How to make a viral video

Viral video, viral content, viral media – these are the buzz phrases of two years ago, but people are still stuck on the concept of creating them for their businesses. Here’s an example of one, done by Rob Dyrdek for Carl’s Jr.:

With almost 350,000 views in three months, to the passive observer it would look like this is a viral video success. The catch is that it was produced on his MTV television show – so people knew it would be on there, went looking for it, saw it… so people found it because of mainstream media, not word of mouth. And viral content is all about word of mouth.

But so what, right? A lot of people saw the video, Carl’s Jr. got some press out of it, some burgers and fries were sold – who cares how the video was promoted?

Well, it’s a semantic point, but a pretty clear one: Real viral videos are difficult to create, because they require other people to take an interest in them. If you’re using mainstream media to promote your video, then mainstream media gets credit for the success.

For instance, the Weezer video for “Pork and Beans,” which was released first on YouTube, now has over 18,000,000 views, and got some 800,000 in its first week. That’s not viral either, as the band already had a following of millions. If your brand already has a following of millions, then you can certainly aim them all at a video and get a lot of views. But if your brand already has a following of millions, your time might be better spent aiming them at buying something. (Unless you’re a band. This has worked out great for Weezer, since the video is an advertising tool for the album anyway, right?)

A lot of business owners would look at all this and say, “Hey! Let’s make a video of our own too,” and overlook the importance of having an MTV reality show covering the story behind the video. Real viral content gets passed around over time, and succeeds because of the quality of it.

That’s a difficult hurdle for most viral content producers to get – it has to be quality. It can’t just be another piece of advertising that was produced for television and popped out onto YouTube. It’s also why there are fewer and fewer truly interesting pieces of content that get spread around like this. It still happens, but naturally. Otherwise YouTube is now a home for millions of mediocre attempts at “getting views,” and content from major media outlets: NBC, CBS, BBC… and the aforementioned MTV. This is your new competition if you’re looking to produce viral media.

Blendtec has had a lot of success producing their own content for YouTube. They obliterate products all the time with their blenders, and they get a lot of views. These kinds of videos are easily passed around, and without any other media spending, they get people to look at their blenders.

Blendtec

Blendtec

Why? Because they were scripted by an army of comedy writers or hired those incredibly creepy Cirque de Soleil acrobats? No, it’s just interesting to see. That’s all it needs to be. You can get away with getting this kind of notice on video sites easily enough if you can figure out what it is about yourself people want to see. You probably won’t get it the first time, either – you’ll have to create a bunch of videos, with several different concepts, before you hit the one that gets people’s attention, if you want it to meet the magical “viral” expectation.

So the strategy for viral content?

1) Dream up some interesting concepts
2) Shoot them all
3) Release them on YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, etc.
4) Tell your closest friends that they’re out there, and invite them to look at them. DO NOT tell everyone they’re out there, as that looks like what it is – desperation. If your friends think something you’ve done is funny, they’ll share it around.

Presto! Once one of those takes off, you’ll be Bill Gates rich. Or maybe you won’t. But you’ll have a lot of views, and that’s what you were after.

leavebritneyalone

Just remember, you need to make a LOT of different productions, some of them over and over with different angles. (Not camera angles – think Blendtec killing an iphone, then a rake, then a VCR. Different angles on the same concept.) Remember, that Strange Ranger who did the “Leave Britney Alone” video was doing that for a year and a half before that one took off.

If he’d have been selling eyeliner or hair bleaching systems, he’d be rolling in cash by now!

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