In the realm of online marketing, few objectives are more desirable or downright elusive than the viral video. Like the vicissitudes of the stock market, the popularity of any online video depends on the personal tastes and sentiments of millions of unique individuals, and is thus difficult to predict. However, there are a few tactics you can employ to improve your chances of achieving virality.
Insights from past viral video trends
According to research by marketing technology company Unruly, some of the most important factors that drive video sharing are
1) social motivations, including the desire to start a conversation, seek friends’ opinions, offer useful information, or support a good cause;
2) a positive emotional response to the video;
3) the participation of “super sharers”—a minority of internet users who are responsible for around 80 percent of total shares; and
On average, the greater the total volume of shares a video receives in the first two days of its existence, the higher its viral peak, which typically arrives 48 to 72 hours post-launch. Unruly’s data suggest that most sharing activity occurs in the latter half of the work week, and that Wednesday is the optimal sharing day. Marketers hoping to ride this weekly wave should post their video by Wednesday or sooner. Avoid posting on weekends or holidays.
Combine entertainment with a message.
Mekanism, an advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco, has produced and marketed several viral videos. Among the most famous was the 2012 offering Hovercat, designed to encourage adoption of cats on behalf of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Mekanism sums up its philosophy on viral videos with the phrase “candy with the medicine”—in other words, entice viewers with the promise of entertainment, and complement that with a substantive message. In the case of Hovercat, Mekanism’s creative team began by identifying a theme they figured would make people smile (a zany cat often does the trick), and then developed their own creative take on a classic viral video genre. (Your feline companion may humorously knock items off tables or fend off alligators, but can it hover in the air like Superman?)
Hovercat concludes by noting that the cat in the video was adopted from the ASPCA, and links to the organization’s website.
Market and distribute the video actively
To achieve virality, you must fulfill two conditions: 1) content that viewers find engaging and worth sharing; and 2) widespread exposure.
Before you go through the technical process of recording a video, you should develop a clear marketing strategy, and consider how the video will help you reach your goal. Immediately after you post the video, intensify your marketing efforts.
Writing in Medium about her first big hit Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE), viral video specialist Karen X. Cheng explains: “I did a ton of marketing, and it started before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident—it was work.”
Cheng started by posting the video on Facebook and Twitter, then submitted it to Reddit and Hacker News. She asked friends and acquaintances to share it, and reached out to dancers and dance bloggers. Shortly thereafter, writers at Kottke, Mashable, Jezebel, and Huffington Post penned articles about the video. By day three, Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE) appeared on the front page of Youtube, and had achieved nearly 2 million views.
Cheng emphasizes the importance of a brief, catchy title, and—modern attention spans being what they are—recommends keeping the video short and sweet, preferably under two minutes.