How to Create a Viral Video
Anyone with a cat (or a kid still under the influence of laughing gas from the dentist) can make a video and receive a lot of hits on YouTube. But there are also a lot of bad videos out there – that might get some hits – but will make you look ridiculous. Not in a good way.
So if you are a business or a mission-focused organization, here are four keys to making a successful viral video.
- It has to be original. Granted, many videos are copy-cat versions of pop song clips. But something about the knock-off needs to be new, whether lyrics or the interpretation. Earlier this fall, an independent bookstore in the Midwest did its take on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” – they dubbed it “Read It Maybe” – and the words were clever and funny and made you feel good about reading. I watched the whole (rather long) video from this Chicago-based nonprofit literacy venture several times, because I kept catching new language, and frankly I like books. If their lyrics had not been original, they would have lost me at hello.
- It has to have unexpected characters. When MIT students recently did their cover of the Korean pop star PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video, they included clips with two famous professors: Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, and Eric Lander, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project. Watching these revered figures – Chomsky says “Oppan Chomsky style” and Lander dances on a desk – made me want to keep watching to see what else they would do. Without these cameos, the video, with more than 4 million views in less than a couple weeks, was only mildly entertaining. The original PSY “Gangnam Style” video, by the way, has nearly 140 million views.
- The timing has to be just right. While all of the above is always important, pegging the video to a current event helps push it out through social channels. For example, when the US Olympic Swim Team sang their version of “Call Me Maybe,” major national news outlets gave it air time as part of their coverage of the Games, helping to propel the parody to more than 9 million YouTube views.
- Tie it to your mission. Earlier this fall, shortly before the Presidential election, when Democracy Prep’s fourth graders did its take on “Call Me Maybe,” they hit it just right. They had great original lyrics about the importance of voting. They had unexpected characters in the sweet children who were too young to cast a ballot singing and dancing along, and they had good timing among an electorate looking for nonpartisan but relevant things to share on Facebook. But their message also resonated with their mission, expressed in their tagline: “Work hard. Go to college. Change the world.” They sang: “Vote for Obama/ Or vote for Romney/ It’s your civic duty/ Vote for somebody/ So many ‘round the world/ Long for democracy/ So here’s your reminder/ Vote for somebody.” I promptly shared. And voted. The video now has nearly 400,000 views.
But of course, not every video needs to be a parody of someone’s song to be successful. Northeastern President Joseph Aoun (@JosephAoun) has launched a YouTube series highlighting innovation on campus. These quirky, funny videos are attracting attention not just among current and potential students, but also from the media. A Boston Globe editorial last week called the clips “refreshing at a time when many university presidents are seen by students as corporate-like fundraisers in chief.” As a Northeastern graduate, I concur and can say it’s the most time I’ve ever spent Googling the school.