Creating a 'viral video' is like setting out to produce 'an Oscar-winning film'.
You can look back at some of the most-shared videos, trying to fathom some sort of recipe for success, but if you try to replicate those vital ingredients your video will most likely feel flat and formulaic. If a movie producer tries too hard to re-create an award-winning film, putting together a big budget, an epic storyline, some top names, it can still be a flop. What movie-goers want is passion, great acting and a sense that everyone involved loved what they were doing: they want to feel something. Movies that make people feel something win awards. Videos too must speak to a brand's followers if they are to be shared.
Content is shared because it provokes an emotional response
Two University of Pennsylvania professors analyzed the New York Times' most-emailed list, and came up with a list of factors that contributed to content going viral. They discovered that posts inspiring feelings of awe, anger or anxiety are shared more often than others. Now, businesses will want to stay away from inducing anger in their audience, but awe clearly works well, if it is appropriate to the brand, and humor is another strong emotion that is safe for brands to play with. For brands, making people gasp in astonishment or laugh out loud are safe and popular goals.
But the material to inspire these emotions has to be original. Once something has been done before, move on: don't imitate. Think back to your company's history, your company's mission, why your loyal customers love you--and draw from that.
Originality is everything: there is no second place
One of the most incredible branded viral videos is still Red Bull's supersonic freefall starring Felix Baumgartner. One year on, it has been seen 36 million times. It would be possible for another brand to re-create a stunt like this... but my guess is that it would be accused of being derivative--and that it would only be shared by people to show the brand's failure to come up with anything original themselves. In short, copy-cat videos will make a brand look bad. You can only jump from the edge of space once--and we were all their on the edge of our seats with Felix, hands to our faces, hearts in our throats. You just can't recreate that feeling.
That said, your brand has so many other ways to connect with audience. It doesn't have to be something elaborate or expensive like the space jump. Just be human, make it your objective to get to know your customers, and show them that you appreciate them.
Inspire your followers
The Red Bull Stratos jump worked so well because it was a perfect partnership between a brand that stands for adrenaline and boundary-pushing, and a dare-devil stuntman. For Samsung, a marketing video to promote LED televisions needed to mirror the brand's ethos of quirky, innovative technology to capture their followers' imaginations. The result--'Extreme Sheep LED Art' was both relevant to the brand and to the product they were trying to promote. It was surprising (who would have thought of making art by herding flocks of sheep?), original, and it reflected the brand's personality and the product they were trying to draw attention to.
Tip: Use ideas that are relevant to your brand and you will strike a chord with your followers.
Build a community: 'viral' is a team sport
'Viral' is rarely an overnight phenomenon, especially when brands are creating something that is part of their wider marketing strategy. Growing your communities takes time and dedication--but this hard work behind the scenes can be vital to a video's success. Too many marketers want to run out there and 'create a viral video', without realizing the effort that goes into building a loyal following first.
Old Spice has half a million subscribers on YouTube, 2.6 million followers on Facebook and two hundred thousand followers on Twitter. Building an audience this size takes a long-term strategy of great content, original visuals and true engagement with fans. It also takes a content strategy that reflects the brand's core philosophy, so when Old Spice releases a video like the hilarious 'The man your man could smell like', it resonates with fans--and they want to share it more widely.
Tip: Lay the foundations first. Your community and loyal fans will share videos--success isn't a solo pursuit; it takes a community of passionate people to get the word out.
Re-think your goals
'Viral' shouldn't be your goal. Building your brand's reputation through engagement and great content is a goal that can lead to a piece of content going viral, but more importantly it will give you a loyal, dedicated follower base. A video should reflect your core philosophy as a brand; it should resonate with your audience and be a part of a wider strategy to build trust and commitment over time. Having a viral hit is great, but you have to ask yourself: "What will translate into sales over the longer period of time, a one-off gimmick or long-term brand advocacy?"
Leave 'viral' gimmicks for the cute baby pandas, kittens and singing toddlers, and concentrate on a content strategy that is in it for the long haul.