Think of some of the viral content you have seen in the last few years. What comes to mind? Heman’s ‘What’s Going On’, Where The Hell Is Matt?, Gangnum Style…everyone has seen these videos, and they are still getting regular views. But they are only a small collection of examples, and they are all completely different. What is it that made them hit viral status, and how can you emulate their formula for your own videos?
I always find this a really hard question to answer. Mainly because people don’t always like what I have to say about it. The biggest element I think applies to viral content is luck, plain and simple. Sometimes the cards are just dealt in such a way that it boosts a video into superstar status. All while similar or even near identical videos remain in obscurity, never finding the success of that single clip that caught so much attention.
After all, did the Literal Music Video craze, even with the popularity of Dustin McLean’s original Aha version, really take off until David A Scott released his Total Eclipse of the Heart dub? It certainly didn’t spike in the mainstream media until that point, launching the videos that came before it into greater infamy.
However, I don’t want to make you think that luck is the only factor. It isn’t; high quality can definitely play a part. While occasionally you will have something with low production values or straight-up badly made launch into the viral consciousness, it is a rarity. Usually something with more time and effort put in will gain a better foothold.
The Jonah Berger Factor
You may have never heard of Jonah Berger, but he is one of the leading experts in viral content and social media sharing. Professor of Marketing at Wharton University of Pennsylvania, he released a paper talking about the different elements that make up a viral video or piece of ‘contageous content’.
According to him, there are certain things more likely to launch something into popularity. These are: positive messages or themes, anything that evokes a powerful emotional response, and something offering a practical explanation of how something works or how to do something.
These all make sense. Remembering the many viral videos that have taken the web by storm, they all seem to fit into these categories. Especially when you think about the things that are shared on sites like Facebook, which are usually emotionally based or feel-goody in the extreme. Or the millions of practical DIY photos and links that are littering Pinterest. Then of course the videos that get the most views on YouTube, which are usually funny, inspiring, frightening or heart warming; all intense emotional reactions.
I think that Professor Berger is certainly onto something. But keep in mind that you might hit every one of these ticks, while still maintaining an awesome quality in your content, and it might never reach viral status. That is where I think luck really does come in; sometimes the stars just seem aligned, so to speak.