Think about the online content you consume and share the most. Most likely, it's video. Whether it's a Facebook ad for something you're actually tempted to buy, or a YouTube clip that triggers an emotional response driving you to share it with your friends and family, video is a powerful tool for companies which want to connect with consumers. But how do you get throngs of people sharing your content with others?
Take some advice from Travis Chambers, chief media hacker and founder of Chamber.Media, an agency making scalable social videos and large production video ads on Facebook and YouTube that drive millions in sales. In his career he's been a hands-on director, producer, writer and social ad buyer. He led distribution and content strategy for "YouTube's #1 Ad of the Decade," Kobe vs. Messi with 140 million views. He's worked with brands like Yahoo, Kraft, Old Navy, Coca-Cola, and Amazon among others, and regularly speaks about social and web video at events and conferences. Here are his words on how to create a viral video.
Step 1: Have the right perspective on what "viral" really is.
Virality used to mean rapid, unpaid sharing among millions of users. This just doesn't happen often anymore, even with the most shareable videos in the world. Virality now is relegated to a coefficient: If your video ad is getting a few thousand shares for every million views on Facebook, you're officially in the top 5 percent of "most viral" advertisers on Facebook. But truthfully, it's not really viral. You just have a high engagement rate, an above average viral coefficient.
Facebook and YouTube algorithms used to be designed for virality, to identify and recommend trending videos that would capture news headlines and attract users from all over the internet to their platform. Now that those platforms are approaching saturation--with the average user spending an hour a day there--they are capitalizing on any advertiser touching the platform. The algorithms now downplay virality even for non-advertisers and reward upload consistency, duration, watch time, relevance, quality and other metrics. Facebook and YouTube don't want advertisers going viral with an ad. Rather, they want to squeeze every dollar out of every impression. But because of this, they have also had to build the most powerful ad targeting technology in history. Never before has it been possible to reach users with such pinpointed accuracy. Personally, Chamber Media prefers the performance of the current technology over the viral reach of the old days, because it has made savvy digital marketers more equipped than ever to drive accurately tracked conversions.
Step 2: Plan for massive scale conversions.
If you want a campaign that looks and feels viral, reverse engineer your whole strategy from the conversion, from when the customer purchases. Do not make a video because you have a cool idea, or because it's funny or interesting or because you want a lot of impressions or virality. That's not a strategy connected enough to conversions. All that matters is that your video engages viewers, powerfully convinces them to buy, relates to them and helps them feel connected to your brand, and naturally that it represents your brand correctly. That can be accomplished through comedy, inspiration, shock value, weirdness, beauty--there are dozens of ways. Chamber Media typically prefers comedy because it disarms people and enables you to sell in an authentic way without having to hide or apologize.
By over-analyzing data and A/B testing video content representing more than $10 million in social spend, Chamber Media has found the optimal conversion architecture for a video is an entertaining hook, stating the problem and solution a few times, presenting the product benefit and features, and then going over some combination of credibility that might include press features, customer reviews and studies. Reinforce the sale and then close. It's important to weave a handful of calls-to-actions throughout the video.
Facebook claims both publicly and through private conversations with reps that videos over one minute do not perform as well, particularly for a majority of brands which have horrible long-form ad content. If you run a four-minute video ad that sucks, Facebook is going to bury you, kill your viral coefficient, and charge you a premium for wasting peoples' time. If you upload a four-minute video ad that's extremely well made and engaging, Facebook will handsomely reward you with efficient cost per acquisition, viral coefficient, and give you the reach you desire. But why four minutes? Why make a four-minute video when the average viewer only watches even the best Facebook video ads for only 15 seconds and only 25 seconds on YouTube? The best comparison is when you walk by a salesman in Costco selling pots and pans. If he's boring, you'll barely hear his pitch as you walk by. If he's engaging, entertaining, and telling jokes you might stick around for four minutes, even if you weren't interested in pots and pans you're going to remember the salesman for a long time, and that salesman will convince a percentage of the people who stop to buy. You'll remember the brand.
It's the same for social video. The longer you can keep someone engaged, the more they will remember you. That increases shares, comments, referrals, understanding your offer, and all the fundamental conversion metrics such as click through rate, conversion rate, average order value, re-order rate, and lifetime value. And the fact you can track and attribute your social video ad efforts to conversions through pixel tracking on site is the ultimate evolution of viral video. If you know that you can put in $1 and get at least $3 or $4 back in revenue, that is how you go viral. That is when you invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a month and have 50 million views within a year. That is mega virality--when you can back a winning video with mega ad spend and people actually like the content.
Step 3: Use speed to produce "thumb stopping" social videos.
Speed is the most commonly missed element I see among video ads. A common trick we use comes out of the classic martial arts playbook, to speed up the video. You should always have your actors, voiceover, and subtitles move very quickly in order to retain people's' attention in what is a very ADHD social ecosystem, with people flying over posts in their news feed with blistering speed. You can speed almost any video up by 2 percent to 10 percent without losing noticeable audio quality. We have many examples on our homepage at Chamber.Media which are all examples of hooks in the first 10 seconds of the video that tested extremely well at getting people to stop their thumbs and pay attention for a longer-than-usual period of time.
Step 4: Build a funnel.
You could make the most entertaining, relatable, and powerfully convincing video in the world, but if the destination you send your viewer to is sub-par, you could lose a lot of money and waste a lot of time. If the conversion rate on your website is less than a few percent, if you aren't remarketing to people with mid- and low-funnel content properly, if you aren't being aggressive with an email sequence based on people's' actions, if you aren't running search ads properly, then you are essentially trying to put out a house fire with a bucket that has holes in it. For example, a majority of even the best social ad acquisition programs only get a 2 to 1 return on ad spend or worse, meaning for every $1 spent on ads $2 is driven in revenue. For certain high-margin offerings, this is sustainable, but for most companies it's break-even at best and not terribly exciting. And this leads us to the critical importance of evaluating your performance correctly.
Step 5: Evaluate your performance correctly.
Roughly 95 percent of the brands Chamber Media has ever talked to fundamentally do not understand the full impact and performance of their own social acquisition campaigns. A majority of them see a 2 to 1 return on ad spend and pull their hair out, not understanding what a 2 to 1 ROAS (return on ad spend) reported by social pixels actually means for their business.
First off, social pixels only track for 50 percent to 70 percent of conversions that happen as a result of social video ads. Often there are multiple people watching on one device, someone will watch on one device and purchase on another, a viewer will refer the brand to another by word of mouth, or someone will see the ad and realize they need to buy months later--these are all offline behaviors that can't be tracked. The secret to analyzing this offline efficacy is branded search.
Let's say you run $10,000 in Facebook and YouTube ads in a month and these platforms show a 2 to 1 ROAS attributed. Not exciting on the surface. Go look at your branded search. If you had no lift in search volume, then there's something seriously wrong with your targeting, your content, or your offering itself. If you do see a significant lift in brand search, then you need to factor that percentage increase into your actual ROAS ratio. More often than not when this is factored, a 2 to 1 will become a 3 to 1 or better. And this is just the beginning. This is only accounting for first time purchases. If you have a well conversion optimized website and you're doing your job with email campaigns and remarketing, you're going to have a much larger lifetime value of a customer, meaning a customer purchases from you multiple times over their lifetime.
Once a brand factors in this LTV (lifetime value), most see that initial 2 to 1 go up as high as 5 to 1 ROAS or better. And that, is exciting. That is the true and new definition of viral video in 2018. Remember that the new way to measure virality is how effective you are as a brand at driving measurable and repeatable sales through social video ad marketing. You may run a high funnel video that has no hard selling involved and make that "viral." But the perspective in this social ad age is that you can track that person and continue the relationship with them through remarketing in your lower funnel ads that educate, inform, sell, give special offers, and so on. Gone are the days of the "post and pray" approach, where a brand would run a piece of video content and hold its breath for a total revenue lift. Now it's possible to look at revenue in every step of the process, connect the dots, and get pinpointed with what's really working and what's not, because at the end of the day, the sale is king.