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Why Making Your Video Go Viral Isn’t Always The Answer

“The real question we should be asking is how to make the worst of ideas seem buzzworthy.”

This past summer, I attended a live Q&A with YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley. I took advantage of the opportunity and asked the question on everyone’s mind – how do you make a video go viral? His response was simple: “Create a video that’s different, unique, emotional, and when in doubt – cats.”

It wasn’t the most revolutionary answer, but it speaks to the underlying truth of the matter. For the past few years, the Internet has been flooded by a surplus of desperate attempts to make sense of the phenomenon we now define as “virality”.

The perceived relationship between business success and the need for viral videos has opened the door for a number of video production companies, such as Seedwell, to appear as authority over the social media video craze – as if there was a “secret sauce” that could turn any video into the next online sensation. But even Seedwell has admitted to the promise of viral success being a myth.

Trying to put your finger on how to ensure your video goes viral is like grasping for straws.

It’s easy to identify the standard characteristics that should qualify a video to go viral. Most hold to a 2-3 minute high-quality story line that grabs your attention within seconds and inspires a strong emotional reaction (laughter, sadness, shock).

But following this outline rarely ensures virality, causing us to face the reality that quality and content are not the determining factors. It is, however, the one thing we have the most control over. We can’t control the response, but we always have control over what we upload.

No one wants to watch a pointless, boring video, and no person or business concerned with their reputation wants to represent themselves in poor taste.

But if we’re being honest with our inner critics and ability to discern “Why is this not viral yet?!” from “Why did this ever go viral?!”, it seems we may be too quick to question our own ideas.

Wharton School of Business professor Jonah Berger explained the key to understanding virality is to understand the psychology behind why people share things. Most of the time, the reasons match the formula for great video content – worthwhile story, emotional arousal, relevance, and remarkability.

To quote Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On – “Virality isn’t born, it’s made.” It starts with a great idea, but any idea can be considered great to the right person. More than that, any idea can be made to look great, which is probably why so many should-be flops catch fire.

This being said, the real question we should be asking is how to make the worst of ideas seem buzzworthy. If a legitimate “secret sauce” existed, this would be the one to smother your video with. This explains the popularity of “Sittin’ on tha Toilet”, “How To Basic”, and goats singing pop songs.

However, at the end of the day, the best video marketing strategy isn’t always “going viral”. Unless all you care about is your video being watched, it’s important to remember numbers aren’t everything.

Success can often be found at the end of more than one street, if only you’re open-minded enough to realize there is usually more left to be won down the road less traveled.

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