6 Behind the Scenes Lessons of a Video Gone Viral

The “let’s make a viral video” request makes me cringe a little inside. Why? Well for one, what really constitutes a viral video? And second, you can never be absolutely sure something will catch fire and spread. There is always an element of uncertainty in creating a viral video. This is why I don’t believe in creating a viral video, I believe in combining viral ingredients; because it takes more than clicking publish on a video and praying for it to have any chance of going viral.

We recently worked with our client Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) to create this video gone viral.

Inspired by lessons I learned from this video, here are 6 ingredients I believe are essential to creating a potentially viral video recipe:  

1. Tell a great story

No matter what you’re selling or what action you want your audience to take, your story is the most important focus. If you tell a genuinely compelling story, your product or service will sell itself. The key is really to make a video that elicits a strong enough emotion or reaction from your audience that they feel compelled to share it with everyone they know. I assure you a blatant advertisement or testimonial for your company is not going to inspire people to share your video.

2. Follow a theme

Viral videos typically fall into three thematic categories:

3. Structure and optimize for online audiences

As far back as elementary school we are taught how to structure a story. Why? Because the ability to tell a story is important in every area of our lives. The goal with video is to structure a story with an initial element of surprise that then leads viewers on an emotional roller coaster and keeps them engaged to the very end.

Your video must also be optimized for online audiences. By the first 15-30 seconds your audience should know what your video is about. There may be more people than ever watching YouTube videos but with many different things competing for our attention at any given time, viewer attention span is only declining. Therefore, focus on creating a video that continuously earns your viewers’ attention. Your video should be relatively short (although there are always exceptions) and your title, video thumbnail, description and tags should be easily searchable and identifiable.

4. Engage your audience beforehand

If your company hasn’t already invested in engaging your audience the likelihood your video goes viral is slim. Building a dedicated social community takes time and investment. CHoR has invested time and energy in cultivating an engaged community of over 11,000 Facebook fans. Building on this established community, we involved patients and staff in our video and shared the video link with those who participated before the video went live on our Facebook page, causing them to feel further ownership in the video’s success. We also sent out hospital wide emails to share the video with the VCU Health System staff, targeting a key audience that is already vested in the organization.

5. Create an integrated campaign

CHoR didn’t just create a video to let it float out in the social web. This video was a critical element of our 2013 Holiday Cheer campaign, particularly because we wanted to build on the success of our first music video lip dub from 2012. We worked closely with the in-house team who played a significant role in managing the production, shoot and video edit. Each day leading up to the video launch we had a blog post from a different person featured in our video to see how they were going to #SpreadCheer during the holiday season and on the 12th day of the campaign we officially launched the video. We had an overall campaign strategy and within this strategy we had a very strategic video marketing plan. I promise you that behind every viral video is a well thought out campaign.

6. Media outreach and tastemakers

100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Yes, every minute. Sadly this means that even if you optimized your video and have the catchiest concept, your video could still be lost in the crowd. Which is why getting your video in front of online influencers and media outlets with large audiences relevant to your content is essential. For CHoR we identified a targeted list of relevant tastemakers to reach out to.  This research and outreach paid off and outlets such as HuffPost Good News, Parents.com, Access Hollywood, USA Today Sports and local Richmond broadcast stations  all covered the story, embedding the video on their site.

YouTube analytics shows a spike in traffic on December 17 with over 30,000 views in one day. With the initial flood of views the video needed, it then quickly took off and currently has almost 100,000 views. We know media outreach and tastemakers played a huge role in helping to share our video due to the spike in traffic right around the same time most of our media coverage took place and the fact that 87% of our views were from embedded video players.

Incurring a substantial amount of views stimulates further success because of the mob mentality, “if almost 100,000 people have viewed this video, it must be worth watching.”

These are just a few tips we learned in creating our most recent video. But if you ask me, the real unspoken secret behind every viral video is essentially one thing – a strategic and integrated marketing campaign. Really, it’s not about a viral video at all. It’s about engaging and invigorating a community to get behind something you have a shared passion for.

And if all else fails, you could always add some fairy dust for extra flavor and good luck.

What tips do you have for creating a catchy video? How else could you engage your audience?

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