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.

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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?