Creating a viral video can be a big deal for a brand. More views equal more leads, which usually equal more sales. Plus, getting your product, service, or logo in front of millions can generate a long-term boost in brand awareness that allows you to compete with more established rivals.
Who wouldn’t want that?
There’s just one problem with going viral: No one really knows how it happens. It’s essentially impossible to predict whether a video will capture the hearts and minds of viewers (or leave them looking for something else to watch).
Even content creators who are known for publishing regular viral content only experience success a fraction of the time. The disappointing reality is that there is simply no magic formula for achieving internet celeb status overnight. Moreover, creators who publish content with the explicit goal of going viral often end up producing insipid, forgettable experiences that waste time and resources.
This is not to say you shouldn’t aim high. But your primary focus should be on making useful content that supports your brand’s message. You may not hit a home run with every video, but you should always strive to provide a compelling, high-quality experience that imparts important information in a strategic way. By thinking about the elements that many viral videos tend to share—and incorporating those into your own content—you can put yourself in the best position to succeed.
Follow These 4 Steps to Make Going Viral More Likely
1. Get to the Point
We all know attention spans are shrinking (props if you’re still reading this article), and your video will compete for views with virtually everything else on the internet. Your challenge: Provide as much value as possible in the little time you have. If certain elements of your video don’t serve a clear purpose, cut them.
What’s the ideal video length? Generally, you don’t want viewers to sit through a video that lasts more than a few minutes. But a lot can be accomplished in a matter of seconds. For instance, if you’re one of the 871 million people who have viewed the 2007 YouTube hit, “Charlie bit my finger – again!” you know that 55 seconds of home video footage can be pretty hilarious.
If you haven’t seen it, you’ll probably click the above link to watch it now. After all, it’ll only take a minute. On the other hand, if the video were five minutes long, it likely wouldn’t have had the same reach, and we likely wouldn’t be discussing it.
2. Make them feel it
The best stories elicit strong emotions, regardless of medium. Branded video content may not follow a story arc in quite the same way that “Game of Thrones” does, but it should still make viewers feel something—preferably something positive. Yes, negative viral content is a thing, and it can be painful for brands.
Remember Pepsi’s 2017 ad featuring Kendall Jenner? It earned millions of views, but for all the wrong reasons: It was accused of appropriating the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement. The backlash ultimately caused the beverage brand to pull the ad and probably cost Pepsi more than a few customers.
Having people watch your video out of frustration, anger, or disbelief isn’t ideal, so what emotions should you be trying to elicit? In 2018, the content marketing agency Fractl published “The Role of Emotions in Viral Content,” a study that looked at the specific emotions that viral videos commonly evoke among audiences. The top five? Amusement, interest, surprise, happiness, and delight.
If your video can get audiences feeling some combination of these emotions, it’s far more likely to be shared. Just ask “Laughing Chewbacca Mask Lady,” whose video has been viewed more than 12 million times since 2016, despite being more than four minutes long.
This woman exudes happiness, and it’s almost impossible not to watch her cackle with glee as she tells her story. Comments from viewers include things like “Your laugh is infectious” and “What a cute lady; I love her laugh.” These alone clue you into why this video became so popular.
The bottom line? If you can make people happy with your video, you’ll probably be happy with the engagement it receives.
3. Keep it relevant
Aligning your content with current events or cultural trends is always a great idea, although it may take extra work on your part if your brand isn’t naturally inclined to keep up with trending topics. Audiences don’t necessarily need your perspective on every single piece of news that graces the front page of Reddit or Twitter but don’t be afraid to hitch your wagon to a popular hashtag or meme if it’s relevant to your brand.
A recent ad from Aviation Gin shows how to do this the right way. In case you missed it, the 2019 holiday video spot pokes fun at another recent holiday ad—this one from Peloton—that received criticism for the way it promoted the popular exercise bike. Almost immediately after Peloton’s debacle made headlines, Aviation hired “Peloton wife” (the actress at the center of the misaligned video) to star in a humorous commercial that mocked the bike ad.
The gin company released its video quickly enough to capitalize on the traffic that Peloton’s misstep continued to generate, so there was already a captive audience ready to join the conversation around the ad. Not surprisingly, many advertisers and marketers praised Aviation’s move and viewed it as a case study in how to make relevant content.
4. Engage and interact with viewers
Creating branded content takes work, and that work doesn’t end when you hit the “post” button. As much as you’ll want to sit back, relax, and count your views, resist that urge. Instead, monitor engagement and try to identify trends in how audiences are reacting to your video.
If it starts to gain traction, look for opportunities to interact with viewers to keep the conversation going. If it’s not successful, evaluate audience reactions to figure out what to do differently in your next video.
When footage of a young dad having a hilarious conversation with his babbling baby went viral, the father gave a master class in how to leverage content into more opportunities. He and his loquacious infant got featured on CNN and “The Today Show.” Later, he was contacted by Denny’s to star in a commercial that alludes to the pair’s original viral video.
Finally publishing a piece of content that you’ve been working on for days, weeks, or months may feel like an ending, but it’s really just the beginning. You never know what will happen once you share your video with the world.
Seeing Greatness With Your Branded Video Production
Viral videos have launched billion-dollar empires (we see you, Dollar Shave Club), but video content that doesn’t “break the internet” can still be extremely effective. Focus on the things you can control as you create your brand video, and take the steps above to expand your content’s reach. Do this often enough, and one of your videos may end up becoming the next viral sensation.