Going viral is all down to luck. You can crank out a hundred videos and a thousand blog posts but whether any of them will fly around the Internet is all down to chance. At least that's what they say. Julius Dein knows different. He knows that it's possible to build a huge profile on the Internet in a short space of time powered by reliable viral content. He knows because he's done it. Last year, Dein had zero Facebook followers and no social media presence at all. He now has 6.5 million Facebook followers, his videos have racked up more than a billion views, and brands as large as Doritos are clamoring to put their name in his clips. Success doesn't come much faster.
Julius Dein's rapid rise started while he was at university. The London-born amateur magician took a year abroad at UCLA where he met social media personalities who were building a career online. "I could see that they were able to command their own audience, instead of trying to meet a producer," he recalled.
It looked like an opportunity, one over which he could have complete control. He started by uploading street magic videos but found that they didn't take off so he switched to a different topic: pranks. He's filmed himself walking up to strangers and telling them that they matched on Tinder, fallen asleep on commuters, and sat on the street in an invisible chair, a trick that took a month to prepare. A video of him attaching a toy snake to passers-by picked up more than 40 million views.
The success of those videos is down in part to their quality. "You can't make bad content go viral," Dein says. But it's also the result of careful planning and strong marketing. Dein soon found that starting a video by talking directly to the lens lowered views so his videos now dive straight into the action with special attention paid to the first four seconds to grab viewers. Even the video thumbnails are action-oriented. Dein has found that an image of him screaming will generate three times more views than a shot of him running. "There's no easier exit on Facebook than to scroll down," he warns.
To land those views, though, the videos first have to make their way into users' social media streams. Mayor Boss, a musician with more than six million followers, had shared one of his clips. That pushed Dein's follower count from around 100 to over 7,000. He and Mayor Boss agreed to share each other's videos and Dein continued hustling, uploading three videos a week and offering content-sharing deals to pages that had around 10,000 followers. As his own follower count grew, he was able to work his way up the ladder, landing deals with larger and larger pages.Dein started his Facebook marketing campaign with an empty page and an old fashioned approach: he reached out to other sites. In fact, he wrote to hundreds of pages, asking their owners if they would upload or share his videos. They ignored him. Facebook blocked his account for a couple of days. He persevered, eventually receiving a message that
"Now I can share-for-share with anyone I like," he says. "So my videos explode."
That large Facebook following has supported Dein's YouTube channel, where he describes his subscribers as "hardcore fans." He can usually count on prank videos uploaded to the site to generate between 100,000 and a million views powered by a good clickbait title and votes on Reddit. On Snapchat, he's now generating about 400,000 views for his daily stories, and his experiments with Facebook live have shown just how much the format has to offer. Instead of planning content, Dein went onto the streets of London and asked his audience what he should do. Suggestions included dancing with a stranger, checking identification and holding someone's hand.
"You're able to connect on a personal basis," he says. "It's awesome."
Dein recognizes that what arrives quickly can also disappear quickly so his long-term strategy is to leverage the following he's now generating on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat into a larger and more permanent audience in mainstream entertainment. For now though, he's enjoying himself.
"My university friends are now doing internships," he says. "I get to go out and make viral videos and travel the world."