Making a video viral

todayviral The headline above is deliberate in the order in which I put the two key words: ‘video’ and ‘viral.’

I hear a lot of talk about viral videos, as in “We’re creating a viral video.” And my new favourite which I heard last week: “We’re going to viral the campaign.”

(Proof that you can do amazing things with the English language.)

The latest such talk is today and the Inside Today video created by the Rubber Republic agency for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Much of the talk I see online is about creating a viral video. But there’s no such thing as ‘creating a viral video’!

You can create a video, which is what Rubber Republic have done for the Today programme. If enough people start talking about the video online, and linking to it, it might enjoy a viral effect with talk spreading via a variety of communication channels.

The Wikipedia definition of ‘viral video’ makes the point:

A viral video is a video clip that gains widespread popularity through the process of Internet sharing, typically through email or Instant messaging, blogs and other media sharing websites.

That’s what’s happening today – plenty of online talk about the video generating a lot of buzz. So it seems to be enjoying a viral effect although it’s arguable that such talk isn’t really widespread, but mostly via Twitter and tracked on the hashtag #todayviral.

Let’s get our terminology and understanding right. And maybe help the Today programme, who say they are doing this as an experiment to see how viral ads work.

Hopefully, they’ll share their learning soon.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. eaon pritchard

    mildly amusing but the fist rule of ‘viral’ club is that for something to spread it generally needs to be either; about ‘me’ or ‘I’ can add to or rearrange the ‘message’ somehow. close but no cigar.

  2. neville

    Not sure I’d agree with you on that rule, Eaon.

    For something to spread, it would be something that gets people talking about it, no matter what it’s about.

    It looks that simple to me. In which case, R4 might get a cigar, a miniature at least.

  3. Mike Keliher

    One of my favorite lines on this subject, though I can’t remember who I should be attributing it to: “You want me to make you a ‘viral video’? OK, then you go write me a best-selling book!”

  4. Marie-Louise Gariepy

    I don’t quite agree. Of course making a viral video is more an art than a science but there are some rules to keep in mind. Luck is part of the receipe, it always is. What one must focus on in making a viral video is not the actual content of the video nor the feeling the person will experiment watching the video. What matters is the feeling that the viewer will have in the process of sharing the video. If you can hit on that feeling very hard, if you can give them ‘meaning’ in this process, your video will go viral.

    This might sound trivial but it is not. Think of all the other type of media created and most rely on a mixture of techniques to promote their content. In regular advertising, one will take into account the exposure the brand receive on television even if no one actualy enjoy the add. Movie industry is using stars as a magnet to their films. In viral video, there is only one way: sharing.

    I can enyoy very much a video without wanting to share it with my friends. On the other hand, there are videos I cannot help but share – sometimes, I even don’t think these are good videos, take the dramatic chipmunk as an example. These videos are nothing like a bestseller, nothing. A bestseller is a well crafter piece of entertainment or art. There are different ways to produce a viral video and new professionnals of the field will prove that they are better than anybody else to do it. End of the argument.

    As a side note:
    I think viral campain makes a lot of sense when you are targeting a niche. Beside that, yes it can be a gamble, but as long as you don’t ruin yourself doing it, why not? The return on investment can be huge.

  5. Andy Parkhouse

    Hi Neville,

    I enjoyed your thoughtful response to our Today film. We should have known better than to call it a “viral”:

    It’s too easy to use the wrong terms – for lots of people “viral” =
    “film on the internet”, for others it’s holy grail of “free marketing
    that everyone will love” (which we haven’t seen anyone achieve with a
    commercial ‘viral’ in ten years of doing this). For some people “viral” is a strict mathematical definition where virality is “probability > 0 of onwards transmission”.

    Echoing the comments above, a “viral” can’t be made, it’s not an artefact, it’s an effect. We set out to make a charming little film intended to appeal to a good cross-section of existing Today programme listeners.

    I’d argue that the success of that is measured by the physics and anthropology of the outcome:
    – is there evidence that enough of the right people watched it? (the physics)
    – is there evidence that they found the experience rewarding? (the anthropology)

    It’s interesting to be part of this debate. This is something we think about a lot.



  6. neville

    Great comparison, Mike!

    Marie-Louise, you have some excellent points. I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on stimulating a viral effect in what you said here:

    I can enjoy very much a video without wanting to share it with my friends. On the other hand, there are videos I cannot help but share

    That’s exactly the point – the ones you cannot help but share are the ones that have every chance of ‘going viral’ if many others feel the way you do.

    Andy, thanks for those clarifications! I think defining what viral means is a lot simpler, maybe close to what Marie-Louise said.

    Whether the video does create a true viral effect – and I’d love to know how R4 will measure that – congrats on a really attractive and compelling audio-visual experience that you created.

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