published by Indigo Productions


How To Make A Video Go Viral

What is a Viral Video, and how can you make one work for your business?

By Warren Zenna and Max Rosen

Viral Video: A video that spreads like a virus, passed on from user to user via the Internet, social networks, mobile platforms and more.  A video is typically considered “viral” when it surpasses 1 million plays.  But what does it all mean, and how can you use the power of viral marketing to grow your business?

In 2004, closet pop-star Gary Brolsma became the stuff of on-line legend when his nutty lip-synced performance of Numa Numa, an obscure Moldovan pop tune, suddenly went global. In an equally unlikely event, 2009’s video of middle-aged housewife Susan Boyle singing on “Britain’s Got Talent” is fast on its way to becoming the most viewed video in history.

As a result, these two individuals became instant worldwide celebrities, spawning endless media attention, talk show appearances, TV commercials, music videos and CDs, citations in the Guinness Book of World Records, and much, much more.

Today more than ever, individuals and businesses alike are scrambling to capitalize on a powerful new marketing opportunity by creating and distributing their own videos on the Internet.  The hope, of course, is that they or their brand will end up on millions of computers and cell phones – resulting in notoriety, buzz and potentially huge dollars.

Video production companies are getting more and more requests for “viral videos” from large and small organizations hoping to cash in on this new, mobile and web-based phenomenon.

But few filmmakers (or their clients) understand how this type of content can be created – or, more importantly, how it can be turned into a successful viral marketing story.

Underneath the hood of this new seemingly chaotic marketing phenomenon is actually a complex combination of marketing savvy, technical know-how and behavioral science executed by serious marketers who have a unique understanding of how video content can be produced and distributed in this new world of viral interactive channels.

But let’s be clear:  The online video universe is vast and highly competitive.  Just go to YouTube and enter the word “funny” in the search bar.  You’ll instantly get a glimpse of how massive the amount of user-generated video is right now.  An estimated 70,000 new videos are posted to YouTube every day.  Obviously, the majority of these homemade wonders are lost in the cybersauce.

Yet some manage to achieve many millions of clicks and are avidly consumed by viewers around the planet.  In some cases, like Gary Brolsma’s, this is the result of pure luck and unusual circumstances which are impossible to replicate.  In many others, it’s due to the know-how and diligence of smart marketing experts who have mastered the underpinnings of the way videos are distributed, indexed, viewed and shared.  This skill-set requires an integrated understanding of multiple disciplines: Technology, behavior, psychology, marketing, search engine algorithms and social network dynamics.

So, what exactly makes a video in this vast marketplace go viral?


Here’s the good news:  The majority of successful viral videos are NOT accidents.  With sophisticated new developments in content optimization and sharing technologies, many of the videos that catch people’s attention on YouTube were DESIGNED to be shared and spread across the Internet by savvy content developers who know exactly how videos behave – and how viewers respond.

Over the last 5 years, there have been enough viral video success stories to analyze the conditions that made them a hit.  This data has provided information that allows us to recreate many of the elements that made these videos go viral.

Here are seven key tips on how you can get in on this burgeoning marketing opportunity – or at least better understand how a professional can help you do so.


1. Make people go “Ha-Ha!” or “Wow!”

Making a video that is utterly fascinating is a core objective of anyone seeking to conquer the viral world. The most successful viral videos are always funny or original or outrageous or provocative or sexy or shocking – or all of the above.

As obvious as it may seem, keep the following in mind at all times:  Your number one goal is to make people laugh, or gasp in astonishment.

2. Make them short and sweet

Most successful viral videos are short.  Four minutes is considered roughly equivalent to “Gone with the Wind.”  Many viral videos are under 30 seconds – showing nothing more than a clip from a crazy car accident or a wacky incident with a pet.  People consume content on the web very differently from how they consume content on TV.  They are looking for snacks, not entrees.  Feed them small bites instead of whole meals.

3. Make lots of them

One video, short and brilliant as it may be, has only one shot at reaching the multitudes. Creating and distributing a SERIES of short and brilliant videos is a far better approach. The most successful viral marketers are folks that upload lots and lots of videos consistently and with a strong point of view. Quantity generates followers that keep coming back, and grabs the attention of the programmers at viral websites whose job it is to seek out the best of the net and feature it on the front pages of their websites. There’s no resting on your viral laurels anymore – 5 minutes after you’re a hit, the web has already moved on. So build that library of material and release it consistently!

4. The role of Technology

Understanding basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques is vital in ensuring that your video is found and shared via the major search engines.

Posting your video on YouTube is a no-brainer, and is the first essential step. But learning a few basics of how YouTube works from an SEO perspective can make all the difference in the world.

Optimizing your titles, video descriptions, metatags and thumbnail views is a critical component of YouTube postings.  The way you write the title of your video on a YouTube listing has a huge effect on the possibility that people will view it.  As an obvious example, “Sexy Delivery Chick” will get far more clicks than “She Delivers.”

Some SEO experts recommend frequently changing the titles on videos to keep things fresh.  The same rules apply for metatags, which are key words you choose to help search engines categorize your video.  The metatag “funny” won’t help your video out much – it’s too generic.  A metatag like “Britney kissing Madonna” would receive a lot more attention because – well, a lot of people still seem to be interested in the subject.  In any case, optimizing titles and metatags allows you to experiment with different variations and keeps the content fresh.

Thumbnails: What you decide to show as the thumbnail still-frame also has a huge effect on the number of views.  YouTube will auto-select a number of shots from a midway point of the video as the thumbnail, so you should design the video with a lot of great shots in the center of the clip.  Other viral sites give you far more freedom, letting you upload any thumbnail image you’d like.  Whatever the venue, make sure to select a thumbnail that is compelling and tantalizing. Clearly a shot of a girl in a bikini will be a lot more visually enticing than a shot of a guy drooling over her.  And change the thumbnail periodically to ensure that the video is “refreshed.”  These techniques work to keep the content new and viewed more often.

5. How to spread the word

One of your key goals is to get your video the top spot on the Youtube home page, where the Daily videos and Most Viewed videos are showcased.  The higher up your video is listed on this page, the more views you will get.

Seeding your video to popular bloggers is a great strategy for getting the word out.  Capitalize on people who already have a built-in following and ask them to post your videos.  Find YouTubers who have an established following and get them to share your video with their members.   Post the video on a Facebook page and share it with your networks and friends.  Link the video to your Youtube page to ensure traffic to the site as well.  Embed the YouTube page on your MySpace page, then ask your popular friends and colleagues to do the same.

Also, upload your video to every popular viral site out there!  Hundreds of video sharing sites exist, with new ones forming every day.  The name of the game is exposure – you want to create a chain reaction.  If your video gets featured on smaller viral sites, it can easily reach an online tipping point and cause a viral chain reaction that quickly pushes you up onto YouTube’s homepage.  There are countless sites, but here are a few big ones to concentrate on:  Yahoo, MSN, Metacafe, CollegeHumor, DailyMotion, Crackle,, TubeMogul and more.  Social bookmarking sites like Digg, Stumbleupon and Delicious are great places to post your video links as well.

You should also post your video on every prominent Social Network (Facebook, MySpace and the like) to increase the way your video is seeded by search engines.

Last but not least, don’t forget Twitter – this micro-blogging platform is fast becoming the most popular sharing network on the web.   Open an account and make sure to push your video link out to your followers.

6. Power users

Power users are the elite, core group of tastemakers on the web.  They can reach vast communities instantly, and have extraordinary influence over what content is looked at and shared.  Identifying and “friending” power users is a critical way to ensure that your videos get the level of Diggs, votes, shares and clicks needed to rise to the top of the pile.

How do you reach a power user?  Start by looking at a user group and determining who has the most followers.  Send them your video and see if they spread the word.  Engage in user forums and post comments about your video.   Create new user names and build “conversations” about your video that generate buzz about it.  If there’s enough buzz, a power user will notice it.

Buying or renting good email lists, and sending out links to your video, is another good way to create buzz.  A well-written email with a good hook will get opened by a lot of people.  And if your video is good, the people who watch it will share it with their friends or post it to their own social networking profiles.  And don’t forget professional networking sites like Spoke, Plaxo and LinkedIn.  More and more viral video postings are showing up on these sites, and content sharing is becoming much more acceptable.  Get that video out there to enough people, and eventually a power user will pick up on it.

7. Invest

Because the web is infested with mostly cheap-looking homemade video content, videos with high production values really stand out.  To achieve this, your best option is to hire a great video production company that really understands the medium and can ensure that viewers are interested and entertained.

Keep in mind that many “amateurish”-looking videos were actually produced with big budgets by teams of highly skilled professionals in order to create the appearance of do-it-yourself authenticity.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to replicate their results armed with a cheap camcorder.

Remember:  Short, funny, and utterly compelling is the best mix.  A great-looking, well-produced video is a also great investment:  It can be spread virally, tagged to your website to generate traffic, AND repurposed for other countless other marketing efforts down the road.  It will pay off in dividends when done properly – so hire a video company with a track record for making short pieces that really grab people.

8. Be creative and have fun!

This is probably the single most important key to success.  Boring videos die a quick and lonely death on YouTube.

Even if you are a conservative accounting firm, a creative mind will find it easy to come up with content that is fun, interesting, and unusual.  It may be counterintuitive, but your video doesn’t even have to be about your business.  It is often enough to make people laugh or surprise them a bit, and then indirectly mention your product or brand.  But be sure to link the video back to your site so viewers associate the content with your business.   This makes for a more interesting effort for you and increases the chances that people will want to know you or understand more about what you offer.

Are you interested in learning how to make a viral video?

Or, are you interested in breaking into professional video production?

Then sign up for the Indigo Productions VIRAL VIDEO WORKSHOP at NYU

When: 3 Sundays: July 12th, July 19th, and July 26th (10 am – 6 pm)

Where: New York University, the Bronfman Center, 7 East 10th Street

Tuition: Only $200! (Students $150)

For more info:

To Sign Up:

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