Question of the week: How can I make my YouTube video go viral?

ImageViral videos — videos that are shared and exceed 100,000 views on YouTube — have certain characteristics in common. Videos become “viral” when they are shared among people (just like the common cold).  Viewers eagerly share it via email and social networks.

Many viral videos are “accidents.”  They were not produced to go viral.  Typically, the videos offer shock value (bride accidentally falling into a swimming pool) or humor (talking cats).  Viral videos are almost always brief (typically less than 2 minutes in duration). Other video content that becomes viral includes videos featuring celebrities, and “how-to” videos that build a huge following (Michelle Phan’s makeup videos). Michelle’s videos are a good example of viral videos that involve advanced level planning and production qualities — those are planned to go viral.

This is a good example of a viral video (incorporating humor, originality, and some shock value — the cross dressing and profanity) that just happened yesterday.  My friend, Ray Ortega, posted it on his Facebook profile.  I saw it, loved it, and shared it on Facebook and Twitter. At that time, it had 311 views.  In 24 hours, so many people had shared it, the views rocketed to more than 350,000 views.

Sometimes, it seems like a video just becomes viral because of luck. Let me give you an example: Dieselducy on YouTube. Just one of his many elevator videos (yes, they are just videos of elevators) has more views than all of the videos on my Fletcher Prince Channel put together, and for that matter, more than nearly any public relations agency on YouTube. Certainly, they achieve viral status, and how humbling is that?!  He has managed somehow to put together content, that for reasons many of us would find hard to understand, resonate with a large audience.  My son happens to be a big fan, and I have to say they do kind of grow on you. Anyway, whatever the reason, viral videos strike a chord among viewers, and in this way, they are rather successful communications forms.

Is it possible to “make” a video you have produced for your company or nonprofit go viral?  You can certainly increase your chances for obtaining more views by creating shocking or humorous content (both are extremely difficult to do, and I only recommend it for certain kinds of brands).

You can also increase views for any YouTube video through

  • Optimization (proper tags, titles, descriptions, and playlists)
  • Promotion (embeds, blogs, Twitter, email)
  • Advertising — YouTube offers a variety of well-tested options

I do not believe I have had the fortune to have produced a viral video, myself.  The most views I have ever achieved on a single video would be about 35,000, and I don’t consider that count to be in the viral category. That said, YouTube still contacts me to run advertising on my videos, and they feature them from time to time.  So, I know my videos have influence.

Think about your goals. Do you want your video to go viral, truly? Or do you want to reach a targeted audience? Most viral video producers are obtaining advertising revenue from their videos, and may already be in the YouTube Partner program. If you’re trying to make money from videos, you want to produce viral content.

On the other hand, maybe getting out your message is more important to you and your company or organization. In that case, strive to reach your targeted audience with video content they find relevant, useful, and informative. And a note: make it interesting!  Videos should not be talking blogs. The visual aspect is what it is important.

Everyone on YouTube, self included, wants more video views. But just because your video isn’t viral doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.


About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a mom, teacher, and blogger. She is also the creator of "Living Well With Autism," an online resource for caregivers of children, teens, and adults with autism and related special needs.

Posted on January 26, 2012, in YouTube Video Tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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