The Secrets of Viral Videos

Ann Handley | Entrepreneur

So you want to create a video that everyone’ll talk about. You want it to be shared globally and earn views, retweets and “likes.” In other words, you want it to go viral, like Dollar Shave Club’s hilarious video, which earned the company a whopping 12,000 new customers in the first two days it hit the internet.

How do you make that happen? There is no surefire formula. You can’t conjure up viral; you can’t force it. But here’s the thing: If you are looking to market your business, you don’t necessarily need a viral hit–you just need to attract enough attention to draw customers. Here’s how.

Focus on the story. Before trying to be clever, consider the message. Why are you producing the video? What problems does your company tackle, and in what unique ways does it do so?

“Most marketers have a tendency to focus on the product, but it’s more interesting to talk about what problem your product can solve,” says Tim Washer, who creates video for Cisco as senior manager of social media. Ideally, that problem is one shared by your prospects, so they’ll recognize their pain in your video.

Dollar Shave Club’s clip got attention because it was funny. But it earned buyers because at its heart was a real story: Razor blades are excessively complicated and expensive. (“Do you think your razor needs a vibrating handle, a flashlight, a back-scratcher and 10 blades?”)

Keep it tight. Think short and punchy–ideally, two minutes or less, with something really compelling in the first 15 or 20 seconds. Effective online content demands participation, always driving viewers to move forward. As Arianna Huffington noted in a keynote speech for MarketingProfs: “If you are consuming old media, you are consuming it on your couch. If you are consuming new media, you are consuming it on your horse.” Most important (and obvious): People won’t share a video they abandoned midway through because it was too long.

Of course, there are exceptions. Under Armour had a hilarious clip of Tom Brady being mocked by an employee at a Los Angeles Dick’s Sporting Goods store–not because he’s from the rival New England Patriots, but because of Boston accents. I found myself watching all three minutes of what was essentially a commercial.

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