How To Make a Successful Viral Video

Advice on Making a Video that Actually Gets Noticed

Will It Blend Viral Video


These days, viral videos are everywhere. And everyone wants one. That's because they're a cheap way to spread your message to the world.

The trouble is, what makes a video viral is often not understood until it has actually gone viral. There are many videos out there that have all the elements of the videos that get millions of hits, but they languish in obscurity. There are other videos that don't seem to have any magic, and yet they hit the front page of every social media site.

Is there a magic formula? Can you really capture lightning in a bottle every time you try? Well, let's take a look.

First, What Exactly is a Viral Video?

Well, quite simply, it's a video that becomes popular without having any traditional advertising to support it. Viral videos are passed around via email, Internet sites, and cell phones. In effect, the general public becomes the driver of the video's immense popularity. However, in recent times, videos have gone viral after driving views by traditional methods. Basically, an ad buy starts the wave (much like priming the motor on a lawn mower) and then the public bites, and it takes off. There is nothing wrong with this way of doing things, but to be fair, it's not a purely viral video. 

The Common Elements of Most Viral Videos

There are several commonalities that viral videos share, although the content itself can vary greatly. Here are the top five traits that most viral videos have in common:

  • Low budget: Most viral videos have not blown the budget on fancy effects, big actors and lavish locations. They are usually videos that have been done on very little money or were simply captured on a cell phone camera or another cheap recording device. That's not to say there is no big budget viral videos (just take a look at Rebecca Black's Friday, that was not exactly cheap to produce) but generally, content is way more important than budget. Also, there is the appearance of low budget. Take, for example, the Chuck Testa taxidermy commercial. It looks cheap and tacky, and so far has had over 17 million views. But, it was masterminded by YouTube stars Rhett and Link for their IFC TV series Commercial Kings. Either way, low budget, whether real or faked, can be a great way to get videos to go viral. People don't usually like sharing fancy ads that cost millions of dollars unless they are very, very cool.
  • Humor: Whether planned or not, most viral videos are funny in some way. Sometimes it's unintentionally funny (Rebecca Black again, or the poor kid who thought he was a Jedi) or it could be a fall, a collection of flubs and so on. Other times, it's blatantly funny content, including parody, singing, dancing, clips from TV shows, re-cut movie trailers and so on. Another popular method is dubbing new audio over old clips (a prime example is the honey badger which contains some NSFW language). Now, humor is subjective, so getting a video to go viral should tap into things that people generally find funny. Most people love a good "epic fail," so that is a winning proposition. People also like watching other people make fools of themselves. Jackass was a popular TV show for a reason.
  • Topicality: Staying current can be important with viral videos, although it's not essential. If not with current trends, news, politics, music, films or gaming, then at least current with the viral videos that are trending high. Many of the viral videos seen when Rebecca Black's Friday was doing the rounds related to it in some way. Most recently, viral content around President Trump, or Russia, has proven to get views. These are the current topics to parody, make fun of, defend or blatantly attack. Who knows how long it will last, but SNL will no doubt want it to continue. Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer sketches were huge successes.
  • Provocation: From thought-provoking, to just downright inflammatory, viral videos go viral because they say or do something that gets the public's attention in some way. "OMG, you won't believe what I just saw" is a common reaction to viral videos. And people want to share that feeling with friends and family. That's why bad driving, store hold-ups, racial rants, sex tapes, politics, and numerous other provocative themes, are often doing the viral video rounds. Sometimes, it can be too provocative and end up being removed from YouTube and other channels, so it's a fine line to walk. You want to get people fired up enough to share it, without being so fired up that they complain to the people who can remove it.
  • Surprises: These come in many forms, and a lot of "planned" viral videos come under this final category. Remember when Ronaldinho kicked the ball at the crossbar not once but four times? That was a huge surprise. It was unbelievable. And even though people knew it was probably fake, they loved it. The Trunk Monkey was another great surprise, and obviously fake. Then there are the videos that genuinely shock people, like the pleasant car commercial that ends with a horrific screaming banshee. Shocks and surprises can be planned and scripted, and still, have a great chance of going viral. Other methods include tricking people into watching something serene, or something that needs a lot of concentration, only to scare them with a "jump scare." A popular example of this kind of video can be seen here. But be will only work once on a person, and so multiple views are not going to happen. 

If the video you make uses several of these elements, it has a good chance of going viral. But even then, it takes a lot more than that to be a success.

Making a Good Viral Video

Now that you know the main elements of a viral video, it's time to decide the best strategy for yours. And that all depends on the product or service that you want to be associated with the viral video. Something provocative is good for some brands but hurts others. Humor is a bad choice for many brands. So, take some time to align your brand's tone of voice with the viral video strategy.

When you have decided on the strategy, the next big thing is content. It's all about content. Videos with millions of hits don't need million dollar budgets, but they do need big ideas. Here are some idea starters you can use:

Idea Starter #1 - Viral Video Piggybacking: One way to get directly into the viral arena is to piggyback a current viral video or trend. You will know which videos are going viral, you'll see them in your inbox, on Twitter, or on the front pages of many social websites. Do a parody of it, remake it, just make sure you don't infringe on anyone's copyright.

Idea Starter #2 - Viral Videos with Celebrities: Another successful method is to involve a celebrity in some way. They don't have to be A-list or even B-list, but they already come with a certain amount of fame that you can use. Think about someone semi-famous who aligns with your brand, has a following and would make a splash if he or she entered the web space. It's amazing how quickly followers of that person will spread the word for you.

Idea Starter #3 - Viral Videos with Kids or Animals: There's a reason people love kids and animals. And it can be summed up in one word - genuine. They don't fake things. Genuine responses or actions are much more likely to go viral because people love authentic reactions. A fake laugh is boring. A real laugh is infectious. So, can your idea revolve around these two segments…or both?

Idea Starter #4 - Voyeuristic Viral Videos: We are all voyeurs in some way. The number of reality shows on our TV screens is a testimony to that. So, think about a way that your video can be something that's filmed "under the radar." From hidden camera techniques to surveillance footage, making people feel like they're being let in on something that should be secret is a great way to get attention.

Idea Starter #5 - Viral Video Songs: These are everywhere and they get good traction. You can add a song to a video or music video that already exists, make one up, do a parody, a remake, you name it. When it comes to songs, don't worry about trying to make the Billboard 100. All you want to do is get something that is worthy of being passed around. A classic is this one, done in an office, that could have been done for any number of products.

Now, Get Your Video Out There

Posting a video on YouTubeMetacafĂ© or any other video site is not enough. You may get lucky; someone with thousands of followers may see it, and Tweet it or repost it. But more often than not, it will remain in obscurity. This is going to take some more work.

First, send it to as many people as possible. Use your network of contacts to help distribute it. Get them to Tweet about it, put it on FaceBook, on personal blogs and anywhere else that they have a web presence. The more times a link to your video is published, the more chance you have on someone clicking that link.

Next, put it on the big social networking sites, like and Finally, contact the editors of some of the biggest sites that link to these videos. A personal email with a link can work wonders. If it's related to a story they're running, even better. Sometimes, news station websites will eat up something viral, they are always looking for content. Take advantage of every media outlet. As they say, you can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. In this case, every link out there for your video is a ticket to the viral fame jackpot.

Follow Up Your Viral Video

If your video goes viral and goes from a few hundred to many thousands of views, congratulate yourself. But don't rest on your laurels. You now have the chance to repeat the success and many of the barriers that faced the first one have been broken down. The Terry Tate: Office Linebacker series is a perfect example of riding the viral wave. After the first ad, people were eager for more. And Reebok delivered. So, be prepared to shoot more than one video, and have the sequel waiting in the wings.