tremendous amount of outbreak potential. According to Venture Capitalist Josh Elman, things have a greater chance of going viral if they’re “fun to share.” In the case of Phelps, the snapshot of his face was something that brought a smile to many people’s faces.

While the element of fun certainly helped the image go viral, there were still other key determinants. For example, Twitter algorithms played a monumental role in the photo’s explosion. The social network powerhouse often uses an algorithm to display certain content based on followers showing interest in that content. With #PhelpsFace, Twitter quickly picked up on the fact that many people were interacting with the image and essentially began shoving it into our faces, helping expedite the viral process.

Twitter was just one social media platform that helped #PhelpsFace ascend onto a global scale. The viral stature of the photo can also thank Facebook, Youtube and Instagram for it’s fame. According to Dreamglow Digital Freelancer Priit Kallas, the aforementioned social networks serve as the most popular in the world in terms of monthly visitors (in that order).

So while Phelps’ genuine, raw emotion coupled with his fame certainly helped the olympian become viral, there was clearly much more happening behind the scenes that allowed us to all get a glimpse of #PhelpsFace.

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