This article should be prefaced with a statement. There is no guaranteed way to make a video go viral.
Creating a video that captures public attention to such a degree that it goes viral is essentially out of your hands. The best practice is to think less about the viral future of your content, and instead how you can give it the best platform for lasting success amongst a wider audience. Just because there isn’t a checklist to follow doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of going viral. So, let’s take a look at some of the most important.
Choose the right platform for your videos
Place is just as important as timing.
A huge part of why a video goes viral is the platform it’s shared on. There are numerous considerations you have to make before producing your video about the kind of audience you want to capture and the workings of the platform you’ll be uploading to.
The largest portion of your following may be on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best home for your viral video. While Facebook does have a share function, it’s not as fluid and doesn’t put the content in front of as many eyes as retweeting on Twitter does. Think about how you’ve found and viewed viral videos in the past. You need to use a platform that auto-plays content as the user scrolls past it and offers the most room for natural spread.
Unfortunately, marketers looking to make a video go viral face resistance from the very channels they’re trying to maximise their reach on. You’d think Facebook would be enamoured by the idea of having a widespread viral video everyone’s talking about on their platform gaining traction naturally. However, as viral content expert Daniel Harmon explains on the Marketing Speak marketing podcast, these channel’s algorithms are actually resistant to the idea of content going viral. They would prefer users to spend money to get their videos seen, as they are advertising platforms first and foremost.
Even if the majority of your fans are on one platform, that doesn’t mean they’re as engaged as your base on a small platform. That small group could be the ones to actually kick start the spread of your video. Some social media channels have enormous bases but limited engagement potential, whereas some, such as Tik Tok, are still growing but have great scope for sharing.
Be unique for maximum video exposure
The web is full of different types of viral videos, which is why the idea of a magic formula you can just rip off is so ridiculous. The best viral video is one that’s completely different from the last one.
Social media users are cynical and media savvy. They know you’re trying to get them to spread the content across the web and will expect something in return. The key is to make things feel natural, and being unabashedly unique is the key to that. Some of the best viral campaigns of all time are built on being completely out there and standing in opposition to industry conventions. What does being unique mean to your business?
Take Blendtec’s Will It Blend?. This video series went viral in the early days of YouTube, featuring the head of a Blendtec testing whether or not his product could blend various objects. The tone was comedic, not the sort of advert you expect from the company, especially featuring the straight-laced CEO. But that, and the entertaining concept, is why the videos were such a success. They played against the convention of how a CEO or home appliance company acted like and did something no one else was doing at the time. Now they can boast over 300 million views.
Now, don’t go out and try to copy Will It Blend? or any of the other strange marketing stunts. Once an idea has been done it’s taken, and audiences will judge you for not being original if you try to emulate it. Take a look at your business, products and industry. What wouldn’t people expect from you and what about your image can you accentuate to an almost comedic extent? That might just be the key to hitting on something unique.
Don't discount quality
Video quality in the context of going viral is a difficult thing to balance. Many of history’s most viral videos have been low-quality, recorded on a phone and short. As a digital marketer and content creator your instinct is to do better than that, but the key to setting yourself up to go viral is often to find a balance.
There are no hard and fast rules, but the quality of the video is important for businesses looking to go viral. Shoddily made content can get a pass if it’s bizarre or funny, often playing into an existing meme, but a business has to try harder. If someone knows what you’re doing is advertising, they’ll expect a little bit more from it. Aim to film, edit and record sound professionally. No one expects an award-winning short film, but users are less willing to watch a work in progress. To hook people to the extent that they watch the whole video and feel compelled to share it, you need to focus on providing a quality product.
All that being said, it could benefit you to go down the more casual route. Don’t break out your phone from 2008 just yet, but consider little touches you can make to give your video a more authentic feel. Filming on mobile, for example, gives your video an added sense of charm, especially if the theme you’re going for is more spontaneous or a look behind the scenes. Users want creativity, originality and to be able to actually watch the thing in the highest quality available.
Keep things simple
Marketers have a huge tendency to overthink things. That’s only natural. When you’re around a piece of content all day every day for a couple of weeks, you start to notice the flaws the average user wouldn’t. But you should always circle back to keeping things simple.
We all take in so much content every day, whether it’s long form or short form. How much of that content do we actually remember? Or, more specifically, which ones do we remember? Generally, it’s the simplest ideas that stick in our minds, making us go back to these brilliant little videos and encouraging us to share it. With so much content available at the tips of our fingers, you can’t expect the average user to be aware of you. The key to going viral is to grab those viewers who don’t know about you, simplicity plays a huge role in that.
Keep your videos short and snappy, with an inventive hook in the first five seconds. You only have so long to grab a viewer before they scroll past you, which means you need to frontload your content with your message and uniqueness. If you’re looking for inspiration, watch pre-roll YouTube ads. They always have to contend with their videos becoming skippable after five seconds, so they’ve had to come up with inventive ways of hooking viewers.
Appeal to emotions
The oldest trick in the marketing book is to try and appeal to your audience’s emotions. Videos that tug on the heartstrings are almost guaranteed to enjoy some sense of virality, especially when combined with a twist or original idea. As Daniel Thomas outlines here, John Lewis adverts experience such massive traction every Christmas because they’ve developed a viral formula that appeals to viewer’s emotions in a familiar way.
Have a great follow up
Going viral is just as much about the follow up as it is the content. The last thing you want is for a user to watch the video and instantly go back to scrolling. They need to feel compelled to share or follow up with a visit to your website, even if that means instructing them to do so. Your calls to action are just as important as any amount of production.
Going viral is so often a guessing game. It’s important not to burden yourself by trying to create something guaranteed to go viral and to instead focus on creating the best, most uniquely you content you can.