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.