Viral Videos: What It Means and Tips For Going Viral

Last Sunday night I had the pleasure of being a guest host on Seth Odell’s new weekly web show Higher Ed Live.  You might remember the plug I wrote a few weeks ago.  Well after the first two episodes Seth has found a niche where he is providing a ton of value to the higher education web community and doing it in a fun format!  Also, I know it’s more than just Seth behind the show so here’s a shout-out to @natevillegas!

Episode 2 focused around what it means for a video to go viral.  I want to continue that conversation a little more.  Here is a reasonable definition of viral and some tips to help you get there.

Definition of Going Viral

In my opinion, to go viral means simply exceeding realistic expectations.  Expectations are all about your goals.  I’m sure all of us have goals of what we want to happen when we release something, correct?  If a story is interesting enough to an audience then it can get picked up by many people who will then want to share it.  In many ways viral is a form of buzz marketing.

If you look at the Wikipedia page for viral marketing I think there is a really good, more complex definition worth mentioning.

The buzzwords viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet.  Viral promotions may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or even text messages.

Tips for Going Viral

Now that we know what going viral means let’s talk about some tips for going viral.  First of all there is no best practice that you can follow to go viral.  As Seth and I discussed on Sunday, if every dancing baby video went viral then it would quickly go out of style and no longer be funny.  So with that let’s talk about some tips.  Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every one of these rules.

  • Unique – This is an absolutely critical element.  It doesn’t mean that you have to be the first person to have an idea, but you need to do something very unique and compelling with it.
  • Humor – There are exceptions to the rule on this one like educational or horror, but hands down everyone loves a good laugh.  Humor is one of the biggest pulls to help a video go viral.
  • Timely & Relevant – This always helps.  If a major event is going on and you can piggyback off that momentum then all the better.  An example of this could be a new movie, major news, upcoming sporting event, etc.  You could also put an interesting spin on something timeless that everyone remembers.  For example, 9/11 and Katrina might not be funny but you can guarantee people still remember and care about the subject.
  • Keyword Buzz – This kind of goes down the SEO path and the last tip, but if you can mix a specific keyword around something that everyone wants to know about then you can easily get a lot of viral credit.  For example a few years ago I shot a talking head review of my Blackberry Storm when it came out.  Who would have thought that an article on PC World would have picked up the video?  Today it’s almost a given if you include iPad in your subject you will get some uptick in interest.
  • Controversy – There are few things that people want to share more than something that is controversial.  Not only do they want to share it, but they want to comment and talk about it.  Be careful who you might offend, but if you can make a compelling argument this is a big winner.
  • Copycat on Success – I mentioned earlier that a hundred dancing baby videos just aren’t funny, but a couple of good imitations can go a long way.  The perfect example is the success of the recent Old Spice commercials.  Here are three of my favorite copy cats.  You might notice that the first two are higher education related.
  • Promote through Thought Leaders – If you have a good idea there is no better place to start than the content sharing hubs.  For example HubSpot has shot a lot of videos recently to strike the viral gold, but the first in the Foursquare Cops series by far came the closest.  With almost 40K views I consider that a success!  We had a nice buzz keyword and promoted the video directly to Foursquare and Mashable who both wrote blog articles sharing the video.  An instant viral success if you can get a few big hubs to share your content.  Know your thought leaders.
  • It’s a Numbers Game – Let’s be realistic.  Not every video you create will go viral.  You have to be prepared to fail ten times to strike gold in this arena.  Realistically you are more likely to win the lottery than have a video reach a million views on the web.

Final Thoughts

There are a bunch of ideas to help you create a viral video.  Can you think of any other good tips or best practices that I’m forgetting?  If so please leave a comment.

Finally one final plug.  Be sure to check out Higher Ed Live this Sunday at 7PM EST to see another .eduGuruDirector of Web Marketing, talk about The State of Mobile in Higher Ed.

6 Responses to “Viral Videos: What It Means and Tips For Going Viral”

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