Lifecycle of a Viral Video: The Harlem Shake Down

Handling Comms During COVID-19? We've compiled our best resources.


This guest post is by Jordan Adams, account executive at Cision.

Viral videos have become a staple of entertainment in Western 21st century culture.  Whether it’s a dramatic prairie dog, news reporter gaffs, a painful bite from Charlie, or dancing sensation PSY, they all have a unique way of entertaining us—for better or worse.  The past couple of weeks have introduced a new viral video everyone is getting in on, known as “The Harlem Shake.”  These videos are the hottest Internet craze right now, amassing upwards of 50,000 individual videos (featuring everyone from university students, celebrities, and senior citizens) and over 200 million views.

I knew who Baauer was before this viral craze and enjoyed his music so I wanted to look into the effects of the spike in interest.  Who made the original Harlem Shake video?  Who pushed the proverbial domino and created the next big Internet sensation?  What was the impact on the song’s original maker?

Utilizing the Cision Social Media Dashboard, I’ve analyzed the trend that has become “The Harlem Shake.”  Looking at the topic analysis below, you can see there have been over 8 million tweets, posts, or blogs surrounding the Harlem Shake since Feb. 2 (the original video post date) with Feb. 18 grossing the most since with nearly 800,000 posts.  Although little movement occurred between Feb. 2-6, something occurred on Feb. 7 which caused an exponential growth in mentions of “Harlem Shake.”

Let’s look at the timeline of the events leading up to the boom:

Harlem Shake Topic Analysis

February 2, 2013:  The Sunny Coast Skate uploads their version of the Harlem Shake at 1:17am, which is the version that sparked the viral video mayhem.  Later that morning, Youtube user DizastaMusic (or Filthy Frank) uploaded a shortened version of his Harlem Shake video at 11:38am.  A second version of The Sunny Coast Skate’s Harlem Shake was released in the afternoon and gave credit to The Sunny Coast Skate for their original version.


I’ve seen many people claim Filthy Frank was the first Harlem Shake video online.  He did have a 2-minute version of what started the video craze (uploaded on January 30th), but you can see that The Sunny Coast Skate was actually first to post the Harlem Shake videos that we are all familiar with (the single person dancing which cuts to mayhem at the drop).  Whether they got the idea from Filthy Frank or not, they posted the first “Harlem Shake” video.

In the following days, the videos stay relatively flat with a few likes here and there but don’t gain any momentum. Various new Harlem Shake videos are released such as this attempt and this one from Tokyo.

February 6, 2013:  A handful of Twitter users with over 1.5 million followers (collectively) start tweeting about the Harlem Shake videos.  This is the first sign of Internet users starting to make their way toward the first generation Harlem Shake videos.


February 7, 2013:  Electronic artist Diplo re-tweets a version of the Harlem Shake to his 800,000+ Twitter followers, which was just above College Humor’s tweet highlighting the videos and their own version, followed by a number of tweets and retweets of the Harlem Shake videos.  At this point, views of the Harlem Shake start growing exponentially.  The viral video is born.

Flash forward to this past week and we now have an artist (Baauer) that no one had ever heard of being interviewed by numerous online publications about his song and the viral videos, being asked to go on social sharing site Reddit for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) bit, and becoming a hot search item courtesy of Google Trends  (Oh, and not to mention that his song skyrocketed to number one on the Billboard Top 100 thanks to their recent addition of Youtube views to their calculating algorithm).

Lately, it doesn’t matter what people are talking about on social media, The Harlem Shake clearly dominates the conversation – especially conversations happening on Twitter.  Whether they’re talking about their favorite version or talking about how they’re over it, they’re talking and doing so in a very measurable format.   I imagine that the next viral video will be introduced soon, or maybe it already has been.  Either way, it will be interesting to analyze the impact it has on either the content creator’s life or the lives of anyone else involved. 

About Cision Contributor

This post was written by a guest Cision contributor.

Recent Posts

Cision Blogs

  • Communications Best Practices

    Get the latest updates on PR, communications and marketing best practices.

  • Cision Product News

    Keep up with everything Cision. Check here for the most current product news.

  • Executive Insights

    Thought leadership and communications strategy for the C-suite written by the C-suite.

  • Media Blog

    A blog for and about the media featuring trends, tips, tools, media moves and more.