Characteristics of Successful Viral Content

Before we go into what makes a successful viral content, let’s examine exactly what it is.

Initially, viral videos started as a marketing strategy for firms to sell their goods in the early 90’s. These were mainly passed on via email as this was before the advent of social media video sharing hubs such as YouTube.

The term ’viral’ refers to the way in which the video got passed on. One would see it and for whatever reason it would strike a chord (viewers would be metaphorically infected) and they would pass it on to others (infect them) who would receive it in a similar manner, hence its views would increase exponentially.

Going Viral

Social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Bebo have now replaced email as the main conduits of viral content, and so what initially started as a marketing tool has resulted in people uploading videos purely for fun (i.e. The Harlem Shake) knowing they have the potential to go viral.

It is almost impossible to quantify what qualifies as ’going viral’ as there is no industry standard as far as figures go, but all agree that it is not just the amount of views that count but the amount within a certain time frame. For example, in 2009, the Social Times suggested that 5 million views in 3 to 7 days constituted a video going viral.

Keys to Success for Viral Marketing

The initial video must be targeted towards individuals to act as ’spreaders’.

These are people who are active and have a large following on social networking sites. It is also important to ensure that these people have a strong interest in/affection for the product being advertised and are therefore more likely to pass it on and be more enthusiastic about getting the message out.

It can be even more effective to reach out to these spreaders a few months in advance in order to prime them and turn the venture into more of a partnership with a coherent plan, as opposed to posting the video and hoping for the best.

It is also important to have a platform to launch the video from. If it is buried in some deep, dark corner of the internet, people may not come across it.

Hence, it is wise to choose a category with high visibility. For example, on YouTube if you wanted to post a funny video about an animal and put it in the comedy section, a million plus views would be needed to make the leader board as opposed to just 150,000 if posted under the pets and animals category.

Once the video proves successful, it is vital to keep people’s interest going.

The spreaders have a part to play by continuing to push the video, while the marketing company can make sure that any interest garnered is kept up by providing links to where people can find out information on their products, making sure their video is featured on popular websites and perhaps producing follow up videos to keep the momentum going.

Viral Success: Accidental and Non-Accidental

With the ever increasing use of the internet worldwide and access to gadgets such as smartphones capable of instantly uploading data, there have been some inadvertent viral stars as well as those who have made it through careful strategic planning. The success of such videos is hard to explain definitively, but most of the videos have one or more of the following listed components:

Inadvertent Humor: For example, someone berating a traffic warden unaware they are being filmed or celebrity melt downs. In addition, certain topics always seem to touch a chord such as unusual animal behavior or babies/toddlers doing funny things.

Shocking videos which people need to see to believe; a recent example being the Syrian rebel leader who allegedly cut open a victim and ate his heart.

Emotive Content: often used by charities in a bid to get the viewer to sympathize with the plight of those more unfortunate than them.

Indeed, what started as a marketing tool has now taken on a life of its own with some people just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and others deliberately self-marketing (as in the case of PSY and his Gangnam Style video which bought him worldwide fame).

However it is fair to say that entertainment, humor, shock value and accessibility are all key to viral success, whether marketing, self-promoting or if the success is inadvertent.

About the Author:
Amy Harris is the Community Manager for Expert Market UK, a B2B website. She enjoys discovering creative ways to share content on the web and entertain audiences with viral content.