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7 Study-based Tips on Making Viral Videos

What Does the Fox Say? by Ylvis has triumphed as the most viral video of 2013, while we are still humming “Oppa Gangnam Style” in the shower from time to time. Ylvis, the Norwegian comedy duo’s new book, which is based on the “Fox” video, has debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times' Best Sellers List for Children's Books.


As every marketer knows, viral videos are the mojo that generates wide attention and furthers brand engagement. But how to create virality? Not everybody is a big brand like Dove and Westjet. We can’t afford the Hollywood production values and blasting the video ubiquitously.


Sure. But if you look closer at those viral videos, made by the everyman, they are not just fluky successes. I was as curious as you are about the secret behind viral videos. So I went through seven serious studies on this topic and came up with the ultimate recipe for viral videos. See the big picture here on the right>>>


Ingredient Preparation



#howtobeviral tip1

Well-branded videos get more views. The key is to label the brand with good memories.


A study by Millward Brown has shown enjoyment, involvement and branding (how much integrated the brand is in the video) contribute to viral viewings. Aye, the same old ingredients as for TV advertising. While enjoyment and involvement are the sure winners, branding is tricky. Marketers tend to believe subtle brand integration in the video will be more appealing. Counterintuitively, strong branding results in more views. But it has one condition – the video must affix GOOD memories to the brand. Let’s see how Dollar Shave Club creates laughter and turns it into subscriptions.

#howtobeviral tip2

Being distinctive and creative matters more than what you are. But never forget about aligning social media goals with business goals.


In addition, according to the study, distinctiveness and popularity of celebrities are positively correlated to the volume of views. Oddly enough, category and brand involvement doesn’t have any obvious impact on viral views. How you are doing it matters more than what and who you are. If you are running a nail salon, you can still create a video that appeals to males – but you won’t do it because they are not your customers.



What are we cooking?



#howtobeviral tip3

Make your video have a personality that the viewers can identify themselves with.


Studies also show that viewers are more likely to forward videos on themes such as humor, sexuality, and good deeds. One of the studies reveals that ego-fulfillment is the most common strategy that successful viral videos use. Simply put, the videos help the viewers define themselves. Sharing THAT video on social platforms is one way to announce “this is who I am.”


Following  the ego-fulfilment, the other strategies that viral videos use heavily are "ration" and "acute need." To make a long story short, ration fulfillment is to meet the need for information, or offer solutions. Acute need means the customers are given limited time to make decisions, or be told how urgent the situation is. I bet you are thinking of KONY 2012, which is a perfect example of a good deed using rations and acute need appeals.



Where to set the fire?



#howtobeviral tip4

Seed your video in disconnected subculture communities.


"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I don’t know. But if no one shares your video in his/her circle, it doesn’t. Studies suggest instead of spreading the video as broadly as possible, marketers should seed the video in many disconnected subcultures. Because the viewers are unlikely to pass on the video if they think others have already seen it. By “others,” it means 150 people (Dunbar’s Number), the maximum amount of contacts that one can maintain stable social relationships with.




#howtobeviral tip5

Three MVPs make your video to prevail: mavens, social hubs, and salespeople.


The initial hosts of your video are the catalyst for the transformation of a video into an epidemic. They are market mavens, social hubs, and salespeople. They are not strangers to you if you’ve read The Tipping Point. Mavens are aggressive information gatherers and early adopters of new ideas. Social hubs are people who have exceptionally large number of connections, so they can easily bridge between different subcultures. A video starts its epidemic adventure once a maven shares it with a social hub. Just imagine Pete Cashmore shares your video on Mashable.


However, sometimes the mavens might not be convinced by the video per se to share it. Here’s when salespeople intervene. They are "persuaders, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills.” They shed some light on the video, make it more relevant, then transmit it to the social hubs. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


Till now your work is finished, but not the story. Actually, it just begins. It’s noteworthy that going viral needs some luck to be in the right place at the right time. A piece of breaking news can easily deprive the attention you are about to have.



Snowballing into an epidemic


#howtobeviral tip6

Making the viewers feel curious or surprised can boost the chance of being forwarded.


Now the social hubs have assembled a large number of spectators, but of course you want them to get further involved by sharing and discussing your video. Their intention to do so is subject to their feelings intrigued by the content. Curiosity and surprise are the dominant emotions that drive the viewers to share. Interestingly, negative emotions such as sadness, anger, disgust, and fear can also boost engagement.


My opinion is that our emotions are more complicated than black-and-white. There is no clear line between one another. More often than not, our emotions melt into each other. This video illustrates my point better than any words.


#howtobeviral tip7

People share certain videos to meet their needs to be individuated and altruistic.


From another angle of motivations for sharing, a study indicates that viewers who have the need for individuation and/or the need to be altruistic tend to forward the content. Viewers who have the need to belong, the need for personal growth, or high sense of curiosity are not likely to do so.


Another study examines different types of senders. It indicates that mavens forward content that contain elements they think the other person will like, which is consistent with the altruistic need. They share also when they are in the right “mood” and have the time, while “infrequent senders” tend to be selective in choosing the recipients.


Unfortunately, marketers are not wizards. We have no control over how people perceive and feel. But at least, having this knowledge in mind when we develop the content we can avoid the doom and groom.




Your turn


There must be more secrets behind viral videos.If you know one leak it in the comment: you’ll be even more heroic than Snowden ;-). And if you are running a viral video campaign, paste the link and let us have a look!

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