How To Make A Video Go Viral

It’s the holy grail of many a marketer’s aspirations: making a video that will go viral. But what is it that makes millions of people watch and share clips of the Old Spice Guy, cute kittens or Psy’s Gangnam Style?

Alas, there is no straightforward answer. But here, at least, is some food for thought…

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Think about what makes you share-worthy

It’s rare that people trawl YouTube simply looking for the next great video. The vast majority of people will ‘stumble’ across something because one of their friends has shared it on Facebook or Twitter, or in the office. This is most likely because it is one of the following:

  • Funny.Humour is one of the top drivers of sharing. Whether a video is purposely funny (like The Dollar Shave Club ad, or the Old Spice series), or accidentally funny (like an unsuspecting father getting punched in the groin by his toddler), laughter is something people want to share.
  • Weird/Quirky/Unexpected. Whether it impresses the hell out of you, or freaks you out, weirdness is strangely compelling. And sharable. (Think: Jackass, or the people who can ‘pop’ their eyes out of their sockets. Our friend Psy might even fit into this bracket…)
  • Cute. Kitten videos. Babies. Do I need to go on? The ‘Awww’ factor is a powerful force when it comes to sharing videos. Think about it. How many videos have your friends posted on Facebook captioned “So cute.”?
  • Amazing/Heartwarming. Again, this is a prime candidate for sharing. From Frisbee trick-shots and Wayne Rooney wonder-goals to the heroism of strangers trying to help the Boston bombing victims, we all love to marvel at the human capacity for extraordinary feats.
  • Useful. Ever watched a how-to video? Thought so… Heard of the TED talks series? Probably… Whether it solves an immediate need or is part of an ongoing series that you’re following, useful videos will be shared amongst like-minded people.
  • Outrageous/Controversial. Remember Kony 2012 and how quickly that whipped round the social networks? And then all the fall-out after it? Pretty much the definition of a topic going from zero to viral hero.


Kony 2012 Campaign Video goes viral.

YouTube, Vimeo and other video platforms have opened up our world in an amazing way. No longer do you need to go to the library to understand how a helicopter works – you can watch a quick video from a leading aeronautical engineer. You’re not limited by what is on TV that week, or the music that has made the charts – you can tap into a whole new world of entertainment that is generated by everyone from the professionals themselves to incredible undiscovered talent.

And human nature dictates that if we find something ‘Amazing’, we want to be the first to share it with our friends. Because that reflects well on us. But amazingness is not the only factor at play when it comes to a video going viral.


People are Awesome 2013

Do the groundwork

Yes – if you have share-worthy content, you are half way there. But there’s still a LOT that you can do to help your video on its way.

  • Keep it short. There are lots of different theories on the ‘perfect length’ of a video – and of course, it’s highly dependent on the content. But don’t be self-indulgent. Keep it sweet, otherwise people will lose interest and not hit the ‘Share’ button.
  • Keep it professional. Your video doesn’t need to be shot in high-def, but it should be professional. Unless you’re relying on being fortunate enough to catch a moment of unanticipated brilliance, you’ll need to have plans, scripts, directions and an editing process in place.
  • Ensure people can find it. Being findable will help get the ball rolling. Make sure you optimise your video with the appropriate tags, descriptions, transcripts etc so that it can be found on YouTube and also within the search engines (see our blog on optimising videos for search). Be intriguing too – use a captivating thumbnail and title to entice people’s clicks.
  • Be a big fish in a small pond. YouTube has a series of categories for its videos. Think carefully about which you should put yours in based not only on relevancy, but also the likelihood of being able to make the most-viewed lists. (For example, on the day of writing, it would require 11,921 views to make the most viewed list within YouTube’s Comedy category, but only 353 views to get into the Pets & Animals list. Conclusion? Perhaps that funny video of your cat would do better on Pets & Animals.)

Share it yourself

It sounds obvious, but the best way to help a video go viral is to get the sharing ball rolling yourself. Share to your own network and ask them to re-share it with their friends and followers. Spend some time identifying influencers and sharing your masterpiece with them (and requesting that they re-share in turn).

Competitions and promotions encouraging people to share can also be a great way to build momentum. Encourage engagement too – whether it’s comments on the video itself, or through Facebook, Twitter or any other medium.

As for the rest? Well, although digital marketers will tell you that you absolutely can ‘create’ virality, there is no doubt a certain amount of luck involved too. That, and the need for a brilliant video in the first place.

Key Takeaways

  • Videos go viral because they are share-worthy. It sounds obvious, but make sure your video is genuinely funny, useful or interesting.
  • It does depend. But as a general rule, keep it short.
  • Make sure your video is easily found – both by viewers and the search engines.
  • Videos don’t go viral by themselves. Share it with your network – and identify/encourage influencers to share it with theirs.

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