How Videos Go Viral

It’s always slightly amusing to hear of clients who say they want to make a “viral video.” That’s pretty much like saying, “Let’s buy a Lottery-winning ticket.” You can’t make a video go viral. Either it will, or it won’t. When I meet with clients to talk about creating video branding campaigns, this is one of the things we talk about. Now, my Lottery ticket analogy is not 100% correct. There are some things you can do to set the ground work for a video to go viral. You can create a good concept then execute on that concept (e.g. the writing, shooting, editing, etc.) But once you’ve put the work out there, it’s out of your hands. Remember…there are 48 hours of video uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE! That is two days worth of video going online every sixty seconds. Only a tiny fraction of those will ever go viral.

In this TED video below, Kevin Allocca (YouTube’s Trends Manager) gives a short presentation on the things at play that make a video go viral. The 7-minute video is worth watching, but here is the key take away: Kevin establishes that there are three components that contribute to a video going viral: taste makers, communities of participation and unexpectedness.

  • Taste makers: these are people with large audiences who introduce that audience to new an interesting things. Kevin uses the example of how the video “double rainbow” shot up to 23 million views (now up to 32 million). After eight months of being online, it got the usual amount of views you might expect from an obscure guy living in the Yosemite mountains. Then Jimmy Kimmel tweeted about it as perhaps the funniest video ever. The rest is history. (BTW, I watched the video, and I was cracking up. AFTER you read my blog post, go watch it.)
  • Communities of Participation. Who could forget Rebecca Black’s infamous music video “Friday” that exploded online last year. It has garnered well over 200 million views. It also had been posted for a while before blowing up. But then in addition to celebrity taste makers picking it up, “communities” started forming around the song, most notably in the form of parodies. Within the first seven days, there was a parody for every other day of the week. Eventually, over 10,000 parodies of the song would hit YouTube. Communities add to the spreading of the virus.
  • Unexpectedness. Lastly Kevin talks about the video by New Yorker Casey Neistat. He got a ticket for riding in the bike lane. He then made a protest video. As he’s riding his bike talking to the camera and explaining how there are obstructions in the bike lane, out of nowhere he slams into one of those wooden horse street barriers. It totally catches you off-guard and is hilarious. As of now, that video has over 5 million views.

So what does this mean for your videos or your clients’ videos? Can you make them go viral? Again, no. But you at least now have some concrete information as to what makes a video go viral so when you’re talking to your clients, or when you’re planning your own videos, you can at least take into consideration what extent you have access to taste makers and communities that could see and pick up the video. And of course, in your conceptual design, you can think about the unexpectedness factor. None of that will guarantee a video will go viral, but it can at least set the stage.

And if all else fails, do something with cats.