The Building Blocks of a Viral Video: How to Make a Video Go Viral

Imagine this...

It's Wednesday morning, and your Inbox is blowing up! Product orders are flying in, colleagues are congratulating you, and the influx has traffic causes the website to crash.

It doesn't take long to figure out what happened - your marketing video went viral! 

Going viral, or unexpectedly having your video seen by millions, is a marketer's dream come true. But is it possible to make a video go viral?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

According to a recent Time Magazine article,"Virality is a David myth obscuring the fact that the Internet is still run by Goliaths." The article's author cited a former Yahoo research study to conclude that what appears to be going viral is actually getting a push from influencers with tons of followers.

The Yahoo study involved analyzing millions of messages on Twitter before determining that 95 percent of what users saw either came directly from an original source or one degree of separation.

But Blendtec founder Tom Dickson has a different story.

In 2006, he published a video called "Will It Blend?" The video showed Dickson pulverizing 50 glass marbles in his high-tech blender. He only spent $50 to make the video, but it garnered 6 million views in 6 days.

Since catapulting onto the international stage, Blendtec has shot more than 140 videos of Dickson blending things like iPhones, glowsticks, and even Bic lighters.

How to Make a Video Go Viral

Was there less competition on the Internet in 2006? Yes.

Do influencers play a bigger role in going viral today? Yes.

But that doesn't mean you can't plan to make a video go viral. While there are no guarantees, there are some definite best practices to follow. For the remainder of this article, we'll outline exactly what those practices are.

1. Be a Little "Out There"

One reason Blendtec's video was so successful is that it was unexpected, compelling and it didn't follow preconceived marketing rules. The company could have created a series of videos demonstrating how to blend smoothies or mojitos, but, instead, they blended marbles.

By taking an unusual approach, Blendtec was able to communicate their message (i.e. our blender is POWERFUL) in a way that left a lasting visual impression. As Seth Goden infamously said: 

"We don't notice brown cows; we notice purple ones."

The point is to show viewers something they never expected to see, but can't help but watch. Non-food items in a blender was Tom Dickson's purple cow.

What could yours be?

4 Ways to Stand Out

Go Funny: Considering that everyone loves a good laugh, humorous videos are the most likely to go viral. Unfortunately, humor is somewhat subjective. If you understand the sense of humor shared by your audience, like Tripp and Tyler did in this video, you're golden.

Go Dramatic: Did you ever expect to see Jean Claude Van Damme straddling two semi-trucks?

Neither did we.

Volvo hit a home run with this video, and its 86 million views testify to that.

Go Cute: Check this video, shot by Dallas Zoo Primate Supervisor Ashley Orr. She snapped a random video of Zola, the gorilla, enjoying a quick swim. This video now has more than 2 million views, and the Dallas Zoo primates are much more popular.

Go Storyteller: Can you deliver your product's core message in a mini-movie? That's what TrueMoveH, a mobile communication provider in Thailand, attempted to do in this video:

2. Avoid Product Pitches

What do all of the above videos have in common? None of them blatantly pitched their products or services.

If you want your video to go viral, forget prices, features, and model numbers. Those aren't the kinds of things people watch online videos to see.

Revisiting the Blendtec example, it doesn't mean you can't still communicate the value of what you are offering. Actually, you should make the primary benefit of using your product abundantly clear. Just minimize the product shots and focus on storytelling.

Check out how PooPourri pitched their product in this video:

3. Keep It Simple

As we have seen with Blendtec, the most effective videos are the simplest. Remember: Your goal is to create a video people want to share with their friends. If your concept requires too much backstory to explain, it probably isn't the kind of video people will share on their social network.

One of the easiest ways to "keep it simple," is to teach viewers how to do something. According to Moz, the "practical utility" of an article increases the likelihood it will appear on The New York Times most-emailed list.

Check-out blogger Wendy Lookbook's infamous 25 Ways to Tie a Scarf:

Created in 2011, Wendy's video now has more than 39 million views! Obviously, some products lend themselves to how-to formats more than others. The main takeaway: create videos that are easy to understand.

4. Maintain Brand Voice Consistency

Geicco has a lizard.

State Farm has Chris Paul.

Old Spice has that guy in a towel...

These companies may be selling different products, but they all have one thing in common: a consistent brand. Watch any of their commercials and you will see they all follow a predictable framework.

You will probably produce several videos before making one that goes viral. With this in mind, it's important to demonstrate a consistent message.

Brand voice consists of several elements, including:

  • Your unique speaking style
  • Your company core values
  • Your primary speaking topics
  • Your target audience characteristics

Take the time to hone in on a unique point of view, and your videos will standout from the crowd.

5. Partner With Influencers

Remember Rebecca Black’s Friday?

The video received little recognition until being featured on the television show Tosh.0. A popular blogger happened to see the show and promptly tweeted about it. By the end of 2011, the video had garnered more than 50 million views on YouTube.

As previously mentioned, going viral has more to do with popularity than anything else. Instead of busting your butt to get a million one-to-one shares, you would be wise to strategically acquire a handful of one-to-one-million blasts.

Unfortunately, you may not know someone, who knows someone, who knows a celebrity!

In such cases, how do you get in touch with influencers?

Sales Folk founder Heather Morgan scored dinners with famous authors, coffee meetings with important business insiders, and celebrity introductions, all via cold emails.

She talks a lot about her outreach process here.

Another option is targeting businesses in similar markets for cross-promotional opportunities. This is what Blendtec evedntually did to further their reach. When starting out, aim for coverage on 2-to-3 websites with overlapping demographics.

6. Make It High-Quality

According to The Wall Street Journal, 9 of the top 10 most viral videos in 2012 came from professional producers.

As Youtube has grown in popularity, big name companies with million dollar budgets have infiltrated the platform, consequentially upping the bar for production quality.

With that said, today's iPhone can do some amazing things.

Check-out this video on how to shoot like a pro with an iPhone:

7. Keep It Short

According to a survey published in The New York Times, 19 percent of people stop watching a video after only 10 seconds. Fast forward to one minute in, and the video had lost 44 percent of total viewership.

Considering many of us have become accustomed to expressing ourselves with 140 characters, our appreciation for brevity isn't all that surprising. Video hosting provider, Wistia, found 2 minutes to be the magic number for video length success.

After the 2 minute benchmark, viewers quickly diminish.

Can You Make a Viral Video?

While it's impossible to guarantee viral video success, there are some definite common denominators among the ones we've seen today. You can increase your odds by knowing your target audience, knowing yourself, and not being afraid to do something different.

One of the best ways to stand out consistently?

Develop a brand voice that is uniquely your own. The best ideas come from thoroughly understanding what makes your company great, and what matters most to your target audience.

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