Viral videos are a relatively new phenomenon (though their history can be traced back to hard copies of films circulated in the late 1930s), referring to any clip of film or animation which spreads rapidly through online sharing, often received many millions of views. They can be shared through social media, websites, blogs or even sent in emails. These videos can range from self-made home-movies to high budget adverts produced by high-street retailers.
A key example of viral videos used within a marketing strategy came as early as 2006 when Dove Beauty released their Evolution video. With an average user watching over 16 minutes of online video advertising every month, the desire to go viral with an avert is growing stronger.*
David Glenwright of JC Social Media
In this episode we take a look at social media and the viral video phenomenon.
We find out what makes a great viral video and how to compete against all of those dancing cat videos online.
We look into the psychology of social sharing, and why it’s so important for your content to engage a strong emotional response, and we also discuss tips on how to ride the viral wave without falling off.
JC Social Media are one of the UK’s largest dedicated social media agencies who specialise in creating social strategies and online presences to reflect the vision of their clients. As Head of Training Services, David Glenwright is responsible for developing bespoke social media training sessions for a variety of organisations and businesses. I caught up with David at the JC Social Media office in Birmingham…..
SCOTT LEDBURY: Can you define what a viral video actually is in terms of reach and numbers? What quantifies a viral video?
DAVID GLENWRIGHT: In a short answer no I cant really define it. Its a really difficult thing and you know we find we have lot of clients come to us going, ‘we want this to go viral’, well where are the numbers there?
Some people have put some numbers out there in the past. In the early 2000s it was as little as 1 million views in a week and yes, sounds like a big number but actually a lot of people are achieving that every day now. 2011 around that kind of time people said about 5 million views in 3 – 7 days but as the way in which we’ve gone on to consume videos technology has become mobile and we can now watch video-on-the-go, that number is irrelevant now. So its a difficult thing to get really.
SL: So do you believe that viral can mean different things to different companies and can a video be defined by the rate it grows?
DG: Absolutely yeah, there’s a lot of context to be drawn in here. Virality isn’t judged exclusively on the number of views, you’ve got to look at the broader context, so how does that compare to other pieces of content that you’ve put out. How many people has it spread out to, which people has it gone out to.
You’ve got other considerations like the time of year, so for example putting out a video around Christmas time, there’s a lot more activity around Christmas, so a video that isn’t really viral in December could be huge in March or June time. So there’s a lot of other considerations other than just the view count at the bottom of the video.
SL: What videos from your observation have been the most notable greatest hits over the last 5 years?
DG: That’s a difficult one. In my head I always divided viral videos into two distinct groups. You’ve got those that are viral on just the original video that has been shared. The classic example of that is ‘Gangnam Style’ the music video that came out in 2012. That generated 1 billion views in 5 months which is still a record to this day. You’ve got other videos that have done that, ‘Charlie bit my finger’ for example, is another classic one that everybody knows of and has no real value or purpose its just a video of a young boy biting his brother’s finger really.
Something a bit more recent that falls into that category would be the Chewbacca mask lady that came out towards the start of 2016. That generated about 140 million views in 5 days. I think that the most fascinating thing about that is that it was the first viral live video through the the Facebook platform so it kind of ushered in a new wave of virality really. The other area or grouping of videos that you have got are the viral trends so these are ones where the original video itself isn’t necessarily widely known but its inspired a huge number of copy cats and parodies.
The ice bucket challenge for example, people were pouring buckets of ice water over their heads to raise money for ALS. That generated about 2.4 million entries in total. The Harlem Shake from 2013, that was at its peak pushing about 4,000 new videos every single day being uploaded. Then again more recently to 2016 we’ve got the mannequin challenge, which has been going on for a couple of months and it started off small and not many people know the original video but its inspired countless parodies and recreations.
SL: As the creator, is it hard to own the original video in these situations?
DG: It’s really difficult to take ownership of something once the doors have opened and its run out, the mannequin challenge for example, the first video of that was a group of teenagers in a high school in Florida. The twitter account that it was uploaded to had a couple of hundred followers if that and its just spread like wild fire.
Yes some people are acknowledging and attributing the original post but the vast majority of people have no idea where its come from they’ve seen a famous big brand or celebrity giving it a go and thats where they have identified it.
SL: What are the key similarities that they share which makes them successful?
DG: I think the most important thing is that a video invokes a strong emotional response. For example the Chewbacca mask lady which is a video of a woman trying on a Star Wars mask, its a voice modulator thing, she tries it on, she starts laughing, the voice modulator adapts her laugh and she’s in hysterics. That just made you smile. You found it adoring, you found it lovely, you found it funny, people were in hysterics watching this. And that kind of emotional response, I want to share this, I want to share the love, share the happiness.
X Factor Does The Mannequin Challenge
I think that the most powerful emotion is something that’s funny, that’s entertaining. People are posting, they’re sharing these on their personal social media feeds, to their friends, their loved ones. Its like, I find this interesting, I want to share it. In the same way that if you meet your friends for a coffee you want to tell them a story of something that you saw the other day. “Oh it was funny, let me share this” its the same concept but you’re doing it through a digital platform. It doesn’t need to be humour though. Kony 2012, invoked a very different emotional response but it was still a strong emotional response.
2015 the John Lewis advert, then the man on the moon, again a very sad video when you think about it and it was that strong emotional response of ‘nobody should be alone at Christmas’. So that’s the key thing that ties them all together is that emotional drive that I want my friends, I want my family to see this. Another key factor is the length of the video. Now there are exceptions to this but generally speaking brevity is key.
Keeping something short, our attention span in the 21st century are ever shrinking, so something we can watch quickly and easily is critical because you’re not going to hold on to peoples attention for a full 10 minute video unless its something that’s really going hook them in and get them to focus and keep paying attention. The way in which we watch video has changed as well. We now use mobiles a lot more so we are watching videos on the go. When you are at the bus stop, you only have a couple of minutes before the bus arrives and the phone goes back into your pocket. So the way in which we’re watching these videos has influenced how much attention we have on watching the things.
SL: So does strong emotion trigger the want to share and does it reflect who you are as a person?
GD: Absolutely, there has been a lot of psychological studies of how we use social media and lots of theories that have been going round. One of the strong ones is this idea that our social media pages are a version of ourselves that we want to be perceived as. This is who we want other people to see us as, so you always have that underlining thought, when you are hovering over the share button is, is this in line with the character that I want my friends to perceive me as.
There’s a game element almost of, if I share this, are other people going to enjoy this. How many likes is my post going to get as a result to this. So these are all factors we go though conscious or subconsciously when choosing what content to put out on what is a very personal feed.
SL: Where do trends come from and why do they surface?
GD: They can surface for a multitude of reasons, there’s lots of factors in play. You have got the origin point to consider but its not always going to be critical. The mannequin challenge being a great example of that, the origin point of that was a bunch of random teenagers in a random school in America.
That’s not a very influential factor but you have got other things, a sense of commonality so you will see on Twitter certain news stories trending, things that affect a lot of people . Whether that’s a big news event or just a television programme that everyone is excited about. The other thing you’ve got is the notion of the ripple effect.
You become aware of something from someone else who saw it from somewhere else. This is where celebrities and other community influences can become a really powerful tool. If a celebrity like Taylor Swift who has millions of followers shares a video or mentions a brand then that’s an instant endorsement that’s going out to a huge number of people and it alerts a lot of people to something that perhaps hadn’t already received their attention.
I think that’s how things really start to go viral is the right people and the right influences sharing it. Sometimes it can just serve as a reminder to something that you saw briefly “oh that looks vaguely interesting but I’m too busy” but then you see it again and someone that you know or who is influential has gone “actually no, you want to see it” and it forces you to want to watch it. Why have they decided to share it and if they are should I be, which is the follow up question, then brands do the same when they look at their marketing campaign.
SL: What are the tips for jumping on the viral band wagon and riding the wave without falling off?
DG: I think the first thing is to think about when to jump on it. You don’t want to join the party too late. You don’t want to burst “hey look, we’ve done a Harlem Shake” and everyone goes “oh yeah I remember the Harlem Shake, that was a few years ago”. You’ve got to be very reactive to this kind of stuff and the problem is that you can’t predict it coming. You need to have internally a process to allow you to streamline and get something from concept to release very quickly. Being on time and getting it out there whilst people are still talking about it. People aren’t interested if they have to go through a great length to replicate it.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic example of this. You don’t need a lot to do it but some people wanted to take that one step further to make it more extravagant. The ease of access is the important thing. The other things brands need to be aware of is that they are joining a trend and not trying to steer or create one and so they can’t shift the perspective too heavily. It can’t be taken in a completely different direction, forced to serve your own promotional purposes. You have to ride with it as thats what people are looking for, that’s why people are sharing it.
Example Video of The Harlem Shake
SL: How can businesses ride the wave but also stand out at the same time?
DG: I think you need to break down what the video is. Breakdown what is the concept then look for a single angle that can be tweaked that presents a degree of originality, but is still is very clearly the same blueprint. If we use the mannequin challenge as an example.
Has anyone done a mannequin challenge under water? It’s still the same concept but it has an underwater twist. You can try to find a twist that relates to your company or product and slip it in there so people go “hey have you seen this specific one rather than any other one”. If you are an early adopter of it you can stand a good chance of getting some media exposure as all the big news agencies are reporting on it looking for examples to demonstrate. It could allow you to become part of the news story of the concept becoming viral.
SL: What is the best way to see a video on social media?
DG: I think there are two things to bear in mind when you are looking to seed a video; getting on the right platforms and the right time of day. The obvious platform is YouTube. Its the biggest repository of video on the internet and the shareablity functionality with other platforms, its easy to share a video to Twitter or Facebook.
It is not the only platform to bear in mind though. A couple of years ago, just share it to YouTube, but today you need to be looking at Facebook as its own platform. Facebook’s algorithm has become very intuitive and Facebook will actually reward those who upload videos to their own platform. Two posts which are identical in every way, except one was uploaded to YouTube and the other uploaded direct to Facebook. Facebook will rank that second post higher because you’ve used Facebook’s internal system.
SL: Should you have all your content on one platform and then lead other platforms to it?
DG: You are diluting your single viewing count across the platforms but just add those numbers together. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how someone has seen your video, the important thing is that they have seen it. You need to maximise the number of people that are going to see it and you need to play the game that Facebook and the other social media platforms are playing with these algorithms. This leads into posting at the right time of day.
You need to think about your audience, when are they most likely going to be on their social platforms. Again are they people on their commute to work or are you looking to target university student who don’t get up till 11am or are you targeting teachers whose day finishes at 3:30 – 4:00pm. You need to think about all these things and post your content out at a time when they are most likely to be looking at their computers or phones.
SL: So when people say timing is everything, in terms of social media what does this mean, season, month or time of day?
DG: I think its timing it on every single level. You need to be thinking constantly throughout the year. A Halloween video isn’t going to become viral at Christmas. You have to think about the context, is there a seasonal link with the content, what else is happening with the video. Are you going to be competing with other videos around that time.
You could lose your audience to other content like adverts at the same time as the Super Bowl. It goes right down to should I post this at 9am or 10am. The analytic tools being developed have really evolved and matured that we use with our clients which allow us to see when an audience are on social media platforms at specific times and then we adjust our marketing strategy accordingly.
SL: What if everyone is posting at the same time, are we back to square one on when to post content?
DG: Yes, this is where it comes into having a look and observing what the traffic is like. Twitter is becoming very unique in its display layout because it’s linear, it displays in chronological order. You have to be very precise in your day but at the same time it unusual for more than 6 – 10% of your audience to be online at any one point.
So you need to think about when can I add that extra 1 – 2%, which can make a huge different. Now with Instagram and Facebook, they use a more algorithmic approach, its the content that is most popular. Yes time of day is still a factor but its not as important.
SL: Should you be instructing or asking people to share your content?
DG: I don’t believe it helps. As I said earlier, these people’s social media feeds are very personal to them and they want to retain a sense of control and they decide what content goes out on it. If you’re asking them to share it then you’re trying to take control of their personal news feeds. Its best to put the video out there and let it speak for itself and if they chose to share it then that’s fantastic.
I think that is a more powerful result and a better benefit that they have chosen on their own to share it rather than just responding to your request. It shows they have really connected with the video. It also means that you can instead focus on a call to action that’s more valuable to you, whether that’s directing people to your website or getting people talking about a certain subject. Your call to action can be focused on that rather than being split between, sharing the video and also can you do this and also can you do that.
SL: If you have to chose one platform to host the original video and get the traction, which would be the best?
DG: If you are going to start anywhere, it is YouTube. I think the flexibility of the platform, the fact that it can post on to a number of other platforms easily, but I wouldn’t try to control where it goes from there. If it did spread to Instagram video or people start having a go on Snapchat with it, then that’s great. Let it roam free, but if you want to start somewhere then YouTube is the logical place to start.
SL: In regards to marketing, it’s never good to put all your eggs into one basket, so viral videos shouldn’t be the only thing you do?
DG: No it absolutely shouldn’t be. I think setting out to create a viral video is in its self setting out on the wrong track. We’ve had people come to us and say, “we would like this to become viral” under the guise of, once it goes viral all our problems will be solved, profits will quadruple. Viral Videos are not a silver bullet and they are not something that can be easily cultivated and forced, its completely dependent on whole host of factors and we never know what the next viral trend will be.
Its a reaction more than a proaction and I think by all means utilise them and jump on the trends but don’t try to control what goes viral. If you do then your video or content won’t achieve what you want it to. It will lose a sense of direction. I think you need to think about your call to action and what your end game is and focus on that, its just how you go about that. That’s the question.
SL: Thank you very much David, its been fantastic. Thanks for joining me today.