Not too long ago, someone approached me and explained his company wanted to produce a viral video. It didn't take long to realize the ideas his company had for the video were far from the roots of a successful one.
As he explained his ideas (which consisted of text and logos plastered throughout), I quickly realized one thing: He didn't want a viral video at all. He wanted a promotional video.
This is common. Clients like the idea that a video promoting their company will "go viral," and be seen by hundreds and thousands of people. They don't realize there is no recipe for creating a viral video. If there was, everyone would be pouring resources into producing them.
When you explain that in your funny (sometimes slightly risky) video, there will be virtually no mention of the company, and that the logo will only appear at the end, the response is usually something along the lines of, "But it doesn't tell people much about our company. How will we make money?"
So many attempts to create viral videos fail, and usually for the same reasons. Here's the key to creating a successful video:
1. The video must evoke emotion.
If there is ever a viral video production school, I would expect this would be taught on the first day. It's the most important video lesson you can learn.
I'm sure most people reading this—at least those with Facebook or Twitter accounts—have seen a viral video. Take a moment and think about the videos others have shared with you, or videos you've shared. What were they about, and why did people share them in the first place?
I expect most people would say they shared videos because they were funny. Take the recent Internet sensation, "Gangnam Style." The reason this initially went viral was because Psy's crazy dance moves are hilarious.
However, there are other reasons to share. The video must be awesome (and I mean truly awesome), sad, controversial, or, in some cases, educational.
All of these evoke some sort of emotion, which starts the path to virality. Imagine your friend told you a joke or funny story. Chances are you'd pass that joke or story on to your other friends, and they'd tell their friends. This is exactly what happens online with viral videos. It's important to incorporate true emotion into your videos.
2. The video should portray your brand's image without being too promotional.
If a video is successful, it is likely to be the first time many viewers hear about your company—especially if it's a start-up business. This is why your video needs to ooze your brand's personality without giving the hard sell.
Take the recent DollarShaveClub.com video:
This is a very clever video. It's informative, highlights the business' unique selling points and, best of all, is absolutely hilarious. Perhaps the cleverest part of the video is how it appeals to the brand's target market of post-pubescent males. It emphasizes their no-nonsense image and explains there's no reason to waste your money on overpriced razors.
I know what you're thinking: This video is actually pretty promotional right? I agree, but there's no hard sell and it's far more entertaining than it is promotional.
3. The video must have a marketing plan.
Yes, companies have seen their videos go viral through nothing more than a great deal of luck, but you can't afford to take this risk. It's usually a lot harder for a video to spread if a company produces and endorses it, as opposed to something someone uploads purely for entertainment purposes. Consider the well-known viral hits "Hamster on a Piano" or "Keyboard Cat" (two of my favorites).
As I previously mentioned, there are also a lot of companies that commission videos without understanding that not all of them are going to be successful. Sure, your video needs to be great, but you also need to have a great marketing plan.
A lot of well-established companies might find this easier than small companies or start-ups because they already have a major social media following. For example, Coca-Cola has close to 55 million Facebook fans. As you can imagine, it's likely to see its videos go viral pretty quickly.
The case for an initial marketing plan is simple: There has to be someone to share the video first.
Let's look at a real-world example. Imagine you wanted to start a rumor about someone. If you never told anyone the rumor, how would it spread? If you tell one person the rumor, it has some chance of spreading, but if you tell 50 people, it's going to spread more quickly. Once you plant those initial seeds, some of your work is done.
Conversely, it doesn't matter how good your initial marketing plan is if your video doesn't hold its own. There will come a point when people stop sharing it, and you don't want that to happen too quickly. Read this article, which goes into a lot more detail about a three tier/circle concept, and why it's likely your video will fail if it doesn't get past the second circle.
4. Other branding/marketing efforts must be in place.
Ultimately, the only reason you would commission a video is because you want to see results. There's no point in forking over a hefty sum of money on video production if the rest of your marketing and operational efforts are out of whack.
Let's say your video is a huge success, and you get thousands of website visits every day, but your site is outdated with no online ordering system. You're probably losing a lot of customers and revenue.
Make sure your other marketing efforts are up to par so you can maximize your return on investment. Your video will likely be near the top of your sales funnel, so if things aren't in place farther down the line, you're likely to lose prospective buyers.
DollarShaveClub.com is a great example of how to do things properly. Within just 24 hours of the video going live, the company received more than 5,000 subscribers and has seen thousands of paying customers sign up.
Because its website has a fantastically simple landing page designed to efficiently convert visitors to customers.
What other factors did I miss? How do you ensure your videos are a smashing success?
Joshua Hardwick is the managing director of ShortyMedia. A version of this article originally appeared on Convince & Convert.