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Hacking YouTube: How To Create A Successful Viral Video

05 April 2012COMMENTS

Is there a method to making your video go viral or is it just down to luck? This is a question posed by clients, brands and colleagues alike. Everyone wants to make a successful video, but can anyone really guarantee it will go viral? Is there a formula or a set of rules to follow that will increase the chances of virality? At a talk I went to recently at SXSW, Prerna Gupta suggested there is a method to create a successful viral video - in turn, hacking YouTube.

Prerna Gupta is the CEO of Khush - developer of the popular intelligent music apps Songify and LaDiDa. She became a YouTube stalker. She wanted to know if there were any patterns, what was successful, who made them, and why.

She was enthusiastic about creativity, deeming it a fundamental human trait - that means you and everyone else can be a creative. Viral video is cheaper than other forms of advertising and it's also consistently growing. From 180 million YouTube views, Prerna's apps have secured over 1 million downloads. This equals a significant profit - something every brand can understand.

Enough of the small talk though - how does one make a great viral video?

6 Building Blocks

Gupta found through her research that there are 6 building blocks to making a successful viral video:

  1. Music - humour and cover songs work best
  2. Surprise - shocking / unexpected videos work best
  3. Cuteness - pets are the best form of cuteness
  4. Boobs - self-explanatory really
  5. Humour - parody, absurdity, off the cuff
  6. Celebrity - a celebrity referencing your product

Product Demo Versus Virality

How do you include your product in a viral video? Product placements are worthless, but a product demo or description is essential. There is therefore a trade off between demo and virality. The tip is to put the demo in the post roll - around 20 seconds at the end of the video. Then put a link/reference to the product in the text description at the top of the page.

Viral Video Successes

Singing Badly In Public With LaDiDa200,000 views

In this video, LaDiDa turns the professor's horrible singing into a legit pop song!

Product Placement - CHECK
Music (using humour) - CHECK
Surprise (no-one expected initially his song could turn out this good) - CHECK
Humour (the song is obsurd) - CHECK

Husky Dog Sings With iPad8 million views

Khush created a product placement viral video in collaboration with Mishka the dog. She was already a YouTube celebrity from her previous videos where she says ‘I love you’. This video hits the sweet spots of demo and virality.

Product Placement - CHECK
Music (using humour) - CHECK
Surprise (no-one expected a dog could sing) - CHECK
Humour (the dog is singing is rather funny) - CHECK
Cuteness (use of a pet) - CHECK
Celebrity (Mishka was already a YouTube celebrity) - CHECK

The Annoying Orange 8: LaDiDa17.8 million views

Khush collaborated with a YouTube star - this time with the Annoying Orange - for another project.

Product Placement - CHECK
Music (using humour) - CHECK
Surprise (no-one expected the ending) - CHECK
Humour (the characters, story and ending are humourous) - CHECK
Cuteness (the orange and iPhone have a slight cuteness to them) - CHECK
Celebrity (the annoying orange was already a YouTube celebrity) - CHECK

Songify This - Can’t Hug Every Cat15.6 million views

This viral video was made for Khush by YouTube stars The Gregory Brothers using their app ‘Songify’.

Product Placement (placed throughout and at the end of the video) - CHECK
Music (using humour) - CHECK
Humour (the music) - CHECK
Cuteness (there is no shortage of cute cats) - CHECK
Celebrity (The Gregory Brothers are already a YouTube celebrity) - CHECK

The Key of Awesome!: Eminem - Love the Way You Lie ft Rihanna Parody: Key of Awesome #2748 million views

This is a parody of the Eminem & Rihanna song ‘Love The Way You Lie’. There is a product placement at the end of the video from the creator of the Key Of Awesome.

Product Placement (at the end of the video) - CHECK
Music (using parody) - CHECK
Surprise (the parody of the music throughout offers lots of suprise) - CHECK
Humour (the music video storyline is humourous) - CHECK
Cuteness (the use of children is cute) - CHECK
Celebrity (the key of awesome was already a YouTube celebrity) - CHECK

The Most Formulaic Viral Video Ever?

Elephant Plays with a Galaxy Note!2.2 million views

This final video was not shown at the talk, but one I spotted while I was writing up my notes - It is probably the most formulaic viral video ever made.

Product Placement - CHECK
Music - CHECK
Surprise (the elephant can use the product) - CHECK
Humour (the elephant can use the product) - CHECK
Cuteness (the elephant) - CHECK
Celebrity (you could say a Samsung phone is kind of a celebrity) - CHECK
Boobs (attractive female helps the elephant) - CHECK

Extra Tips

  • Video production tips: Be creative - use a Canon DSLR to take the video, use iMovie / Final Cut Pro to edit, film in sunlight and make use of the many free music apps to accompany your video.
  • Thumbnails - make sure these are clear to the audience and relate to the video. Getting these right can really make a difference to how many users click through to your video.
  • Get to the point - make sure the user is hooked within 10 seconds of the video.
  • Videos based on current events will nearly always result in more views.
  • Seed views - get a blog to pick up your video, do some PR, share to Facebook fans and Twitter followers. The initial seeding is important - a few thousand is a good start.
  • Collaborate with a fellow YouTuber.

Following these tips won't guarantee success, but they could help you get your video to go viral. If you would like more information on viral videos please feel free to contact Acknowledgement.

Further Reading

Forbes - 11 Secrets of Viral Videos


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  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • StumbleUpon
  • MySpace
  • Digg
  • Netvibes
  • Tumblr
  • Bebo



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