In this week's edition of the Viral Round Up, we have some stellar examples of creativity and humor as catalysts for viral success. I've frequently spoken in this column about how difficult it can be to go viral with a boring video. That's not to say it can't be done. But it's rare. This week, thankfully, we don't have anything boring to share. Let's begin:
Chatroulette is a certified web sensation. Some of the most prestigious publications in this country have even published spotlight articles about the video chatting service that connects you to random strangers. The first several months of the site's popularity have seen a lot of costumes, signs, and smut. But as the phenomenon grows, so have the users' attempts to be creative and funny.
Along comes our first success story this week, Merton, who performs freestyle songs on his piano about the people he sees on Chatroulette. To frequently hilarious results. (Please note there is at least one instance of bad language in the video, in case you're watching at work):
Again we have a video that combines several known ingredients for viral success: creativity, music, talent, and humor. I played enough music in my life to know that this guy has some ability. And I've seen enough stand-up comics to know he's funny. Add in the improv factor, and you have a pretty good base right there.
But what really helped this video go from upload to three million views in a week is another of my favorite "secret" ingredients: hopping on the latest trend. Chatroulette itself is meteorically popular right now, so naturally anything related to it is as well. Tumblr accounts of funny screenshots. Blog posts about its sexuality. News articles about its addiction. Chatroulette is everywhere.
So of course a hilarious improvisational-piano-comic doing his thing on Chatroulette was also going to succeed… it had a healthy head start!
Merton, whoever he may be, isn't simply talking about the new fad, he's using it. He isn't just hopping on the bandwagon, he's actually driving it… steering it in a new and inspired direction. Having your finger on the pulse of what's "hot" online can make or break some videos' chances. Taking the latest trend and making it your own—giving it your own twist or incorporating into your existing gimmick—is, in itself, a great start for a viral video concept.
Men Behaving Badly
What do you get when you take two old rivals with a history of heated exchanges and put them in an exhibition tennis match for charity? Well, usually… a relatively un-newsworthy sporting event that provides a good time for those in attendance.
In our second viral video success story, however, quite the opposite happened.
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were paired with Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal respectively in a meaningless doubles match to raise money for a good cause—Haiti relief. In true exhibition style, they were also fitted with wireless microphones so they could joke with each other and talk to the crowd.
Agassi apparently took things too far with his ribbing of Sampras, and the following testy exchange occurred:
See, you can tell the exact moment when things took a sour turn, and it was when Andre made that first dig at Sampras having no money. This was a reference to Agassi's recent tell-all book, where he tears Sampras to shreds for his reputation as a poor tipper.
Whether Agassi was trying to sell more copies of the book or was simply stupid enough to think that line of humor was appropriate has yet to be determined. But it made for a great bit of viral catnip, snagging over two million views in six days.
So what is the lesson for us? Well, don't forget that sometimes we feature colossal mistakes as well as raving successes. But for starters—and this may be way more broad than just the subject of viral videos—assume that everything you do and say in public will be recorded and posted on the Internet. It's really the only way to guarantee you don't ever end up the star of a video like this one. Now... I say that partly tongue-in-cheek, but it's becoming more true every passing month. From soccer antics to conversations on the street, your actions—especially the embarrassing ones—could come back to haunt you.
Always go viral for the right reasons. The opposite track is generally not the kind of publicity you're seeking.
Or you could fake something that looks like an embarrassing incident. If you do that well enough, you might go viral on the public debate of its authenticity alone. At least one person in my office swore up and down this tennis fight was staged before Agassi issued a public apology.
This has also brought a ton of unexpected attention on the charitable event—not that I think the charity itself has benefited in the form of higher donations. But maybe it has. Conflict and controversy do sell, after all, even if they are among my least-favorite kinds of viral videos.
The maker of the original Keyboard Cat video returned this week with a kind of sequel. It's an all-new cat. Apparently the first one has gone on to a better place.
This new video—only 34 seconds long—has amassed half a million views in a week. Not bad for a guy without a major star or bit-time brand behind him. Just a dude making his cats pretend to play instruments:
While you might expect me to launch into a viral lesson related to cute animals—which I've given you plenty of reason to do—I'm actually going to touch on another angle… going back to the well.
There are countless videos on YouTube of animals being forced by their owners to pantomime some musical ability, many of which appeared after the first Keyboard Cat, hoping to ride its coat tails. Some of them were even popular. But none of them was "from the maker of the original.”
If you've had any kind of viral success in the past, there are plenty of valid reasons to go back to that well. It gives you a launching pad, another of those head starts I keep talking about. It may be trendy to make fun of Hollywood's current propensity for sequels, but there's a reason they keep doing it: it works. It makes them billions of dollars. Many of the people bemoaning the high percentage of sequels at the box office are the same ones who line up and buy tickets when the film is released.
If what we're going for with viral videos is exposure... views... then why not take advantage of any goodwill you've previously built up with the audience? Sometimes the sequel is even more popular than the first—for Hollywood and for online video creators.
Stay on top of what's buzzed about online and, when appropriate, tie what you're doing into something that has captured the Internet's attention. Don't do things in public you don't want to see in this column—or make this column by faking a meltdown. And finally, go back what's worked for you in the past; whether that's in topic, tone, or style. None of these lessons will single-handedly vault you to the top of the charts. Viral success is an elusive beast. But knowing what's worked for others in the past, and learning from their successes and mistakes, can give you a better starting spot than your competitors. And who can't use a little edge?