Videos on YouTube are viewed more than three billion times a day, globally. In 2011, view count totaled more than a trillion. According to YouTube trends manager, Kevin Allocca, the top five viral videos of 2011, in order from first to last, were “Friday,” by Rebecca Black, with more than 180 million views, “Ultimate Dog Tease,” by Andrew Grantham, with 78 million, “Jack Sparrow,” by musician Michael Bolton and comedian Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live, with 62 million, “Talking Twin Babies,” featuring babbling twins from Brooklyn, with 56 million, and “Nyan Cat,” an old-school graphic depiction of a singing cat flying through the universe, with 55 million. Of the five, three are featured pets or babies, and three are music videos. Both are clear trends in web video production. But how do videos go viral? Can their successes be replicated? Can their word-of-mouth powers be harnessed by businesses that are trying to build their brands?


There is no one formula for success, but rather general guidelines that can get thrown by the wayside if the content is compelling enough. There is an art to producing a viral video, and art is highly subjective, so luck plays a big role. As for luck, it is said that it lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. The following will help to prepare you…


  1. Keep videos short. Less is more in video length due to short attention spans. The sweet spot is three to five minutes. Research shows that view to completion rates drop after six minutes.
  2. Do something different. Create compelling content. What is compelling? That depends on your product, your audience, and your message, but you need to hook your viewers in the first 20 seconds.
  3. Part of hooking your viewers is coming up with an interesting title for your video. The title is the first thing they see, so wow them. This is the same concept as lead-ins for news stories—you need to capture interest immediately.
  4. Use humor! Making people laugh will go a long way in making your video viral.
  5. Avoid making your video an obvious advertisement and avoid looking too amateur. Feature an activity related to your product, not the product itself, until the end when you pop in your logo and tagline. Better web video production values will help to differentiate your video from the masses.         
  6. Upload your video to your own site, but also to YouTube for easy accessibility. YouTube will give you three choices for your thumbnail image, and you should pick the one that is the most clear and the most interesting. You should also upload your video to other video-sharing sites, like Funny or Die and Yahoo Screen.
  7. Promote your video using your own e-mail list and on social media outlets, like Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. Encourage people to comment on your video, and comment on it yourself.
  8. Tag your videos creatively and using SEO practices.
  9. Write a blog, on your website, about your video and try to get other bloggers, especially bloggers with big followings, to write about it, too.

10. Post your video in forums related to your subject matter and start discussion threads about it.  


Remember, you can do all of these things and still not go viral with your video. However, your chances of success will increase dramatically if you do. Prepare for opportunity, and you just might get lucky.