How To Make a Viral Video

Advice on Making a Video that Actually Gets Noticed

Will It Blend Viral Video
Will It Blend Viral Video. YouTube

These days, viral videos are everywhere. And everyone wants one. That's because they're a cheap way to spread your message to the world.

The trouble is, what makes a video viral is often not understood until it has gone viral. There are many videos out there that have all the elements of the videos that get millions of hits, but they languish in obscurity. There are other videos that don't seem to have any magic, and yet they hit the front page of every social media site.

Is there a magic formula? Well, let's take a look.

First, What Exactly is a Viral Video?

Well, quite simply, it's a video that becomes popular without having any traditional advertising to support it. Viral videos are passed around via email, Internet sites and cell phones. In effect, the general public becomes the driver of the video's immense popularity.

The Common Elements of Most Viral Videos

There are several commonalities, although the content itself can vary greatly. Here are the top five traits that most viral videos share:

  • Low budget
    Most viral videos did not blow the budget on fancy effects, big actors and lavish locations. They are usually videos that have been done on very little money, or were simply captured on a cell phone camera or other cheap recording device. That's not to say there are no big budget viral videos (just take a look at Rebecca Black's Friday, that was not cheap to produce) but generally, content is way more important than budget.
  • Humor
    Whether planned or not, most viral videos are funny in some way. Sometimes it's unintentionally funny (Rebecca Black again, or the poor kid who thought he was a Jedi) or it could be a fall, a collection of flubs and so on. Other times, it's blatantly funny content, including parody, singing, dancing, clips from TV shows, re-cut movie trailers and so on. Another popular method is dubbing new audio over old clips (a prime example is the honey badger which contains some NSFW language).
  • Topicality
    Staying current is important with viral videos. If not with current trends, news, politics, music, films or gaming, then at least current with the viral videos that are trending high. Many of the viral videos I've seen over the past week are about Rebecca Black's Friday. It's the current video to parody, make fun of, defend or blatantly attack. In a few months, it will be forgotten, and so will the videos that accompany it.
  • Provocation
    From thought-provoking, to just downright inflammatory, viral videos go viral because they say or do something that gets the public's attention in some way. "OMG, you won't believe what I just saw" is a common reaction to viral videos. And people want to share that feeling with friends and family. That's why bad driving, store hold-ups, racial rants, sex tapes, politics, and numerous other provocative themes, are often doing the viral video rounds.
  • Surprises
    These come in many forms, and a lot of "planned" viral videos come under this final category. Remember when Ronaldinho kicked the ball at the crossbar not once but four times? That was a huge surprise. It was unbelievable. And even though people knew it was probably fake, they loved it. The Trunk Monkey was another great surprise, and obviously fake. Then there are the videos that genuinely shock people, like the pleasant car commercial that ends with a horrific screaming banshee. Shocks and surprises can be planned and scripted, and still have a great chance of going viral.

    If the video you make uses several of these elements, it has a good chance of going viral. But even then, it takes a lot more than that to be a success.

    Making a Good Viral Video

    Now that you know the main elements of a viral video, it's time to decide the best strategy for yours. And that all depends on the product or service that you want to be associated with the viral video. Something provocative is good for some brands, but hurts others. Humor is a bad choice for many brands. So, take some time to align your brand's tone of voice with the viral video strategy.

    When you have decided on the strategy, the next big thing is content. It's all about content. Videos with millions of hits don't need million dollar budgets, but they do need big ideas. Here are some idea starters you can use:

    Idea Starter #1 - Viral Video Piggybacking

    One way to get directly in to the viral arena is to piggyback a current viral video or trend. You will know which videos are going viral, you'll see them in your inbox, on Twitter, or on the front pages of many social websites. Do a parody of it, remake it, just make sure you don't infringe on anyone's copyright.

    Idea Starter #2 - Viral Videos with Celebrities

    Another successful method is to involve a celebrity in some way. They don't have to be A-list, or even B-list, but they already come with a certain amount of fame that you can use. Think about someone semi-famous who aligns with your brand, has a following and would make a splash if he or she entered the web space. It's amazing how quickly followers of that person will spread the word for you.

    Idea Starter #3 - Viral Videos with Kids or Animals

    There's a reason people love kids and animals. And it can be summed up in one word - genuine. They don't fake things. Genuine responses or actions are much more likely to go viral because people love authentic reactions. A fake laugh is boring. A real laugh is infectious. So, can your idea revolve around these two segments…or both?

    Idea Starter #4 - Voyeuristic Viral Videos

    We are all voyeurs in some way. The number of reality shows on our TV screens is testimony to that. So, think about a way that your video can be something that's filmed "under the radar." From hidden camera techniques to surveillance footage, making people feel like they're being let in on something that should be secret is a great way to get attention.

    Idea Starter #5 - Viral Video Songs

    These are everywhere and they get good traction. You can add a song to video that already exists, make one up, do a parody, a remake, you name it. When it comes to songs, don't worry about trying to make the Billboard 100. All you want to do is get something that is worthy of being passed around. A classic is this one, done in an office, that could have been done for any number of products.

    Now, Get Your Video Out There

    Posting a video on YouTubeMetacafé or any other video site is not enough. You may get lucky; someone with thousands of followers may see it, and Tweet it or repost it. But more often than not, it will remain in obscurity. This is going to take some more work.

    First, send it to as many people as possible. Use your network of contacts to help distribute it. Get them to Tweet about it, put it on FaceBook, on personal blogs and anywhere else that they have a web presence. The more times a link to your video is published, the more chance you have on someone clicking that link.

    Next, put it on the big social networking sites, like, and

    Finally, contact the editors of some of the biggest sites that link to these videos. A person email with a link can work wonders. If it's related to a story they're running, even better. Sometimes, news station websites will eat up something viral, they are always looking for content. Take advantage of every media outlet. Like they say, you can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. In this case, every link out there for your video is a ticket to the viral fame jackpot.

    Follow Up Your Viral Video

    If your video goes viral, and goes from a few hundred to a many thousands of views, congratulate yourself. But don't rest on your laurels. You now have the chance to repeat the success and many of the barriers that faced the first one have been broken down. The Terry Tate: Office Linebacker series is a perfect example of riding the viral wave. After the first ad, people were eager for more. And Reebok delivered. So, be prepared to shoot more than one video, and have the sequel waiting in the wings.

    For even more tips on creating viral videos, please see this excellent article by Women In Business Guide Lahle Wolfe.