The last time I blogged about viral videos, I examined the different types of viral videos that existed in the digital domain (Recap here). This time, I’m going to explore what it is (specifically the key elements) that helps a video go viral.

Now everyone wants to know how to make a successful viral video. For brands and marketers especially, knowing the exact formula on how to make a hit viral video would be a gold mine. They could potentially create highly influential ads at a minimal cost. Unfortunately (and perhaps fortunately) there is no set equation. Yet, there are trends in the content of viral videos (e.g. baby animals [see: Panda Sneezes], little kids [see: Charlie Bit My Finger]) and how they are released that can help videos become popular quickly.

The key factors of a viral video:

1. Strategy - Creating a viral video starts with strategy. You need to know who the target audience is and how to focus the video’s message to cater to that audience. Figuring out what your target audience is passionate about or what makes them tick will help motivate them into creating buzz for your video. You can fill your video with a bunch of celebrities, but unless it appeals to your audience then chances are your video won’t succeed.

New Era, famous for their baseball caps, released these “Rivalry” videos at the start of the 2011 Baseball season. The company’s target audience was clearly baseball fans gearing up for the upcoming season. The ad spread around quickly because it touched upon one of the oldest rivalries in the MLB, the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. And while not every fan supported the Yanks or the Red Sox, all fans could relate to rivalries and how competitive trash talking can get. The ad also featured actors Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”) and John Krasinski (“The Office”) but they were still relatable as friends who became enemies when it came to baseball.

2. Content – The actual subject matter of the video has to be compelling and interesting enough for people to pass it along. There are thousands of new videos popping up each and every day. Therefore to capture audiences, there has to be some “X-factor” or “It-factor” to the video, something engaging enough for people to take time out to share on YouTube and other Social Media platforms. As a consequence, when it comes to brands, most of their videos are somewhat “edgy” in an attempt to shock audiences and capture their attention.

Additionally, the length of the video is important. Most viral videos are short, generally around two minutes in length. Longer videos tend to lose audiences as attention spans run out.

Notice that the Skittles “Touch” ads are relatively short (running under a minute in length). It’s extremely concise and to the point, and audiences can easily understand the message of the ad (Literally “Touch the Rainbow”). The ad is edgy as well; although the ad begins with a cat “licking” the viewer’s finger, a man dressed as a cat soon comes out and takes over. That’s the “It-factor”: the unexpected twist of a man licking the user that grabs their attention. It’s a funny twist, and something that audiences will laugh at and share with others.

3. Timing – Timing is everything. Launching a video at the correct time is another key factor that plays into whether it will go viral or not. You definitely do not want to launch a holiday-themed video in the United States the middle of July when everyone is thinking about the beach and hot weather. Therefore, timing is key. It ties into strategy in that the video needs to be relevant to when it’s launched, appropriate to the correct season, and up-to-date with current pop events.

Volkswagen’s “The Force” had a huge advantage when it aired during the 2011 Superbowl to approximately 100 million people. With its cute main character and a reference to Star Wars almost everyone knew (I mean, be honest, we’ve all tried to use the Force at one point in our lives), the video became an Internet hit shortly after. But to create buzz for the video, Volkswagen actually released it before the Superbowl to allow users online to spread the word about this cute commercial that would be airing on television a week later. By timing it correctly, Volkswagen manage to maximize the influence and reach of the ad, helping it to go viral.

4. Distribution – Having the right channels of distribution is also important. Simply posting a video on YouTube and/or Facebook and hoping people will find it will not gather any views. Without promotion or advertisement, a video will simply remain hidden in the shadows. As mentioned previously, there are thousands of videos being posted each and every day. Finding a person or a group of people that align with your brand (or share similar characteristics) will help propel your video and your efforts. They can help get the word out quickly through their social media channels as well.

Potter Puppet Pals, a web series that parodies “Harry Potter,” tapped into the existing (and very dedicated) Harry Potter fan base when it created their video “The Mysterious Ticking Noise.” Originally posted it on YouTube, Potter Puppet Pals included easily trackable tags such as “Harry Potter” which helped fans quickly spread the videos after they discovered them. Potter Puppet Pals understood the far reach of the Harry Potter fan base, and by aligning their brand with the franchise, the video quickly became popular via the hundreds of people that had influence in the Harry Potter sphere and passed it on to different followers and websites.

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It’s important to mention again that there is no formula to create a viral video. However, the last four key factors mentioned will most certainly help when trying to promote one. Success comes with experimentation, so it’s important to see what works for you and your campaign goals.

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