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Viral Video Marketing: Is it worth it and if so, how can it be done?

By Charles Moffat - February 2012.

With the advent of digital cameras that also shoot video and video cameras built into cellphones it is now easier than ever to shoot a short video clip. (Police brutality beware, little brother is watching you...)

Thanks to YouTube and similar websites those videos can now be mass marketed and become super popular in hours due to friends sharing with other friends, thousands of people clicking the Thumbs Up button and before you know it the video has been watched by a million or more.

Most of the videos are people doing stupid embarrassing things, but there is also ones of animals doing amazing or funny things and sometimes just videos of scantily clad women doing something relatively boring (like hula hoops).

The following video for example, known as the Battle of Kruger, has been viewed over 65 million times.

However at some point someone realized that such homemade videos had the potential to be used as advertising. One of the first such videos to be used as such that went viral is Bridezilla, wherein a would-be bride had a mental breakdown and started chopping off her hair. Initially people didn't know it was advertising, but it was later discovered that the women were all actresses in Toronto and it was an elaborate "initiative" to sell hair products for SunSilk Canada.

Bridezilla and other similar videos proved that Viral Video Marketing (VVM) is a viable way to advertise, but what is the success rate when it comes to actually selling products? How many people actually went out and bought SunSilk hair products? It is completely unknown. Companies typically don't want to disclose their success rates to their competitors.

Not to be outdone Old Spice created a whole series of viral videos by allowing people to tweet questions to the producers and then have those tweets answered an hour or two later with videos featuring the Old Spice guy from the television commercials. This deluge of videos was then spun and ended up with a slew of free publicity in newspapers, magazines and television.

Which makes you realize what Viral Video Marketing really is: A publicity stunt caught on video.

Now the trick to publicity stunts is that there are limits to what you can do and the video be acceptable. The video has to be "amazing" (whether this is amazingly awesome, amazingly funny or amazingly stupid can vary) and thus in this respect videos like Danny MacAskill doing gravity defying tricks on a bicycle can certainly help to sell a product (in this case bicycles and bicycle parts).

Okay so lets get down to business.

#1. What counts as a viral video?

According to various people in the industry who are attempting to make viral videos the standard is at least 100,000 views. Some might say it is half a million or over a million, but the minimum is considered to be 100,000.

#2. How do you get the ball rolling?

Assuming you actually have content worthy of being viral once the ball is rolling it will take off pretty easily. Viral videos usually have an "epidemic share rate" wherein 1 person sees the video and then shares it with friends via a blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Then those friends see it and share it as well. The term epidemic has been used to compare it to how some diseases can spread very easily because they are so contagious.

Now the problem is that you may think you have a video worthy of being viral, but the chances are much more likely you don't and you are just being overly optimistic. There are a lot of people who think they have something viral... but they don't because people see it and just aren't that interested in sharing it with others.

#3. Is it just a lucky shot?

Sometimes. Some people accidentally make viral videos and then never manage to repeat the process. Others have such a good talent that they can do it again and again. ie. The cartoon videos for "Simon's Cat" are all in the millions, because when people see one video they keep wanting to see more. Thus people aren't just sharing the 1 cartoon, they're watching more than 1 because they liked the first video so much.

#4. How do you get 100,000 views?

First you have to promote the video. Nobody is going to see it if you don't share it. Share the video on blogs, forums, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, StumbleUpon, email it to friends / colleagues (don't spam it to strangers, just people you actually know). If the video is actually worthy of attention the people who see it will share it with others and the epidemic will be awesome to watch unfold. But if its not worthy... well then you've got yourself a dud.

#5. How do I know if I have a dud?

Did you share it using all the above methods? Did it get a lot of attention in the first 24 hours after all the sharing is complete? If it did not you probably have a dud. It is possible it may just stew on the back burner and then 6 months later it might suddenly spark up a wildfire, but if it didn't do it within the first 24 hours it probably will never do it. Back to the drawing board!

#6. How should I title my video?

A viral video should have an easy name like "Star Wars Kid" or "Dog Drives Car". It doesn't have to be super catchy. Its better if its just simple.

#7. What should the Thumbnail of the video be?

Assuming you get the option to choose the thumbnail its best to pick an image that summarizes the video without misleading the person. A lot of people stick a half naked person in the middle of the video just to capitalize on that, but in reality this actually annoys viewers and causes more negative feedback when the thumbnail is misleading. (Plus it degrading to women!)

The best thumbnails are clear / high video quality and usually have a person's face in it.

#8. What about the comments section?

Some people like to post phony controversial comments in their comment section in an effort to get more views and stir up some attention. HOWEVER, don't be afraid to delete negative comments if you feel they are off topic or detrimental to your product. Controversy = Good, Negativity = Bad.

#9. What is the best way to release multiple videos?

The answer? All at once. The more the better. People want instant gratification. Don't tantalize them videos that are released slowly one at a time. That just annoys people and then they later forget about it. The best route is to get all the videos up and running, see which ones people like best, and then promote the heck out of the video that performs best.

#10. What about the description and tags?

The best route is to create unique tags. I don't mean using tags which are obscure, I am talking about absolutely unique and you are the only one using those tags. Why? Because when people view your videos the side views that show up are based on the tags. If you pick generic tags like "Music" then the videos on the side are going to be other people's music clips. What you want is to use tags like "Design SEO Toronto", something unique that nobody else is likely to be using. That way the side videos that pop up are all YOUR videos instead of the videos of competitors.

#11. How do I track where hits are coming from?

One way to track this is to add "?video=1" to the end of each URL when posting the video link on other sources. You can use numbers, words, etc. Test it out. Then you can check the stats analytics for your video which will tell you things like demographics, where the viewers are coming from, male or female, what devices they are watching the video on and so forth. Some videos get shared a lot on mobile devices and thus can be sent from person to person very quickly.

#12. Can I do this all myself?

You can certainly try. You don't need to hire a team of actors and a film crew to make a video, but you might want help promoting the video or you might need help coming up with innovative ideas. Or maybe you are simply too busy and have more money than time. That is where we come in. If you want help making videos then can certainly help you. We cannot guarantee it will go viral but we will certainly be helpful in the attempt. You may only want us as consultants during the innovative process or you may need help getting the ball rolling.

Note: It is possible for a video to get a lot of hits and attention even if its not going viral. Its called old fashioned SEO work. It may not be "Viral Video Marketing", but you can still get your money's worth from new customer leads.

#13. Will my video actually bring in more customers?

That is the big question, isn't it?

Viral videos are really more about branding than actual sales. They get attention, but the sales rate is low. It is arguably much more profitable to make a video which is focused on "the soft sale", meaning its low pressure or zero pressure, it shows the product or service, it provides free advice or information (like cooking videos meant to sell a recipe book) and then the viewer is given the option whether they want to buy your product or service. Most viral videos are just entertaining and just provide good branding for the business.

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