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Friday, December 21, 2012

What does it take to make a "viral video"?

Today Gangnam Style passed 1,000,000,000 views on Youtube.


Ironically it did so on December 21, 2012, the day the World was supposed to end.


We all know how difficult it is to get views for content (unless you are one of the few that simply buys them), so the question is: how does a video go viral?

Content is king

To say the content itself must be great goes without saying. But beyond that you need the video to leave a profound impression on the person viewing it. A video should grab the attention of the viewer in the first 5-15 seconds. It then needs to draw them in with interesting content. It should then prompt the viewer to desire to make the video "part of their World". Finally, the video needs to cause the viewer to take action and motivate them beyond the passive experience. These are simply the classical steps of any sales process:

• get attention
• develop interest
• build desire
• close/take action

Seeding the viral process

If you share a video with one person and that person shares it with 10 people who then go on to share it with 10 people each you have 100 views already. Clearly if this process keeps repeating itself you will quite quickly have 1 million views. The problem with this model is that it assumes each person will share it with 10 people. If they only share it with 1 person the process slows down remarkably. Worse still, if at least some of the people share with no one you have a lot of "dead ends" that essentially stall the viral process.

One way to get around this, which is quite obvious, is to share the video with more people. The more people you can "seed" the video with the faster your views will grow. The problem here becomes one of low share rates and dead ends. A dead end can wipe out an entire chain of potential views. A low share rate can drastically slow down the viral process.

You can attempt to overcome these effects with sheer numbers, by engaging with so called "influencers". An influencer is a person with a large social media following who has sufficient trust from their "following" to be able to motivate them to action. The influencer can not only seed your video with a large number of people, but they can also prompt them to action. The problem with this strategy is that their influence generally only applies to the first person influenced in the chain. Subsequent shares will be dependent largely on the content, and without the push from the influencer you may end up with a low share rate or worse, a large number of dead ends in subsequent shares.

Creating "shareable content"

The final factor that contributes to a video going viral is the "shareability" of the content. This factor comes in many forms. If a video is shorter it maybe more shareable than a longer video, but the key factor is the impact the content has on the viewer, how quickly the video leaves an impression, and how likely that impression is to cause the action of sharing.

It is not good enough to be good; that may only lead to passive viewing! The video needs to have hooks that evoke the "need to share". Having the viewer simply enjoy your video is one thing, but when they are compelled to share it with a friend that sets in motion an entire potential chain of events. If they are compelled to share it with even more friends then so much the better. When the viewer "takes ownership" of the video it becomes part of "their World" and when it does so, they want to share it with their friends.

So, the question you should ask is "what makes this video shareable". Just because you think it is good does not make it shareable! When we share we are making a statement about ourself, what we personally like and what we think specific of our friends will like. The best sharing is highly personal in the sense we trust the person sharing the information based on a series of prior interactions. People will not share content if they think it will damage that trust. On the other hand people will share if they believe the content shared will improve their standing with the recipient. What we share can often determine how we are perceived. 


By creating great content, seeding it in the right places, and ensuring that the content has the right hooks to be sharable, we can probably improve the chances that a video will go viral.

What do you think it takes to make a video go viral?


Image source: Wikipedia

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