Viral Videos: Five Questions to Ask Yourself

During the past month alone, I have received eight client requests to produce "viral videos."

While it can be tempting to just say yes, it is important for anyone contemplating a viral video to honestly assess five questions to determine if they really want to proceed with the chase:

Are you being realistic? If you think posting a very entertaining video on YouTube and watching it take off with millions of views is a given, think again. You are up against a ton of content, and it is possible you will barely even get noticed.  

Consider that if the three major US networks were broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for the last 60 years, they still wouldn't have broadcast as much content as is uploaded to YouTube every 30 days -- this according to Hunter Walk of YouTube.

How edgy are you willing to be? Most agree that some of the key elements to helping a video go viral are: hot chicks or hunky dudes; sexual innuendo; shock and surprise; violence; partial nudity; the unexpected; and minimal branding. Do any of these subjects make you (and your brand) cringe? 



Edgy videos are the ones you receive, laugh about, but then worry about who's appropriate to receive it in a "pass along." Are you ready for a mass distribution of something edgy that has your brand featured, even minimally? How will all of your customer segments react to the work? Will they all be pleased to see this spot? 

Will your video ever really see the light of day? Well, you've taken the risk, and you've got that edgy, shocking, unique video that you'd like to get out to the masses.  Congratulations.   

Now, will be approved by senior management, and let's not forget the ever-popular legal department? Many companies have wonderful "viral videos" sitting on the shelf because someone in the approval pipeline said "no way". The elements of viral most likely will not sit well with more conservative senior leadership teams, and you already know that lawyers may go ballistic. 

Do you have a real plan? You can assume that virtually nobody will see your video without a real distribution plan in place, but developing one can be very helpful.   

Robin Neifield, CEO of Netplus Marketing, recently posted some distribution strategies, which she has allowed me to paraphrase:

·       Make sharing features prominent and accessible throughout the content.

  •      Plan on a paid media advertising component to generate awareness.  
  •   Give your distribution plan time to unfold.
  •   Distribute to your own customers first ... they'll start the sharing process.
  •   Don't forget about focused SEO and video SEO (lots of search engine indexing opportunities).
  •   Submit to all the video sharing sites and content channels (there's a ton of them).
  •       Consider submitting to bookmarking sites like Digg, etc.
  •        Engage relevant bloggers, discussion boards and review sites.

  •       Post on your Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
  •       Track your buzz using platforms like Radian6.

    Contrary to popular belief, great viral videos usually don't happen by accident, but through a combination of great planning and yes, some good fortune.  As Duncan Southgate from Millward Brown noted: "Cross fingers!...Anyone planning a viral campaign needs to acknowledge there is always an element of luck."

    Speaking of which, I wish you the best if you've determined that viral video is for you.   

  • 5 comments about "Viral Videos: Five Questions to Ask Yourself".
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    1. Alex Vachon from Cartouche Creations, March 9, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.

      And there's nothing like a great story to engage the audience. Do you find that Hollywood stars can be a big factor in creating a viral vortex? (Viral Vortex... I'll copyright the expression).

    2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., March 9, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

      Planning a viral video is like planning to go to a bar, meet the girl of your dreams and take her home for hot, steamy all-night sex. It's something you can think about, plan for...and yes, even practice by yourself - but the odds of it actually happening are about the same as you getting killed by bees or winning the Jersey Lottery. Yeah, you can't win if you don't play - but the odds of you winning are astronomical. No one could've predicted that one of the "most watched" videos on the web would be a rap remix of a guy talking about an apartment rape. All of this might be fun if you're a trust funder, but for the rest of us working video stiffs, doing location video of Transmission shops will pay the mortgage. And yo, Poptent (don't type in the .com whatever you do) there are only 6 "active" assignments on your site (with the exception of your in-house demo reel contest) and most of them have thousands of people attempting a shot at hundreds of bucks - can a purchase by AOL be far behind?

    3. Bob Kiger from Videography Lab, March 9, 2011 at 12:52 p.m.

      The idea that in order to attain a viral campaign "Most agree that some of the key elements to helping a video go viral are: hot chicks or hunky dudes; sexual innuendo; shock and surprise; violence; partial nudity; the unexpected; and minimal branding. Do any of these subjects make you (and your brand) cringe?"

      This statement doesn't make me cringe ... it makes me laugh tears of it's "truthiness". It is an evolution of videography that is now morphing into a state of Involution. Yes. Involution/Evolution are balancing systems and recognition of the exact moment to present Quality, with sufficient fire power to wake up cultural instincts in folks is key.

      As an appetizer may I humbly present my personal solution at

    4. Scott Waxenberg from TBG Digital, March 9, 2011 at 2:16 p.m.

      Neil - what did you think of the Smart Water/Jen Aniston video that launched 2 days ago? It's certainly fun and a bit edgy with many of the web's favorite subjects: beautiful girl, lip synching kid, dancing babies, puppies, double-rainbow guy, etc. Already up to around 2.5MM views. Will we see more like it?

    5. Alexandrea Day from Webshoz, Inc., March 9, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.

      What's missing on the link of where to post your viral video candidate is: in the Videobar by Webshoz.

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