Viral videos can be so useful on many fronts, from being an effective marketing device (e.g. Honda – The Cog) to a tool for championing social causes (e.g. KONY 2012). When delivered in a proper manner, viral videos can have a more significant impact to people than being purely a source of entertainment. Before it can do that, it must reach out to as many people as possible via the networking effects of the Internet.
The question is: What qualities must the video have before it becomes viral?
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1. Universal Appeal
Obviously if you want to make your video go viral across the country or even the world, it cannot be something which only you or a small group of people will appreciate or understand. It can’t be funny to one but offensive to another. True, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so it’s not easy to make a video that’s going to be interpreted the same way across people and cultures.
One such viral video that has been going around since 2007 is one "Charlie Bit My Finger — Again!". At the last check it had 450 million views already! Although it’s a cute one-minute video clip, I don’t exactly see how it managed to hit that number.
Anyway, check out the clip and you’ll see that it’s what I meant by ‘universal appeal’. There’s nothing to dispute over how one interprets the video and it’s definitely not offensive too people from different parts of the world. It’s just plain… cuteness.
2. Short and Simple
Internet users are multi-taskers. This is evident from the way we navigate from one website to another, usually without reading the entire content of the page. When it comes to the Internet where we expect things to be fast, the target audience is usually one who has a short attention span, and not much patience.
A viral video should typically last no longer than three (to five, if you must) minutes. Apart from keeping it brief, the message you’re sending out must be clear. This means making the video simple for anyone to understand (as with #1). When it’s simple, people will more likely share the video on a social media platform like Facebook ensuring that more people will see it.
When it’s simple, everyone gets more or less the same message regardless of how they interpret the video. As a result, you get what you want: a viral video that tells what you want to tell.
3. Emotional Content
We humans are emotional creatures. That is why we are naturally drawn to things that arouse our emotions. Videos showing funny babies or pets and angry rants make us feel the same way as they do out of empathy. When we feel the same emotion as what the video portrays, we feel the urge to share it to others and say, "Yes, this is how angry/sad/happy I am". It’s also why heartbroken people tend to share tragic love songs on their Facebook wall.
Jonah Lehrer from Wired wrote an interesting article arguing that emotions aroused by viral videos are what makes them go viral. This is because in the online world, we are less able to express our emotions through words, and we partially compensate for that by creating emoticons.
As a result, images and videos especially that are highly emotional compel us to share them as they can represent and express our emotions better than text and emoticons can ever do. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how many words is a video worth?
Putting some form of ‘Call to Action’ will encourage people to share the video with their friends and turn it viral. It doesn’t have to be a direct call to action. In fact, a subtle call to action works better in some circumstances because it makes us think that we have the freedom to choose to share or not, instead of being arm-twisted into doing it.
A subtle call to action can be exemplified by this video (34 million views) where a North Carolina dad literally shot his daughter’s laptop with his pistol over some disrespectful post she posted. A direct call to action is more clear-cut, much like how the campaign of ‘KONY 2012‘ (90 million views) spelt out the steps viewers have to do to stop Ugandan military leader, Joseph Kony from committing further crime against humanity.
The simplest call to action may also include clicking on a link to a website to check out what message the video is promoting, or even to ask viewers to spread the video.
Remember though that if your video is impactful enough to viewers, they will naturally want to spread it to their friends without being asked to.
5. Identifiable & Relatable
When we share something on our social networking sites, we are actually showing a little piece of ourselves to the rest of the world. If we share quality content, people will see us as having good taste. You can argue that everyone has different taste. True, which is why it is probably got more to do with the identity which we wish to assume through our online profile.
In other words, the video which we are creating ought to be something that your target audience wants to be associated with. This will induce the sharing and spreading of your video to your intended audience.
Some videos are more ubiquitous than others and are thus able to sweep across the online universe easily. These videos are those which people can universally identify with, namely content like humour and pop culture. When you create videos which the vast majority of the online population can relate to, it somehow proliferates because there is a higher chance of people liking it.