Is There A Science To Making A Viral Video?

Michael Brenner on Dec 21, 2015 in Content Marketing

For years, one of my favorite marketing jokes came from my friend Todd Wheatland in answering the question we all receive in corporate marketing departments: How to make a viral video?

Todd proposed only one viable answer: “Shut up!”

Those of us in marketing know that video isn’t going anywhere. Cisco predicts that video traffic will account for 80% of all internet traffic by 2019. Many marketers agree with Cisco on video’s potential – 41% of surveyed agencies believe video is as effective as TV, and 31% reported that video ads are more effective than TV ads.

Consumer appetite for videos also supports this content marketing prediction. In its first-ever Top 100 Brand Report, YouTube found that views of the top 100 brands’ video content have nearly doubled in the last 12 months – consumers have watched their videos more than 18 billion times last year.

Businesses who haven’t invested in a content marketing video strategy should really start now because you are losing out on opportunities to engage consumers and generate more sales. If you are ready to get started, here are some tips and best practices you can follow to create highly shareable videos for your company.

8 Lessons From American Greetings “World’s Toughest Job” Video

Chances are you’ve watched that “World’s Toughest Job” video, which was created by American Greetings for their Mother’s Day campaign last year. If not, you should really watch it now. Why? Just five days after it was posted, the video garnered a whopping 13.8 million views and 1.6 million social shares.

There are lots of great lessons marketers can take away from this video:

  1. “No Guts, No Glory.”

Originally Mullen Lowe, the advertising agency behind the video campaign, had planned to take a more conventional approach with their paid media promotion plan, like many of their past campaigns. But the team knew that for people to really connect with the video, it had to be shared organically with their audience rather than being forced on them like ads. So they scraped their original promotion plan and opted for a new, riskier strategy focused on PR- and earned-media-led promotion tactics. The risk paid off in the end as the video campaign was a huge success and generated lots of media buzz.

Lesson: You need a good plan to distribute and promote every video you create. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something new and different that has higher potential for impact.

  1. “PR Has The Power.”

Most of the time PR is left out or brought in at the end of the advertising process. But the Mullen team started engaging and pitching the idea to media outlets early on, and when the video campaign finally launched their efforts paid off. The story was immediately picked up by many media outlets on the day of campaign launch, and generated over 733 million earned impressions from coverage by The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and Huffington Post, and many more.

Lesson: People make videos go viral, but the media fuels their sharing. When creating a video, think about how you can leverage press and influencers to drive promotions and social sharing.

  1. “Never Underestimate The Power Of A Great Headline.”

The first media outlet to pick up the video was Adweek, which ultimately contributed the most video views and shares among all the outlets who ran the story. The Mullen team analyzed why the Adweek article was so successful, and they found that the headline played a huge role in the viral growth of the video. The title created enough suspense to capture people’s attention, and it was also short enough for people to share easily on character-limited channels like Twitter. This encouraged more people to click, read related coverage, and share.

Lesson: Create a short but compelling headline that piques people’s interest to learn more and watch your video.

  1. “Don’t Scream Into The Wind.”

The Mullen team decided to launch the video a full month before Mother’s Day. While this was a little risky, they felt this early start would allow them to get their message out and avoid competing with all the other Mother’s Day noise generated before the actual day. This plan worked, and the video continued to generate impressive numbers of views and shares and maintain momentum through Mother’s Day.

Lesson: When planning your launch date, think about how you can work with timing, not against it.

  1. “The Media Behaves Like People.”

Just like how viral content spreads among people, media outlets follow and share what influencers in their industry are sharing. The Mullen team observed how the media who first reported the story became the source for other outlets, and the influential ones prompted activities from their followers and counterparts.

Lesson: Target influential media outlets and individuals and get them on board with promoting your video, and the rest will follow.

  1. “A Little Controversy Is A Good Thing.”

Initially the Mullen team was concerned about opposing views that started appearing during the campaign. Some argued that dads also have a difficult job and that being a mom isn’t the toughest job. These trends were picked up by the media and some used these as a way to stand out from other media coverage. But people, including moms, started defending the video on their own, and the contrary opinions remained in the minority.

The video’s ability to spark interesting, passionate debate helped gain additional media coverage and extended the video’s viral lifespan, which all contributed to its social growth.

Lesson: Aim to inspire an emotional connection that can engage or resonate with your audience.

  1. “People Need to Feel Something To Share Something.”

Looking more closely at their data after the campaign ended, the Mullen team found that there were two specific frames within the video that had the biggest impact on its viral success. As the participants in the video expressed moments of surprise, happiness and personal reflection, so did the viewers. The video’s ability to make a real emotional connection was a very powerful motivator to keep people watching and sharing the video.

Lesson: People feel what they see, so make your viewers feel something with your video and move them to action with that emotional response.

  1. “There Is No Formula For Making Something Go Viral.”

As much as we would like there to be a bulletproof formula to replicate, there is no such secret recipe that will guarantee viral success. What marketers can do is learn from the videos that have gone viral and use these as best practices and inspiration for success.

Lesson: Use videos that have gone viral as guides to help you identify patterns and insights that will improve your future performance.

The Science Behind Highly Shareable Content

So what else can you do to produce highly shareable videos? According to research The New York Times conducted a few years ago, they found that people shared content primarily for these five reasons:

  • To share valuable or entertaining content with others.
  • To give people a better sense of who they are.
  • To stay connected and maintain relationships with others.
  • To feel more involved in their community or in the world.
  • To spread the word about causes they care about.

To encourage people to share your video, you should aim to fulfill at least one of these five reasons. To increase your shareability even more, you can also incorporate these five tactics into every video you create:

  1. Appeal to people’s desire to connect with others, not just with your brand.
  2. Keep your story and message simple, don’t overcomplicate it.
  3. Appeal to people’s sense of humor, make them laugh.
  4. Work to build trust with your audience. Don’t give the ‘hard sell.’
  5. Create a sense of urgency so people will act on your video.

Maximizing Your Video ROI

The best branded viral videos aren’t created by accidents. A great video won’t go viral if no one shares it. Conversely, it doesn’t matter how viral your video is, if the video doesn’t deliver the business results you want it likely isn’t very effective. You need an integrated strategy that ties your video and content to lead generation, marketing and sales efforts to truly accomplish your business goals.

4 steps to guide your video development process

  1. Work with the relevant departments to determine the goals you want to accomplish with your video. Then craft the story with a storyboard, with an organized timeline of additional content you can use to amplify the video.
  2. Depending on your budget, you can create your video with a smartphone, webcam, professional-grade equipment, or with a media agency. You also need to develop plans for your social media and email campaigns as well as other related promotional content.
  3. Publish and work with media and influencers to promote your video.
  4. Measure and compare your video’s performance against the established goals. Identify what worked well and didn’t work to improve future performance.

What other tips or best practices have you found useful to produce highly shareable content? Please share your ideas below!

viral video

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.