The Internet is a really strange place. One moment you’re uploading that document for your boss, the next you’re fighting about the color of a dress (which was definitely blue), laughing at a screaming goat or learning philosophy from a raptor.

More recently, a rat inspired the world as it struggled to carry a slice of pizza. Major news outlets were quick to drop their usual coverage to talk about this rodent with a lust for a slice of cheesy pie. Some even tried to one-up the rat by sharing a milkshake loving squirrel.

How does something like that become so popular? Surely New York has plenty of foraging rodents. Well, there isn’t just one element at play. This rodent’s popularity was due to a culmination of circumstances.

When something becomes popular that quickly, it’s considered viral. But what exactly causes something to go viral?

In truth, there is no specific formula, but studies have revealed common threads throughout viral media.

  • Positive content is more likely to go viral than negative content
  • Emotional triggers
  • Things with practical applications are often shared
  • There is a sense of irony

While I wouldn’t claim that the rat was doing anything practical, it certainly met many other requirements. People love small furry creatures, and while rats aren’t usually at the top of that list, this one happened to be carrying a large slice of pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza? You could also consider the cultural significance. Many of us grew up with ninja turtles, and it’s common knowledge that they were trained by a rat and sustained on pizza. Whether it was an emotional trigger caused by nostalgia of everybody’s favorite turtles, or simply inspired all of us to power through our struggles, #PizzaRat made a huge, relatable impression on humanity for a few days.

Pizza Rat is only the latest in a long line of videos, stories and images that managed to circulate through thousands of homes in a matter of hours. From the Charlie Bit My Finger video to Internet memes like Grumpy Cat, there are countless examples of viral content that seems to spread like wildfire.

Next time you post something online hoping for it to reach far and wide, make sure it’s relatable, sharable and worthwhile. With luck, that digital nugget might become the next big Internet sensation.