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Take Your Video Viral

Potential viewers: millions. Potential cost: next to nothing. Online videos are worth a look.

In 2004, New Jersey native Gary Brolsma became an internet legend when he lip-synched the Romanian pop song "Dragostea Din Tei" into a cheap webcam, and the resulting video, "Numa Numa Dance," went viral. Brolsma wasn't promoting anything; he wasn't even trying to make a viral video. So imagine if he had swapped out that nondescript shirt for one with your company logo or website plastered across it. Millions would have seen it. Cost to you: Almost nothing.

Sound enticing? Unfortunately, creating a low-cost video is harder than it looks. Here are tips for producing a video that spreads at supersonic speed:

  1. DIY is dicey, so equip yourself well. Using an inexpensive camcorder, you can easily shoot a video. Editing can be a little trickier, though consumer-friendly video-editing packages--like Apple's iMovie--are getting simpler to use and often feature plug-ins so you can upload your video directly to YouTube and other video-sharing sites. True technophobes can shoot with a Flip Video mini camcorder, which has built-in editing software and one-button uploading to YouTube. But most experts discourage guerrilla marketers from going totally DIY.

    Kevin Nalty, an established YouTuber (known by his username Nalts) who runs the blog willvideoforfood.com, suggests hiring someone who knows not only production basics but also what works in online video. Says Nalty, "I've seen fairly good production lacking the basic tenets of a popular viral video, and I can tell someone spent money to no avail."
  2. Know the essentials. While there may not be any guarantees when creating a viral video, there is some method to the madness. Nalty says a viral video needs to be funny, sexy, shocking, engaging or interactive--even all of the above.

    Also, a video should never go beyond three minutes and preferably stop at about a minute. You must engage your audience within the first 15 seconds, and you need a big finish--that's what triggers viewers to forward your video.
  3. Tap a creator with a built-in audience. If you're a YouTube newbie, you may only get a few dozen hits (mostly from your friends). But Nalty, author of a free e-book loaded with tips, says he gets more than 40,000 views on each video. "The most important way to get organic views is to have your video uploaded by someone who has subscribers," says Nalty, who has about 65,000 subscribers. To find these users, click on YouTube's "Channels" tab, then choose the "Most Subscribed" link.
  4. Enlist college kids. If you've got a decent budget, you can hire creative talent on sites like xlntads.com and poptent.net. Nalty charges $3,000 to $10,000. But if you're low on money, Nalty suggests hiring an amateur YouTuber whose style appeals to you. "These college kids know how to tag things well so they appear high in search engines, and they'll create something for a few hundred bucks," Nalty says. Ideally, find someone local so you can meet face to face.
  5. Seed, seed, seed. Once your video's on YouTube, you need to promote it. The obvious place to start is with bloggers who cover your industry and can help the video travel. When it comes to viral video, traveling is the name of the game--the faster, the better.

For examples of viral videos at work in small business, click here.

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This article was originally published in the February 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Take Your Video Viral.

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