Truth be told, there is no single magic recipe for creating a viral video. But that doesn’t mean you should stop reading here—there are certain factors in place that make it much more likely for your content to gain popularity and be shared en-masse across platforms or, in other words, go viral. Video marries audio-visual content—the two best parts of digital media—into one likeable, shareable, tweetable package, which makes it the most likely to go viral. And with viral success comes publicity. Even the most unexpected or most average people (or animals, or things) can turn into viral stars overnight.
According to the Harvard Business Review, these are the two most powerful drivers of viral success:
Psychological response: how does the content make you feel? If it doesn’t evoke something in the viewer, regardless of that is, it’s not going to succeed. Funny videos obviously make viewers laugh. They spread joy. How else would you explain the popularity of videos like the “ain’t nobody got time for that” lady? Humorous video content is the most likely to go viral, with one Harris Poll survey finding that 55% of millennials and 40% of all survey respondents said laughter was the most important factor when sharing a viral video.
But there are clearly other emotions that viral videos can evoke which prompt viewers to like and share. Those can be sadness (“Most Shocking Second a Day”, in which we follow a young girl in London as if it were Syria), cuteness (otters holding hands, self-explanatory), or the “you have to see this” factor–which can mean something is just plain weird or crazy enough to spread like, well, crazy. Sad or shocking videos can garner just as many shares as funny ones, such as the unfortunate video of Arab men being kicked off a plane for speaking Arabic.
The point is to prompt an emotional response. Whether that’s positive or negative is up to you, but the more intense that emotional response is, the more likely your content is to be shared. Keep in mind, however, that the same study suggested that the complexities behind what people find funny enough to share are hard to quantify, as it obviously varies from person to person. It was implied that the most important ingredients in the viral recipe are quite simple: warmth (58%) and happiness (56%). Aww, right?
Social motivation was said to be the other most important aspect of video virality. Why would someone want to share your videos with others, giving you free advertising? What does it do for them? Unsurprisingly, this goes hand-in-hand with psychological response. Is your video content strong enough to make someone say, “this made me feel (emotion), and I want my social circles to see it and feel (emotion) too?” A survey by Unruly found that opinion-seeking was the strongest motivator for social sharing, followed by conversation starting. Social utility, self-expression, and shared passion were top contenders, as well.
As with anything, timing is an important factor to consider. This goes for the length of the video as well as the time of release. Engaging viewers in the first 30 seconds is crucial as attention spans are short and your audience has already significantly dropped off by then. Launch day and time also matters! Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays tend to see most engagement as people are checking their emails and feeds in the morning before their day starts, as they commute to school or work or back home, and/or as they unwind after the day. Keep in mind that the shares generated in the first two days after a video is released dictates its overall volume of shares.
Once you’ve taken these basic steps of “planting” your viral seeds, just wait and watch for growth. As for brands and organizations, some promotional videos do make it as viral videos, but these are few and far between. This requires a great deal of social media marketing, pop culture intel, creativity, and a good deal of research into how and why people share videos. And we hope this article has been useful to you in your ventures!