Digital Transformation

How to make a video go viral

By Scott Button |

July 4, 2013 | 6 min read

As more and more brands look to provide online content to engage with consumers and turn them into 'fans', the desire for scale for online video has never been so great. Scott Button, Co-Founder and CEO at Unruly offers his insight on how to take a piece of online video content and make it go viral.

1. Embrace the opportunity

With trust in advertising on the wane and peer-to-peer influence on the rise (peer recommendations account for 20-50% of all purchase decisions according to research by Mckinsey), it’s no surprise that advertisers are investing more in their video marketing strategy. Social video is an emotionally involved, non-interruptive format. And it’s exploding. The top 500 adverts attracted over 113 million shares in 2012 (Source: Unruly).

2. Focus on your goals

It seems that any brand CMO’s CV is not complete without at least one viral video campaign to shout about. However, just releasing a video you think is funny without any paid distribution in the hope of it attracting loads of earned (free) media is the strategic equivalent of sticking your hand in a haystack and hoping to pull out a needle. A social video which is specifically targeted towards your audience and your KPIs (whether they be to drive action, advocacy, attention or awareness) will bring you more success than trying to create the next ‘Viral’ hit.

3. Stay on trend

Tapping into the zeitgeist is central to creating contagious content. Memes are particularly hot property, with sensations like Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake propelling ‘meme’ into Merriam-Webster’s top 10 words of the year. Another trend brands like Pepsi, Carlsberg, Nivea and Adobe are piggy-backing is ‘prankvertising’, where brands “punk” real people, film their responses and watch the views and shares roll in.

4. Elicit a strong psychological response

There are hundreds of variables which dictate the shareability of video content. But one of the most significant factors in our Unruly ShareRank algorithm is the intensity of the psychological response elicited in the viewer. If you can pull an emotional trigger really hard, hard enough to provoke a physical reaction in your viewer, then you’re going in the right direction.

5. Give people a reason to share

Another key set of variables in calculating shareability involves social motivations to share - the reasons a viewer has to share a video with their friends. There are many excellent videos that never made it to the top of the Unruly Viral Video Chart because there was no compelling reason for the viewer to share the video. Popular motivations to share include altruism (think Kony 2012), practical utility (which film should we watch tonight?) and reaction seeking (like Kmart’s Ship My Pants).

6. Experiment with length

We’ve seen a shift in brands developing longer format content which goes beyond the 30-second TV spot. At 3 minutes long, Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches resonated with consumers by building a strong emotional connection and developing a before/after and self-image/external perception narrative which couldn’t be achieved in 30 seconds. Launched in April, this has already become the most viewed online ad of all time. At the same time, we’ve seen high-impact, highly shareable short-form content created on Vine by brands such as Burberry, Samsung and Weetabix. Length has no effect on shareability - provoking a strong emotional response, incorporating relevant social motivations and cross-pollination across platforms and devices matters more.

7. Distribute it quickly

Once you’ve understood your video’s shareability and optimized your content strategy, maximizing your viral peak with smart distribution is vital. When it comes to branded content, on average, 25% of shares occur within the first three days. Generating a large number of views early on increases the likelihood of creating a viral cascade in the first crucial days as well as raising visibility on search engines in order to increase the long term discoverability of your content.

8. Make your content portable

Smartphone and tablet usage is rocketing and 37% of consumer media consumption occurs on mobile devices. Watching videos is the third most popular activity on smartphones and campaign performance is now 24.2% higher on mobile platforms than on desktop. This is a big opportunity. Currently only 3% of US advertising is allocated to mobile, even though mobile viewers are much more likely to share and engage with content.

9. Measure your success

By integrating interactive features such as Buy Now Buttons and conversion tracking on 3rd party sites, you can ensure social video delivers measurable results at all points in the purchase funnel. And whether it’s shares, tweets, downloads or likes, be sure to benchmark your social share of voice against your competitors.

10. Look ahead

The 2014 World Cup presents huge opportunities for viral, in-the-moment content. Global sporting events often attract exhilarating, zeitgesity content that crosses national borders and language barriers. Plus Brazilians are self-confessed video junkies with the highest sharing activity in the world. So start planning your social video strategy now.

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