Three Tips for Making Your Video Go Viral

June 1st, 2011

Chocolate Rainby Daniel Hadaway

A former colleague of mine used to have the following mantra about online video: “If it’s great, it will go viral.”

Every time I heard that statement, I would wince. While the sentiment was honorable enough, the facts just don’t back up such a worldview. There is a ton of great content out there that never gets shared or viewed by anyone. And this isn’t true just for the online world- it’s true in pretty much every form of media.

Some of my favorite (and critically acclaimed) TV shows were canceled in their first season. In fact, some of today’s most popular TV shows came dangerously close to being canceled because no one was watching them.

For example, NBC’s The Office was on its death-bed midway through its first season, and the only reason it didn’t get canceled was because the network’s president at the time was a huge fan of the series and kept it alive.

So, great content is important, but it doesn’t guarantee viral success. So what does guarantee that a video will go viral?

While there are no guarantees that any method or strategy will make a video go viral, here are three strong points to consider if you’re hoping to make the next “Chocolate Rain”.

1. Start with a Goal.

Ask yourself this question: “What do I want someone to say or think after watching my video?”.

Do you want them to think “I can’t believe that happened!”? Or maybe you want them to say “Is this real?”, or “That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all week!”.

Think in terms of what kinds of reactions make people want to share something. The overriding principle here is: Don’t aim for getting people to share; aim for a reaction that motivates people to share.

2. Show that You’re Listening.

Encourage interaction with your video content.

One way to do this is by responding to comments on your videos. It doesn’t take long to reply to a comment posted to your video. You can even take critical or hateful comments in a positive direction by responding to them in a light-hearted, non-confrontational manner. If someone comments “This is the worst video I’ve ever seen!”, you might reply with “Is it worse than this one…?” and link to another video you’ve produced.

Another way to show that you’re listening is to post follow-up videos that take into consideration previous comments, video responses, etc. Remember last year when the Old Spice Guy did a series of video responses to individual users? That was a great way to generate buzz and get people interacting with their videos, and thus their brand!

3. Use Your Brand Carefully.

People have a strong aversion to feeling like their being advertised to. So if you’re using your brand as an anchor to the content in your video, make sure you are very careful.

Don’t make your video feel like a commercial for your brand. Ask yourself, “Is the primary message of this video a call-to-action related to my product or service?”. If so, your video is probably too brand-focused.

Viral videos almost always function as standalone content or entertainment.

Obviously you want your brand to benefit from your viral success, but it’s up to you how you want to accomplish that. Some viral videos make no mention of a brand in their content. The video generates buzz on its own and then the brand posts a follow up video to “claim responsibility”. That works well, but you can be creative with how you want to reveal your brand’s affiliation with your smash internet viral video sensation!

Overall, just remember to not stay attached to a failing idea. There are no guarantees when attempting to make content go viral. So if something isn’t working and you TRULY tried your best, be ready to move on and try a new creative idea.

We’ll post follow-up articles in the future with more tips for making your videos/content go viral.

But now it’s your turn. What is your favorite “viral” video of all time?

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