How to Make a Viral Video
Viral videos have been around forever, but in this day and age, they can be a great marketing tool. In fact, a good viral video can even be a lot more valuable to a brand than a Super Bowl ad. Believe it or not, when you have a video go “viral” it almost never happens by accident. There is an art behind how to make a viral video.
There are genres, formats, and styles that all lend themselves to going viral. In fact, there are actual formulas that have been developed that predict whether or not a video will go viral. Creating viral content doesn’t happen by chance—it’s actually something that you can learn to do. Sure, some videos are just too good to pass up. But most of the time it is not the normal videos that go viral, rather what goes viral are the videos that were made with the specific purpose of being viral.
Today we’re going to talk about how to make a viral video. This is something all marketers and business owners should keep an eye on because if you can master the art of creating viral videos, then it can help you grow your brand awareness and grow your traffic.
Table of contents
- What makes things go viral
- Understand deeply what makes a video go viral
- Define your audience in order to make a viral video
- Grab your audience’s attention from the start
- Stick to your script and keep the video simple
- Watch for the tell-tale signs of a viral video
- Run a targeted campaign to get the video in front of the people who will care about it
What makes things go viral
In the early days of Facebook, people noticed how viral some status messages were. They copied those and got more copied. Psychologists have studied this sort of “social contagion” in rat colonies. They observed that if rats have a particular behavior, they are more likely to commit the same behavior if they see it done by other rats.
In order to understand why things go viral and how to make a viral video, if you run 10,000 experiments, you will probably find 10,000 different reasons why things go viral. But there are two broad explanations:
- Something viral is funny or shocking or surprising.
- Something viral is something people want.
If you were to ask two strangers what causes something to become a viral sensation, they would probably give you different answers. One would say, “It’s got a good story.” The other would say, “It’s got a good hook.”
Neither is right. They both have something to do with the presence or absence of social factors. But the story and the hook are correlated. Something with a good hook usually has a story; something with a good story usually has a hook.
Stories are why people pay attention. They don’t just draw attention; they draw our attention. Stories are what we want. They give us something to remember, something to talk about, and something to understand. They help us understand what we care about. Stories and hooks are the same things but different at the same time.
The hook and the story are the two most important things that make something go viral. One of these alone can’t be enough. When something catches on, it isn’t just a good story. It’s a good story with a hook. The hook is why it catches on. The story is what we care about. And the hook is what keeps it going.
That explains why virality works at all. There is no point in trying to predict how something will go viral. If you know that, someone else will already have done it. Virality is unpredictable. But you can take steps to make it more likely. There is some evidence that people prefer things that go viral more than they would prefer things that do not go viral.
Understand deeply what makes a video go viral
In order to learn how to make a viral video, you need to understand what makes a video go viral. This is no simple question. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of factors. However, there are some key strategies that help.
- First, understand what makes a video popular. Often, the most popular videos involve people sharing them with their friends. You can encourage virality by promoting videos through your own network.
- Second, make it engaging. People don’t watch long videos. Give them a reason to watch the whole thing.
- Third, make the video fun. A great video may go viral, but a mediocre one may not.
- Fourth, avoid negative backlash.
- Finally, don’t underestimate the viral power of a simple, short video clip. For example, the viral success of “Gangnam Style” created a phenomenon that continues to dominate popular culture.
In the October 2012 issue of Wired, an article by Steven Johnson called “What Makes a Video Go Viral” suggested that the answer is “nothing.” The article became popular, but Johnson was mistaken: the answer was “something.” But it’s hard to figure out what.
Understanding what makes a video go viral is like understanding what makes an essay or a book popular. The factors that make a book popular are complex and hard to define, but fun to think about: a best-seller’s combination of interesting ideas with a compelling narrative. The factors that make a video go viral are even more complex and harder to define, but fun to think about in a different way: a viral video’s combination of good production values and funny content. Anything that gets people talking.
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Define your audience in order to make a viral video
To be effective on Youtube or somewhere else, you have to think as if you are talking to someone. Someone, you don’t know very well. And you have to understand who that person is.
Youtube isn’t like TV. Whereas the TV audience was defined in advance by the TV channel and advertisers, the Youtube audience is assembled by you. You have to decide what you are going to look like, and who you are going to talk to.
Youtube is a medium. People go on Youtube to find something. You may get lucky, and they will find something of yours they like. But you only get one chance to make that first impression.
The kind of audience you need is a specialized niche within a fairly general audience. It doesn’t have to be a true niche; there are plenty of people who like cooking, for example, but would rather like someone else to do the cooking for them. But you do need to pick something. This is the most important thing while learning how to make a viral video.
And you need to decide who that audience is. The kind of content you make will be different from audience to audience. A scientist may care a lot about what her audience thinks, an artist about how it looks, a fan about what it says. You should decide who your audience is, and tailor your uploads to that audience.
Your audience may be made up of a single type of person. Or it may contain several kinds, each with a different interest. Your audience may be made up of people you already know. Or it may be made up of people you don’t know.
Grab your audience’s attention from the start
When you create a YouTube video, you start out as a nobody. The audience is made up mostly of people you don’t know. You have no track record or reputation, and your reward is an uncertain response to your creation. So how do you get people interested in you? Why will they watch your video among hundreds of other videos, and instead of doing something interesting?
The answer is that your video has to catch their eye. It has to stand out from the crowd. It has to arouse curiosity: why is that interesting? When people watch a video, they’re not looking for you. They’re looking for something interesting. Your job is to make sure that not only do they find your video interesting, but that they find it interesting enough to share with others.
Think about how you would tell a story at a party. You don’t talk to everyone you know, you talk to a few people, and you tell them the most interesting thing you know.
Maybe the video is funny. Maybe it’s moving. Maybe it’s surprising. And if the video is interesting, then people will talk about your video. And that’s how you build a following. When people who like what you do talk about you, they spread your video.
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Stick to your script and keep the video simple
The next step in how to make a viral video is the video’s story and duration. A good video is like a good story: it has the right balance of plot, characters, and setting. The script is the foundation on which the video is built. It will define the story, the characters, and the setting. It will tell you what the video is about. It will tell you who the characters are, and how they’ll change in the course of the video.
You need to decide what you want the audience to do. Do you want to show them things? (Make sure that the things you show them contribute to the story.) Do you want to share things with the audience? (Make sure that the things you tell them contribute to the story.) Do you want to show them things, and tell them things? (Make sure that the things you show them contribute to the story, and that the things you tell them too contribute to the story.)
You need to decide what you want the audience to think about. Do you want to tell them things that are true? (Make sure that the things you tell them are true.) Do you want them to think things that are False? These can be a bit tricky but once you’ve found your style, you will breeze through it. The audience will engage more if the video makes them think.
There are several simple rules when it comes to learning how to make a viral video
The rules to be followed when it comes to making a viral video are to:
- Keep it short.
- Keep it simple.
- Keep it focused.
- Keep it personal.
Watch for the tell-tale signs of a viral video
There are many ways to define a viral video. In 2009, for example, a video about funny cat videos that went viral was very popular on the Internet. But “viral” means something different if you talk about it as a marketing phenomenon. A viral video for marketing is a piece of advertising that gets passed around online. That makes sense.
Viral videos can be a lot of things: funny, interesting, or cute. But in the video world, there are some key characteristics that distinguish them. They are remarkably simple, and they have a surprising amount of staying power. The key ingredient is simple. All viral videos are about entertainment. Most are funny (though not all), and they are usually short. They are intentionally designed to repeat so that if you watch the first video, you will almost certainly want to watch the second one.
They are surprisingly durable. Ideally, a viral video will last for years, even decades. (The “dancing baby” video is now more than 15 years old.) If enough people keep seeing your video, maybe millions, eventually it will breakthrough into the mainstream.
When something goes viral, it spreads through the Internet. There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, the Internet is a medium that thrives on simplicity. It doesn’t need a lot of extra stuff to hold your attention. It is a simple medium, and that makes it easy to pass along.
The Internet also lets you track the spread of viral items. When you see something that’s gone viral, you can check to see when it first appeared online, how many views it has had, and how many people have seen it. That can give you a sense of how many people are watching it. The Internet tends to reward viral items.
Run a targeted campaign to get the video in front of the people who will care about it
Finally, after doing all your research and making the entire video, the most important thing to learn is to run an ad campaign aimed at the sorts of people who will care about it. This is one of the keys when it comes to learning how to make a viral video.
The essence of viral marketing is reaching a mass audience through a narrow channel. The job of the advertiser is to pick the channel, the target group, the promotion schedule, the pricing, and everything else just right. Viral marketing works best when the advertiser combines a carefully targeted ad campaign with a video that is interesting enough on its own that people will share it with people they know.
Viral marketing with video is harder than viral marketing with text. Part of that has to do with the fact that video is a harder medium (and more expensive) than text, so viral marketers have to work harder. Part of it, though, has to do with the fact that a good video is harder to do make.
To do viral marketing well, you need to hit the target. People don’t share things they don’t care about. Sometimes, though, the target is hard to find. The most obvious target in online video is, of course, other online videos. The kind of videos that people share most usually come from the same genre, like comedy or news or how-tos, and the people most likely to share them with their friends are other online video fans.
Sometimes, though, the video seems to be targeting the wrong audience. That might cause the video to not get many views, despite having good content. But more likely it’s because the video is relevant to an audience that the video is trying to reach, but is not able to reach.
Therefore, it would always be a good strategy to employ a viral marketing strategy in order to ensure that your video reaches your target audience.
In your quest to learn how to make a viral video. You will come across a thousand suggestions and techniques and experts’ suggestions. But none of that will be as effective as knowing your audience, keeping it short and simple, and employing a viral marketing strategy. Follow all these, and you can have your chance to go viral in no time.