Understanding Viral: It’s Not That Easy

This post, written by Andy Kutcher, originally appeared on FSC Inter@ctive’s blog. Read on about how Andy views viral videos and how to create content that spreads like wildfire.

One thing I can’t stand to hear as an online marketing professional is “we’re going to make a viral video” or “we just launched a “viral marketing campaign” or really any combination of complete and utter pretension and arrogance with the words viral, marketing and video. You can’t simply make a viral video. You don’t just launch a viral campaign. Sure, those things can be goals but you don’t just create “viral.” But you can create better content.

I recently did a presentation with some members from Rebuilding Together during their national conference in New Orleans, and I spoke about understanding what viral means in terms of marketing. Here is my clearest and most concise definition:Viral content (usually referring to videos) is anything that gains significant popularity, which is typically spread through online shares and views, within a short period of time.

Call me crazy but I just don’t think there is any way to guarantee viral. I cannot guarantee any client that the video we just shot will garner thousands of views and spread through the interwebs like wildfire and that’s what viral content is. Viral is truly a perfect storm of situation and content. Your content has to hit the right people at the right time and send the right message. You can’t predict or plan that.

You can, however, create content that is better, and better means more potential. The following are our five simple guidelines for producing better content:

1. Make it funny. Everyone loves a good laugh. I can all but guarantee that no one read the Best Roommate Ever Craigslist post because they thought the guy would actually be the best roommate ever. Who ever wrote that listing was so completely ridiculous you couldn’t help but laugh. I’m sure whoever wrote that didn’t plan for it to get picked up by Huffington Post and the likes, but it did. And it garnered a ton of views and impressions (over 2,000 Likes and 1,000 Shares of the HuffPost reprint alone). Congrats, 25 year-old professional marketing agent with experience at bad-ass companies – your post went viral.

2. Make it Unique/Amazing. Did you ever think you’d see an average Joe dancing like an idiot with children in Timbuktu and 30 seconds later you’d see the same guy dancing in Lisbon? Doesn’t sound that impressive or exciting, does it? But it is. In the 2008 video Where the Hell is Matt? a young man from Connecticut named Matt (obviously) traveled through 42 different countries. In each and every place he visited, he danced. The video starts with him doing an incredibly silly jig but by about the 0:54 mark he’s dancing in huge groups with people from all over the world. It says so much about human nature and the way we interact with each other without actually saying one word. It literally gives me goosebumps every time I watch it and I’m clearly not only considering the video has been watched 40,000,000+ times.

3. Make it Heartwarming. If you can’t feel good watching a heartwarming video about animals or babies or baby animals, you probably don’t have a soul. Seriously, you should get that checked out ’cause it’s just not normal. Everyone loves a feel-good story that tugs at our emotions. We all have some understanding of loss and appreciate those stories with happy endings. For example, the Animal Odd Couple feature from CBS News is a story about an unlikely friendship between Tara, an elephant and Bella, a dog. During the course of the story, the reporter talks about a horrific spinal cord injury Bella suffered and that Tara for three weeks stood by her side. I’m basically tearing up writing about it. This video has over 4 million views on YouTube alone which is clearly indicative of our obsession with heartwarming tales. Want another example (No? Too bad, I’m going to give one). How about the kid who learned to ride a bike and gave a speech that ended with “Thumbs Up…For Rock N Roll!” Yeah, that video is so cute it garnered over 3 million views.

4. Be Controversial. This is perhaps the most difficult for people – particularly when developing videos for their brands – to swallow. Being controversial can be hard, it can also be genius. During the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga appeared on stage in full drag. She also had an incredibly awkward almost-kiss encounter with the often controversial Britney Spears. There was a lot of chatter surrounding her getup including a whopping 237,000 mentions on Twitter (second only to Beyonce’s baby bump). But did this controversial appearance in any way cause damage to Lady Gaga’s reputation? Don’t make laugh. Lady G has made a living out of being controversial and it’s clearly working for her.

5. Make it Helpful. People, for lack of a better word, are lazy. And if I can go to YouTube and watch someone else figure out how to do something instead of figuring it out myself, I will. We live in the Google age and if you’re looking for direction or instructions, chances are there’s a video about it. You want to learn how to put on make up like a typical high school girl? There’s a video. With over 1,000,000 views. You read that right. Congrats lady who wears too much make up. You’re cyber famous! All kidding aside, helpful videos for everyday things like applying makeup and styling hair are some of the most popular content on YouTube. So even though I joke, it’s cool that I can learn things like how to remove scratches from DVDs without leaving the interwebs.

Here’s my final piece of advice: keep it interesting. If you’re bored reading or watching it, why will anyone else want to? And remember, just because your content doesn’t get a million views and a thousand shares doesn’t mean you’re not successful. Not everyone can be Lady Gaga in Drag or Matt from Connecticut, but no one else can be you either, so keep your content genuine and interesting and you’re bound to see success.

Original Post: http://www.fscinteractive.com/2011/11/16/understanding-viral-its-not-that-easy/