What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video Success

What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video Success

Unruly Media announced the world's first social video lab last Wednesday and we were able to ask Dan Best, Unruly's Planning Director, some questions about it.  It's a lab that was created to turn the virality of a video from a question to a science, to give brands an insane amount of data that will ensure that their video is likely to be shared.  But what makes a video viral?  Ahh...we've seen a lot of discussion about that, haven't we?  Well, let's talk to one of the experts.  Dan Best is the Planning Director at Unruly, and he told us a few things about Unruly's new lab and what makes a video viral.

What Makes A Video Something People Want to Share?

What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video SuccessBest says of the new lab, "This is the first lab to focus on the science behind what makes content shareable. It's also the first lab to offer brands a full social video health check. This health check includes the brands' SOV against their competitive set, benchmarking their performance against category and audience, creative pre-testing plus insight from taste-makers, bloggers and sharers. This arms brands with insight they need to make their video content truly social."

ReelSEO: Have you found that there is a formula for a video going viral?  Can you go into any detail about what makes a video successful?

Dan Best: Here are three tips for social video success:

1) Get under the skin of your audience

What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video SuccessThink about the type of viewers you're hoping to reach and find out what they like to talk about with their friends.  Online videos are a valuable social currency, increasingly used as conversation starters, social lubricants, props for self-expression and as a means of winning validation and approbation within a peer group.  If the video you've produced is perceived to have a high value within your target peer group - because it's particularly entertaining/relevant/meaningful to this group - it's much more likely to get passed on.

2) Choose appropriate triggers

What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video SuccessOnce you've got an understanding of what makes your audience tick, you'll be better placed to identify the content triggers most likely to hit your target audience's sweet spot.

When we're evaluating content at Unruly, we find the concept of triggers extremely helpful for predicting levels of social video success. Lots of the triggers will already be on your radar: Funny, Sexy, Random and Surprising are some of the well-established reasons that people pass on videos, though Illuminating, Shocking, Spectacular and Hyper-relevant have the power to activate equally high levels of sharing.

3) Turn the volume up to “11”

What Makes a Video Go Viral? 3 Unruly Tips for Social Video SuccessOnce you've decided on your social triggers, focus on making them as strong as possible. There's no point being quite funny, quite illuminating and quite spectacular. Better to go for one or two triggers and work them to the max. For instance if humor is your trigger, you'll need a pay-off that's worthy of a belly laugh. If sexy is your trigger, you should be aiming for steam-up-the-windows sexy: a lukewarm bath will not cut the mustard.

As a general rule, if your video is to have a chance of social success, it should be arresting enough to elicit a physical reaction from the viewer (tears, laughter, goosebumps & gasps are all good).

Know The Basics: Focus And Social Triggers

Best's tips come down to honing what your message is, finding who your target audience is, and not trying to go for every possible social trigger in the book.  What Unruly's lab is attempting is to narrow down what it is that a brand's campaign needs to become successfully shareable.  When I asked Best how a brand or an agency benefited from Unruly Labs, he said:

Underpinned by our in-house team of 20 world class engineers, the social video lab will give Unruly clients a real edge over their competition

  • Using groundbreaking biometric technology, Unruly’s clients will have a scientific understanding of why people share content
  • Using big-data analytics, Unruly’s clients will be in a position to predict the social success of their own branded content
  • Most important of all, Unruly’s clients will be able to quantify the ROI of their social marketing activities as we track the extent to which earned media and social advocacy affect brand metrics and product sales

Marketing has always been an art, now it's also becoming a science, so we deliberately chose the “Laboratory” paradigm for this facility because we believe that technology (both our own and that of the 3rd parties we’ve invited to be our lab partners) has evolved to the point at which marketers can have, should have -- and indeed deserve – verifiable, predictive insights, learning and solutions based on hard data and rigorous application of scientific research methodology.

So it's really cool that "what makes a video viral" is being narrowed down into a science: looking at the data, not leaving things to chance.  It's easy to say, "Great content is what people go for," but you might not know exactly how to best create that content without the facts.  Hopefully we'll be seeing a whole lot more great content in the future with studies like this leading the way.

Thanks to David Waterhouse at Unruly for his help on this article.


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About the Author -
Chris Atkinson joined ReelSEO in 2011. He is a longtime film and television reviewer, and has almost two decades of experience in the theater industry. He also writes on his personal blog - http://nymoviereviews.com. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • Kevin Prange

    Thanks. Good article. But probably should have avoided the mixed metaphors of a luke warm bath and cutting the mustard. Now that's a bad image.

  • Dan Demsky

    This is an interesting and worthy study. Everyone is always trying to figure out what makes a video go viral but it's about time someone takes a real scientific and case-based approach. Viral - and I mean real big viral content is the online version of having mainstream appeal. Decades of trial and error have developed a science in other art forms like music and movies in creating that mainstream appeal. Formulaic pop music, Hollywood movies... It's all the same thing. Good on Unruly media for taking a leap with this study. With enough case-based reasoning we will develop viral formulas for web video in the same vein that we've figured out how to produce the Justin Biebers and Pirates of the Carribeans of the world. Now whether that's a good thing or not, only time will tell. In my personal opinion anything that is suitable for the masses is typically rubbish. Hopefully Internet virality becomes something more palatable than the Biebs.

    • jb007

      Your comments to make any sense because you don't understand what viral is! There is nothing about pirates of the carribean that's viral! You're confusing it with pop culture. I would say a viral video contains cerain key elements beyond pop culture. A viral video going to contain some exclusive never seen before or idiotic or peculiar or unusual information. It could be some very slick video or musical combination of all. It could be entertaining Ior it could be disgusting. Bottom line is it grabs our attention and makes us want to tell other people. but it's not a song and it's not a movie.

  • Kevin Prange

    Thanks. Good article. But probably should have avoided the mixed metaphors of a luke warm bath and cutting the mustard. Now that's a bad image.

  • http://www.bizmedia.com/ Dan Demsky

    This is an interesting and worthy study. Everyone is always trying to figure out what makes a video go viral but it's about time someone takes a real scientific and case-based approach. Viral - and I mean real big viral content is the online version of having mainstream appeal. Decades of trial and error have developed a science in other art forms like music and movies in creating that mainstream appeal. Formulaic pop music, Hollywood movies... It's all the same thing. Good on Unruly media for taking a leap with this study. With enough case-based reasoning we will develop viral formulas for web video in the same vein that we've figured out how to produce the Justin Biebers and Pirates of the Carribeans of the world. Now whether that's a good thing or not, only time will tell. In my personal opinion anything that is suitable for the masses is typically rubbish. Hopefully Internet virality becomes something more palatable than the Biebs.

    • jb007

      Your comments to make any sense because you don't understand what viral is! There is nothing about pirates of the carribean that's viral! You're confusing it with pop culture. I would say a viral video contains cerain key elements beyond pop culture. A viral video going to contain some exclusive never seen before or idiotic or peculiar or unusual information. It could be some very slick video or musical combination of all. It could be entertaining Ior it could be disgusting. Bottom line is it grabs our attention and makes us want to tell other people. but it's not a song and it's not a movie.

      • http://www.bizmedia.com/ Dan Demsky

        jb007 I never suggested that Pirates resembles viral. I said there are formulas behind mainstream movies and music that have been developed over time. Now we are starting to analyze viral video in the same vein. Eventually this will lead to exploiting the various triggers that make things go viral similar to what happens in pop culture. It makes perfect sense and I am sorry you don't understand my viewpoint Mr Bond. However, I would like to see what videos you have produced so I can better understand what you know from producing viral content. I have been making videos exclusively for the web for almost 5 years and would love to compare ;)

  • Kent Ong

    Understand your target audience is a must. We need to looking for social media influencers as well. Twitter is one of the best place to look for social media influencers. By giving them some valuable thing, social influencers can help us to spread the video.This is the strategy that I used regardless of blog post, image or video content, it works!

  • Megan K

    Thanks for a great article. It was very illuminating. Check out my post at YAYAConnection. We are experts on the youth and young adult demographic: http://yayaconnection.com/2013/mastering-the-art-of-viral-videos-in-three-steps/