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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Makes a Video Viral?

With millions and millions of views of the videos I’ve created people often ask me, “What makes a video viral?” Last year I was asked to speak at the Podcast Academy (I'll be speaking there again Sept, 27th) about that very subject and in putting together my session presentation I discovered that there are many factors that create a viral video but that the single most important factor is that the video must be emotionally engaging. If you can move one emotion you are doing well, if you can move two emotions you are doing great and if your video moves three or more emotions you are a viral video Rock Star.

Take these two viral videos of the week for example:

Miss Teen USA 2007 - South Carolina answers

First off, I think Miss South Carolina would make a great French Maid for French Maid TV but I’m sure I will have to get in line behind other more established vehicles. She already has a website at a modeling agency with hot sexy half naked pictures. It may not be long before Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen gets an offer and appears naked in Playboy magazine and that brings me to the first emotion of this video, “lust.”

Taking a look at this video’s thumbnail we notice a hot sexy young blond beauty queen and to some people, this evokes an emotion of lust (which is a secondary emotion of love) so they click on the thumbnail to see what they can see. Next, as the video plays Caitlin is asked:

“Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?”

That question to a beauty queen sets the stage for suspense. What’s next? Is she going to screw this up? And sure enough she answers with:

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, um, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future."

This answer sends viewers racing through emotions. Surprise; “I can’t believe she is saying this”, Joy; “This is so funny.” Fear; What if that was me? Sympathy; “Oh, that poor girl.” and back to Lust; “She may be stupid but my God she’s hot.”

Then we have another viral video of the week:

Baby Got Back In Walmart

Even though the thumbnail is not enticing in anyway this video has managed to get clicked and played many times and when it does belly laughs ensue.

It’s almost like a joke in and of itself: Two kids go into a Walmart, get on the loud speaker and sing “I like Big Butts” while recording it with a hidden camera. Then they get kicked out.

Again, human emotions run the gamut as this video plays: Surprise and Amusement; “Look what these kids are doing.” “I can’t believe what these kids are doing.” Enjoyment; “Oh my God this is funny.” Fear; “Oh no, they are going to get caught.” Relief; “Hey they got away.” And if you think about it some more I’m sure you can come up with a few other emotions you felt especially if you work for Walmart corporate.

Taking another look at these videos you see that both are reality based. One is a dumb mistake / blooper from the professionally produced main stream television program Miss Teen USA and the other is user generated content that documents a prank but both are “spectacles” that have some “story” associated with them. I think this marks a transition from “cats swinging on ceiling fans” / “kicked in the nuts” spectacle videos to videos that combine spectacle and story. The real exciting time for me will be when emotionally engaging fictional videos break through the clutter of UGC and create mass global distribution for Independent Digital Artist.

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