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How to make a video go viral

How to make a video go viral


There have been many attempts to define what really makes online videos – and online content in general – go viral. Various people have come up with more or less convincing definitions, formulas or examples.

But the truth is, only a fraction of what we create ever goes ‘viral’ (insert your own definition of ‘viral’ here) and applying all those formulas to all the content we churn out doesn’t always bring the desired results.

There are however certain elements that make online content, including videos, more shareable. And a bigger audience for your video means potentially a lot of things: more customers, higher brand awareness, bigger sales, better connection with existing or potential clients, increased motivation (if it’s an internal video) etc.

Last month New Yorker, in an article called “The six things that make stories go viral will amaze, and maybe infuriate, you” (you’ll understand why such long and convoluted title once you’ve read the piece), defined the crucial elements that make us remember and share content online:

In 350 B.C., Aristotle was already wondering what could make content—in his case, a speech—persuasive and memorable, so that its ideas would pass from person to person. The answer, he argued, was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.

So if a video follows Aristotle’s principles, the chances it will get noticed and shared are higher. (Hence our insistence on creating an emotional connection wherever possible, while planning your video production). But that would be too simple obviously. Not all emotions are equal:

When the researchers manipulated the framing of a story to be either negative (a person is injured) or positive (an injured person is “trying to be better again”), they found that the positive framing made a piece far more popular. The findings have since been replicated by several independent research teams, who have found that videos that shock or inspire are more likely to be shared on Facebook and more likely to gain viral traction.

That doesn’t mean that you should only create shocking videos. Inspire, teach, help solve a problem – and you’ll be cherished by your audience. Your chances of going viral (or reaching a wider audience, if like me you hate the expression) go up a few notches.

Then there’s also the question of quality, but I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to be associated with a sub-par piece of content, whether it’s destined for viral glory or not.

The article goes on to explain that the actual mix of critical elements is a big bigger and even the best formula doesn’t always guarantee success. But if you start with an emotional, logical or ethical hook, keeping your audience interested should be a bit easier. A must-read for all content creators.