Doing it Right: Making Shareable and Marketable Viral Videos

When I think of viral videos, a classic comes to mind: “Charlie Bit My Finger,” a video that has its own Wikipedia page and once held the title of “most viewed YouTube video.” If you can remember back to nine years ago, this video was all the rage. It achieved a lot: made your friends, family and coworkers laugh and eventually annoyed everybody.

“Charlie Bit My Finger” fascinated advertisers and marketers. How could they generate the same excitement and views brought about by little Charlie’s razor sharp teeth? Now that “Charlie Bit My Finger” has almost 840 million views, companies have figured out how to hone in on the mystical viral video, and you can learn how to do it too.

If done right, viral videos can score millions of views, introduce your product and brand, and send sales skyward. Stefan van de Graff, digital marketing director and creative strategist at Chamber Media, says branded viral videos have two main components:


Don’t worry, this isn’t a physics lesson. However, there are equations involved. Social media sharing sites like YouTube and Facebook have come up with algorithms to determine how much a video has been viewed and shared. If you get enough hits, a video may be featured on the sites’ trending pages, possibly leading the way to viral video status.

Many companies pay to gain views, increasing their chances. But according to van de Graff, sometimes that alone doesn’t cut it. “There needs to be a certain amount of views in a certain amount of time,” van de Graff said. “But then there has to be an element of organic foot traffic — people that are coming on their own. Combined, [paid or unpaid views and shares] can lead to velocity. That helps build organic growth for a video.”

Universal Themes

This is a no-brainer. If you want your video to have over a million views, make sure people will be interested in the content. Some of the most popular categories are nostalgic and emotional videos (such as Dove Real Beauty Sketches). “I’ve yet to see a video that doesn’t feature some elements of these categories,” van de Graff said. “When these are addressed head-on, there’s a sharable element to them.”

Combining velocity and universal themes greatly impacts the video’s potential for virality. The combination of these two things probably makes up 90 or 95 percent of viral videos, according to van de Graff.

However, you have to be careful when applying velocity and universal themes. Many companies make the mistake of implementing too many elements of pop culture and social media, turning into what van de Graff calls “me too” brands — brands that say, “look at us, we can be funny and current too!” It can work sometimes, but it’s risky. “You see a lot of brands that try to be hip and cool by referencing something going on in pop culture or social media,” van de Graff said. “It just falls really, really flat.”

With that said, there’s some room for organic, original content. In fact, those types of videos often lead to the most views and shares. Average industry standards say that a video is considered viral if it has a two percent or more share rate, van de Graff says. The more paid the video, the lower the view and share rates. If you do it right, it can pay off. Customers are 64-85% more likely to buy a product after watching a video.

In today’s age of infinite web space, you have the resources to make viral videos, and to make them well. According to van de Graff, some of the best ways to learn about viral videos is to do some good old-fashioned Googling. Research new and old viral videos; find out what made them go viral. “In my experience,” van de Graff said, “With all branded content there’s more than meets the eye. By immersing yourself in viral videos both past and current, it allows you to understand the viral video space.”

Another good way to learn more about viral videos, van de Graff recommends, is to keep an eye on the trending pages of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and immerse yourself in daily viral moments. It’ll also help to regularly visit media outlets that keep track of viral videos, such as AdAge or Digiday.

You can learn a lot by using these tips, but you’ll probably learn the most by watching viral videos from companies that do it best, such as Red Bull, GoPro, Dollar Shave Club, Old Spice, or Squatty Potty. The last two companies got themselves out there by making weird videos involving centaurs and pooping unicorns, respectively.

“Social media has bred a group of people that are weird and wacky, or like weird and wacky content,” van de Graff said. “And if you can do it right, it can be a bit of a golden calf and you can milk it for all it’s worth. Those are brands that do sharable content really well.”

There’s an art to making viral videos. Every viewer is different and interests change every day. But with these tips and practices, your amazing video that you find hilarious or moving will seem that way to others as well. If you do it right, your company will bask in the financial windfall, while you bask in your fifteen minutes of fame.