Lessons in viral video making

In a world where over two days of video get uploaded every minute, only that which is truly unique and unexpected can stand out in the way that [viral videos] have, observes Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s trends manager.

These unexpected additions to popular culture entertain us, enlarge our cultural vocabulary, and sometimes make a lot of money.

In an insightful and entertaining talk prepared for TED, Kevin explains why a very small percentage of videos can sometimes go viral.

According to Kevin there are 3 factors that need to come together to make a viral video:

  1. Tastemakers
  2. Creative participating communities
  3. Complete unexpectedness

Examples of tastemakers:

  • Celebrities
  • Publishers
  • Authors
  • Well known bloggers
  • Influential individuals with passion and lots of friends

Analytical tools like Klout or Radian 6 attempt to identify individuals who are influential about a particular subject. Once you influencers are identified, you can study the kind of material they like to share with their community.

For many brands the scariest thing about the new paradigm is the creative participating community. Once a tastemaker introduces the video into the culture it can be used by the community in a number of unpredictable ways. This new unit of culture is sometimes called a meme. Meme’s can be combined and modified much like words to create new meanings.

This Orabrush YouTube video is an interesting example. A viral video produced by a Brigham Young University marketing class helped to sell over 1 million units of their product without spending a dollar on traditional advertising. In the Orabrush video below, which also went viral, they parody themselves, their own videos, and the trailer for movie The Social Network, combining two memes to create something new and unexpected.

However, it’s not enough to be surprising. If you want positive results, it also needs to be “cool”.  The cool kids are the tastemakers. If you want your video to be cool you probably have to promote the values shared by the community and promoted by the tastemakers in a new and interesting way. Although these videos need to be completely unexpected, I believe they also follow certain patterns. I’ll talk more about those in a future post.

Storytelling tips

Jack Kerouac

There is something different about us at the end of a story. (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

According to Ira Glass, producer of the radio show This American Life, and a master of modern storytelling, a story only has only two parts:

  1. anecdotes
  2. moments of reflection

Anecdotes and moments of reflection can be mixed together in a variety of ways to tell a compelling story.

The sequence of events in an anecdote holds our interest while the moment of reflection tells us what it all means. A story let’s us experience what it is like to be someone else, to see what they see and feel what they feel. It causes us to experience a change inside.

We wait in suspense to find out how the story ends and to get answers to the questions that arise as the story unfolds. The events in the story paint a picture that makes us feel something and then the moment of reflection helps us crystalize that experience, understand it, and feel it in a new way. Here are some meanings that often show up in stories people like to hear.

1.    Life is short
2.    Dreams come true
3.    Believe in something bigger
4.    You matter
5.    We’ve forgotten the basics
6.    Never, never, never give up
7.    There’s only one you
8.    There’s more to life
9.    You don’t know how right you are
10.    Our assumptions were wrong
11.    Sometimes the little guy beats the big guy

Story telling can use a number of formats:

1.    A fresh point of view about common things (This American Life)
2.    Edutainment (How Stuff Works/Myth Busters/Prototype This)
3.    A journey (Jack Kerouac)
4.    An epic adventure (mono-myth)
5.    A mystery
6.    A romance

Some emotional devices that make a story more effective:
1.    An unexpected twist
2.    An inspiring call to action
3.    Suspense
4.    Humor
5.    Tears
6.    Smiles
7.    A secret revealed

How could you use anecdotes and moments of reflection to tell your stories in a more compelling way?

Crossing the content chasm

“Say Tom, let me whitewash a little.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In my last post about creating the content marketing pipeline I omitted a crucial piece of information.  Why would otherwise sane co-workers do the marketing team’s work for them? Some say you need a culture of content creation, while others say that’s just the happy ending in a marketer’s dream.

As I mentioned in my last post, Peter Drucker once said that, “marketing is not a function, it is the whole business seen from the customers point of view.”  The business connects with customers across a wide range of touch points. The stories we tell, the problems we solve and the information we share across every connection is the content we need to capture, optimize and amplify. So the point is, we’re already creating it; now it’s our job to find, edit, curate, promote, and publish it when and where our customers want to consume it.

It’s all about who you know

Since we’re already creating the content, I think the cultural shift that is needed is in the discipline of sharing. Studies show that children learn to share around ages 7 to 8. Research indicates they are most likely to share if they know the person they are sharing with. It may come as no surprise that often adults behave like children. My first recommendation is to get to know the people you need to share with. Take them to lunch, build relationships. It seems absurd to use an SEO metaphor, but here goes:  internal link building is as important as external link building.

A big idea

To successfully launch a new program that gets everyone in the business involved in content creation you need a big idea. Specifically you need a strategic and emotionally compelling goal. This goal is the North Star, it guides your decisions, motivates your efforts and informs your attitudes and beliefs.

Get the right people on the bus

You’re not going to turn poor writers into good writers. And people who hate to write will not become silver-tongued bloggers.  Instead, you need to focus on getting the right people into the right seats on the bus.  Anybody can participate in idea creation by sharing their ideas and forwarding their emails. However, when it comes to actually writing, you need people who can write. These people are gold so treat them like it. It would also be wise to consider this when you hire new people.

If you turn those people into Rock Stars in your organization you’ll find that more good writers are going to want to get on the bus. Also, people who never thought much about writing before are going to aspire to be good enough to be on the team. Your innovators will be the first ones on the bus. They’ll be followed by a group of early adopters, but it will require much more effort before you get the early majority aboard.

Be clear about the value proposition

Clearly define what’s in it for them. What is it that your co-workers get in return for their efforts that they can’t get any other way? Maybe its financial incentives, maybe it’s the promise of time saved in the future, or it could be social currency. FMRI studies suggest it truly is more pleasurable to give than to receive. Whatever you decide, be sure it matches the motivation of the content creators.

Maybe they want to grow their influence, connect to the right people, be recognized as a leader, or get on a soapbox and make their opinion known. Some organizations use gamification to motivate their employees. Remember Tom Sawyer’s observation, “in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Reduce friction

Now, I’m going to seem to contradict myself. Make it easy. Remove all of the obstacles to sharing. You don’t need 50 pages of style guidelines. Make a simple process that’s easy to understand and remember. Clearly explain the process to everyone you want to participate so that you maximize the ideas flowing into your pipeline. Help them get in the habit of sharing. Ask them to describe how they solve problems, prompt them to share information they share with customers. And remember sharing goes both ways! Make sure your colleagues know what’s available to share once you’ve collected it.

Reduce anxiety

Not everyone likes to write. Nobody likes to have their writing criticized. Writing is personal and people will take your criticism personally. So, the quickest way to lose your contributors is to publicly reject their work or ideas.  Be clear about your goals and your requirements. Be accepting and supportive, and don’t set them up to fail.

It’s inevitable that some ideas are not going to be blog-worthy.  It could be poorly written, violate your policy or run counter to your strategy. Your first thought might be to avoid confrontation and not bring up the ill-conceived content. However, please acknowledge that you received it, express gratitude for the effort, and offer feedback on what could make it even better next time. That kind of support is needed if not expected to prevent your volunteers from abandoning your cause.

Finally, provide training and support for people who want to be better writers. Suggest classes or meet together once a month to discuss best practice. Be encouraging and provide as many opportunities to improve as you can.

Incentives to take action

This is a delicate balance. You may need incentives to get the process going. One idea is to try a point system that allows participants to trade in points for social or financial rewards. Remember, social pleasures can be just as satisfying as financial rewards. Also, recent research on motivation suggests when the desired behavior is complex, increases in financial rewards actually leads to decreases in performance.

Meet regularly

This may be the most important advice of all. If you meet together regularly to share ideas between marketing, sales, and service you will be doing something that you should have been doing all along that you might not have been doing before. The teams will find these meetings so beneficial that they’ll be hard to stop once they get going. You see, it all comes back to who you know.

How to build the content pipeline

Peter Drucker once said that, “marketing is not a function, it is the whole business seen from the customers point of view.”  If marketing is the whole business, then it follows that content marketing has something to do with the whole business too. The content our customers see is the stories we tell, the problems we solve, the information we share, and the feelings we communicate through every connection with our customers whether the connection is through sales or service or the guy who delivers the package to their doorstep. The job of the content marketing machine is to collect these stories, package them and redistribute them when, where and how our customers wish to consume them.

A content machine requires a pipeline of fresh content in order keep up with demand. The question is how one gets the content to flow through the pipeline. It all starts with the voice of the customer. Customer demand tells us what content needs to be produced. For example, the sales team hears the same questions over and over again. Having written the same email two or three times to answer a question they now have a signal that there is demand for that content. When this signal is received a new concept enters the content pipeline. The exact method used to share the new concepts is less important, the most important thing is that everyone knows what the method is. You could use email, SharePoint, or a content marketing platform like Kapost.

There is another way that concepts can get started in the pipeline. Marketing conducts interviews while developing buyer personas. During these interviews marketers learn about the problems that buyers have that lead to making a purchasing decision, they learn about the decision process buyers follow, where they look for information, the criteria they use in evaluating alternatives, and the metrics used to judge their success. This information tells the marketer what content the buyer is looking for at each stage of the buying cycle. This informs the content strategy. An audit of existing content versus the content strategy reveals gaps. The gaps become the concepts for new content that then enters the content pipeline.

New concepts will be evaluated against a set of criteria that will include alignment with content strategy. If the concept passes through this step it will be placed on the editorial calendar and assigned to a writer. The writer turns in her assignment before the deadline. An editor reviews the content and evaluates it against a larger set of criteria. The content may be returned to the writer for rework or move on to the publishing phase. Once published the content is tagged for future reference with information such as persona type, phase of buying cycle, product category, format, etc…

You may have noticed that one piece of this process seems like magical thinking. Who are the content creators that show up and take assignments for new content? Where do they come from?  The answer is they usually come from within your company and many of them are from outside the marketing organization.  Sounds great, however, it’s not clear why people who have their own work to do would suddenly start creating content for marketing.

I’ll explain how to cross the content chasm in my next post.

How to build a content marketing machine

Inbound marketing needs to get content to get customers

Inbound marketing should engage more than 10% of your organizations brain.Content marketing needs more than 10%

In today’s world of inbound marketing, we have to get content to get customers. At different times and in different situations consumers are looking for insight, data, and entertainment. If we want them to find our content we have to share it. Our content is the stories we tell, the problems we solve, and the information we share through every connection with our customers and throughout the organization. That means getting content is a team effort that involves the entire organization and not just an agency, a singularly creative individual or the marketing team.

Each member of your organization is responsible for its success. There is a popular urban legend that humans only use 10% of their brains. Due to functional magnetic resonance imaging technology we know this is not the case.  However, it may be true that collectively, organizations use less than 10% of their brains when it comes to sharing insights and knowledge in ways that add value to customers and optimize their share of mind and market.

Building a clock is better than telling time

Build a content marketing machineBuild a content marketing machine

For an organization to be wildly successful at inbound marketing, you can’t rely on the efforts of a single individual. You’ve got to build a machine that continuously generates the content you need. Jim Collins famously expressed this in his book Built to Last with the analogy of building a clock versus telling time. He said, wouldn’t it be amazing if an individual could look at the stars and tell you the exact date and time?  But, wouldn’t it be more amazing if that individual built a clock that that could tell the time forever even after they were gone.

page 214 Nervous System

Content nervous system

The content generation machine needs to be built into the DNA of the organization and become a living part of every connection. It must grow and adapt as needed.

To function, the machine requires a central nervous system. Data from each part of the organization is transmitted and centrally stored. That data is filtered and organized into usable chunks of information that can be expressed in stories, conversations, and publications. In a healthy organization a feedback loop acknowledges receipt and expresses gratitude for the time and effort it took to create and share it. This reinforces the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that led to the sharing event.

Continuing with the nervous system analogy, if a member of the organization who shares content senses disapproval, unfair treatment, or rejection they will feel social pain. Hurt feelings can be just as painful as physical pain. Writing is personal and writers are likely to take feedback personally, so managers need to be using their best feedback skills. If the person is ineffectively told that their ideas don’t align with business strategy, are out of scope, or are just plain wrong, then that person and those who observe the feedback may never share again.

On the other hand, social pleasure which comes from being accepted and valued by your own group is also very real. Most people would not predict that social rewards could be as pleasurable as financial rewards, but they are and only require a bit of time and thoughtfulness. Something as simple as, “I liked what you wrote today” can make a huge difference in somebodies attitude about writing and sharing.

The central repository for all share-worthy content is the blog and is the hub of all of you content creation efforts. A blog post can be shared again in a number of ways. You can publish links to your blog posts through micro-blogging sites like Twitter.  You can post links to the blog on Facebook, or Linkedin discussion groups.  A series of blog posts may become a whitepaper or an ebook. A Whitepaper can be broken into pieces to become a series of blog posts. Any of these can be converted into videos, podcasts, or webinars. Finally, you can use these as the basis for press releases, the content of newsletters, infographics or whatever you want. In this way your content is part of a living and growing ecosystem of content that can be re-imagined to provide nourishment for new possibilities.

Next post: Building a content pipeline

The Inbound Marketing Ecosystem

I really like this concept of an inbound marketing ecosystem. Volinsky Consulting created this infographic. The key concept in my mind being that the parts are interdependent. If one piece is neglected you could kill the whole thing. It’s brilliant and it’s true.

You need the website, you need the blog, you need the email, you need a social component. Sounds like a lot but the good news is they feed each other.

Inbound Marketing Ecosystem - Infographic

Created by Volinsky Consulting

The Principles of Inbound Marketing Design

Marketing under the influence

Drinking may make your content look better but why not try a little planning instead?

Have you ever been the victim of marketing that felt less like premeditation was involved and more like alcohol was a contributing factor? Good marketing doesn’t just happen. It has to be designed. Borrowing from the principles of graphic design I thought I’d share a few ideas for inbound marketers.


Balance is achieved when inbound marketing communication feels like a conversation. There are many ways to achieve balance, but a good way to lose it is to be manipulative, take what you want from your audience, and give nothing in return.


Establish a a rhythm of regular posts or touches so that your audience knows what to expect and has a sense of where the relationship is going. You can set the tempo. Create a sense of anticipation, certainty, or progression it’s all up to you.


As a marketer today you have a remarkable variety of tools available to you. In choosing the right marketing mix its important consider the experience of the user. Over reliance on one mode of communication leads to monotony.


Make sure your value proposition is clear. Direct your reader to the most important information. Make it easy to consume. Give your key points the most weight. Ensure that subordinate ideas get their due without hijacking the message. Repetition, bullets, and graphic elements can help clarify your key points without making the audience think too hard and losing them.


Unity describes the relationship between the individual parts of a whole and arises from the way the human brain stores information. I believe, communication is most naturally organized in the human brain through conversation and story-telling.

One of the keys to making communication feel like conversation is a sense of order. The sequence of messages need to naturally follow what came before. If not, a confusing experience will result. Inbound marketing is not a natural conversation the audience is going to have to fill in missing information for themselves. It’s a good idea to anticipate questions that are likely to arise and answer them when they are likely to occur.

It’s also important to recognize the reader may move in a different direction than your were originally taking them. Be aware of this so that instead of letting the conversation end, you can move to a new topic when they do. This can be achieved through means as simple as links to related topics or as sophisticated as marketing automation tools that read their digital body language.