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Live from #SXSW: What really makes a video go viral?

6th Street at SxSw Video is one of the most powerful tools that brands have to tell their story and build a connection with their audience. But there is a common misconception that all a brand needs to do is make a video and put it online for it to go “viral.” At the South by Southwest panel “Viral is a Dirty Word,” Ogilvy’s Robert John Davis and Jeremy Sanchez explained a four-step plan for crafting videos that can draw a crowd and advance a cause or sell a product.

  1. Have a plan. No one is going to magically stumble across a video that no one put any effort into planning and producing — much less watch and share it. Start by pulling trending words from Google and look for “trigger” terms that will help craft a message your audience will find valuable. When coming up with your concept, look to target specific groups of people, rather than try to pull off a concept you think appeals to everyone. Remember: The most important thing about a video for a brand is the “post-play interaction.” What the viewer clicks on after they watch the video is crucial. Keep in mind that most viewers who start your video won’t finish it, so don’t put a URL or call to action during the last few seconds. Get them in early. Lastly, think about the platforms your audience views your videos on, because the aesthetic quality will change from desktop, to tablet, to mobile. The Google Multi-Channel Funnel is a great way to harvest this data.
  2. Get creative … in context. It’s not always the “quirkiest” video that garners 100,000 views in the first week. Videos have a job to do over time and should fulfill a combination of content roles. One great way to figure out your ideal content combo is to base it on your long tail search engine optimization efforts, or for a more basic campaign, simply build a concept around your top SEO phrases. One key factor to remember before posting videos to YouTube: Check that your channel name is available and grab it, and don’t name your channel after the campaign. Name your channel after your brand or business. This creative process is the ideal time to remember that you’re not making TV shows — people tend to fast forward or leave most videos, so the PPI you give them within the first 30 seconds is key.
  3. Don’t forget about distribution and promotion. We tend to think that “viral” means free. Not the case. Videos take time to catch fire, and if you want them to make their way around the Web, you have to remember to do more than just tagging and posting to social networks. There are three kinds of media you can use to complete the promotion circle: paid, earned and owned. Paid media is the most important to marketers, because regardless of the creativity behind your video, there’s a 99% chance that it will not reach a fraction of the audience you have in mind unless you pay to promote it. You can also use promotions and content partnerships to your advantage if you’ve got the budget to fit them in. Earned comes from sharing, blog features and embeds on YouTube, which is a direct result of proper tagging, relevant content and a little of the paid stuff paying off. Of course, owned is you promoting through your social media channels, putting on your website, etc. A combination of all three is what’s going to drive your video to ultimate success.
  4. Measure what matters. Just because a video receives thousands of shares, likes and comments does not mean it’s actually moved a business forward. Focus on long-term metrics to determine the success of your video. Use business metrics, such as the PPI, leads generated, amount of product sold, etc. Again, most of this data needs time to be properly tracked, but it’s going to prove the most valuable to your clients, your business, and most importantly, the time and creative effort it takes to design, create and distribute a successful video online.

Brands making videos should remember: Without a hook, your video probably won’t reach more than 1,000 viewers. Less than 4% of videos on YouTube exceed 100,000 views. The point is to reach a targeted audience and give them visual content that drives them to do something to your brand’s benefit. Keep that in mind and remember that humor, creativity and storytelling are what make brand videos worth watching.

Constance Aguilar is a social media strategist and account manager at Abbi Public Relations, where she oversees client strategy on both social media channels and through traditional media relations as well as event producing. You can follow her on Twitter@ConnieAguilar and read her blog posts at The Abbi Agency Blog.

Image credit: Geoff Livingston

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