A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the gold standard of marketing was to have an ad during the Super Bowl that people would talk about around the water cooler when they got to work the next day.
That last sentence is sort of like that old kid's game "How many things can you find wrong in this picture?" Let's see:
- People don't really talk around a water cooler that much anymore.
- People also don't wait a day to talk about a hot subject either. Instead, they discuss it as it happens on Facebook chat, or text, or email, or. …
- More than a few people don't go to work from 9 to 5 anymore, instead relying on mobile technology to allow them to work at home, on the road, inside a Starbucks, or. …
- People also don't wait until the actual game to view the commercials, as many such ads are "leaked" online well before the game to create buzz.
So, yes, the rules of marketing have changed, and radically. Why? It's the same thing that has changed everything from how books are sold to how health care is delivered: the Internet.
As a result, the gold standard of marketing today isn't the funny Super Bowl ad, but rather the viral video. Create one of those and you've struck Internet oil.
All of which, of course, begs the question: Can you make a viral video on purpose, or is it something that just happens naturally -- sort of like taking a video of your sons and posting it online with the title "Charlie Bit My Finger." Can you capture that magic and disseminate it on purpose?
Yes, it turns out you can.
Or maybe a more accurate analysis is that you can create the context for a video to go viral, give it your best shot, and then cross your fingers and hope your video is sprinkled with fairy dust.
Create the right sort of video
Why don't my small-business videos go viral? Because I didn't create them that way, nor did I intend for them to be viral videos. They are simple business how-tos on my site TheSelfEmployed. They serve their purpose.
Viral videos are different. Viral videos tend to fall into a few different categories. So if you want to create a video that might get spread around the Internet like the Ebola virus, the first thing to do is make sure yours fits one of these categories:
- Funny: A video begins to go viral when people not only watch it, but tell their pals about it, too -- sharing it via email, Facebook, YouTube, text, Twitter, whatever. And what causes people to want to share a three-minute clip? It's because they think their friends will like it/laugh at it/be amazed by it too, or they think they will get some street cred by sharing it or discovering it first.
The first way to make that happen is by posting a video that cracks people up. How do you do that? That's your job, amigo -- I'm just sharing the process.
- Weird/quirky: When I first saw "PSY - Gangnam Style," I, like many, couldn't take my eyes off the screen. It was just so … different. Weird works. Quirky kills. Posting an odd video ups the chances of yours going viral because odd is memorable -- and especially in this e-world, you have to do something different to get noticed.
By the same token, larger companies have been able to get their videos to go viral because they have a budget to create a special effect that amazes at first sight, like an outfielder scaling a wall to catch a ball.
- Cute: Kitten videos are all the rage because kittens are just so damn cute.
- Outrageous: That a stupid movie about the Prophet Muhammad could cause rioting half a world away shows the power of posting something outrageous online. Now, if you are in the small-business world, outrageous is probably not what you want. But it does need to be noted that outrageous is a viral player.
- Poignant/insightful: A professor's last lecture. Steve Jobs speaking at graduation. Sincere insight is another tried-and-true way to position a video for virality.
Post it right
Once you have the video, the trick is to choose a thumbnail that's captivating and a title that's intriguing.
As indicated, having the right video is only a small part of the viral video game. There are tons of great videos out there that no one sees. So how do you get people to see yours? There are strategies large and small:
- Begin with your network: Once posted, share your video with those in your extended network and ask them to share it with theirs. Tweet it. Post it. Blog it. Email it.
- Share it with influencers: There are bloggers out there with huge audiences. Writers with many readers. Sites with millions of visitors. Your job is to get your video in front of them and get them to share it with their followers and fans.
Finally, remember that viral videos tend to be short (three minutes or so) and make people feel something -- they laugh, they cry, they get mad, they worry.
And then they share.