How to Seed a Viral Marketing Campaign on YouTube

By Shiv Singh, Stephanie Diamond

If you choose to use YouTube as part of your social media marketing campaign, you need to realize the power of viral videos. Viral videos are of two types, and it is important to know both:

  • Organic: This is a video that creates a national frenzy, and people rush to see it and share it with their friends (like Psy’s Gangnam Style, which is probably the most viewed video of all time, with more than 2 billion views). Usually, it just happens organically without planning. It captures the imagination of viewers, and off it goes.

  • Seeded: This video has a carefully planned viral seeding campaign with lots of thought and advertising dollars behind it. It may go viral, but there’s no guarantee. Some companies specialize in viral seeding, or you can go through a general social media agency to get assistance. Companies like Sharethrough, TubeMogul, and Tubular can help in this regard.

Can you make a video go viral? Decidedly not. If you could, marketers would be launching them by the armload. However, these few tips and tricks may improve your chances of creating a viral video:

  • Keep the content fresh: Nothing beats fresh content when it comes to creating viral video clips. The content needs to be so engaging and unique that people can’t help but want to share it with everyone they know. Always start by focusing on the content.

  • Use celebrities if possible: If you’re representing a large brand and can afford to use celebrities, don’t hesitate to do so. Adding celebrities to the mix typically makes the videos more viral. We’re a celebrity-obsessed pop culture, and celebrities drive views. It is as simple as that. Some of the most popular videos during the World Cup from advertisers all used celebrities.

  • Make it surreal: A video that you want to watch many times over and share with your friends is often a video that has a surreal element to it. Someone is doing something in the video that is so out of the ordinary or so crazy that you can’t help watch it several times or talk to others about it. Better still is if a celebrity is doing something surreal.

  • Arouse emotions: More broadly speaking, studies by psychologists have shown that the videos that get the most attention are the ones that arouse emotions in the viewer, whether they be emotions of awe, anger, amusement, or disgust. And keep in mind that videos that elicit a range of emotions are typically the ones that perform the best because they’re more multidimensional.

  • Make it short: People online have no time at all. You must keep the viral clip short. Sometimes clips as little as ten seconds long are long enough for a video to go viral. Focus on quality versus quantity more than anything else. But also remember that here are no hard and fast rules for what the appropriate length of a YouTube video should be.

  • Don’t make it an ad: The content needs to be thought of as entertainment, and in fact, the more it is in a user’s casual language, the more likely it is to do well. The best way to appeal to your target users is to look at everything else they are probably viewing on YouTube and then use that as a baseline to launch your own video.

You can also do a viral seeding campaign on the cheap. Someone in your organization can be in charge of developing a campaign. You need to decide how high the stakes are and what your overall goal is.

Viral seeding involves sharing your video in a very targeted way to increase its shareability (if that’s a word). Those elements can include the following:

  • Targeting influencers: People who are influential in that category may comment to their audience about the video content, either online or off.

  • Creating resonance: Anchoring the videos in deep, global, human truths that everyone can relate to increases the video’s chances of going viral.

  • Placing it on social networks: Links to the video start showing up in tweets, Facebook posts, and other venues.

  • Emailing it to popular lists: Popular newsletters may include a link to the video.

  • Advertising: Video owners buy different types of advertising — Google, YouTube, Facebook, and so on — to encourage sharing.

  • Blogging: Well-known bloggers include a link to the video in one of their posts.

  • Partnerships: Collaborating with YouTube stars who are celebrities on YouTube with large channels to help promote the videos can help.

  • Doing giveaways: Links to the video mentioning free prizes start showing up online.

One example of viral seeding is the campaign Unilever created for its Dove brand. In April of 2013, Unilever launched a video on YouTube in which several women describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist who cannot see his subject. The same women are then described by strangers whom they met the previous day. The sketches are compared with the strangers’ sketches. Interestingly, it is the strangers’ sketches that are more flattering and accurate.

In a single week, the video had more than 15 million views globally. An article on Mashable about the video was shared more than 500,000 times in just 24 hours. One overriding reason that the video performed so well was because it was based on a surprising universal human truth that every woman could relate to and understand. The content was fresh, deeply emotional, and did not feel like an ad.

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