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So you want to learn how to make viral videos. Viral videos are mysterious, wild, and above all else, unpredictable, ranging widely in content, length, audience, style, etc. Some creators of viral videos didn’t even intend for their videos to go viral in the first place! The truth is, there is no proven formula for producing viral videos. However, viral videos do share some common characteristics which we can examine. Let’s begin.

Let us first make sure that we’re on the same page. The viral video that you’re probably thinking of is the video that has 1 million+ views. I agree with this view. Although a video with 10,000 views or more can/has been considered a viral video, we’ll move forward with the assumption that viral video means 1 million+ views.

If a video is going to have 1 million+ views, you’re going to need to make it as easy as possible for 1 million people to watch it (or for one person to watch it 1 million times). Whatever the case, it’s important that the video is short, and that it has relatable content. Nobody has the time to watch a 5 minute video. A good video length is between 30 and 90 seconds. Any shorter would just be an awkwardly long Vine (for an article on this mobile video sharing app, read here -> How and Why to Use Vine ), and any longer would have the viewer hovering his mouse above the little x in the top right corner.

Here’s a video of a talking dog as a reward for reading this far. Short and relatable. On we go!

In order for a video to go viral, it needs to be shared. In order for a video to be shared, it needs to provide viewers with what is called “social motivation.” In other words, the video needs to give the viewer a reason to share it with his friends, whether it is because he developed six-pack abs from laughing hysterically at the video or because he developed a migraine from the pure outrage he experienced from watching the video. This leads us to another key quality of a viral video–extremity.

A viral video is like the three-point specialist on a basketball team, or for those of you who don’t play sports, a lawnmower. Viral videos are extremely good at eliciting one (MAYBE two) emotional response from its audiences. Much like how you wouldn’t try to ask your three-point shooter to drive in the lane and dunk the basketball or how you wouldn’t try to use your lawnmower to water the plants, you’ll notice that most viral videos are either extremely hilarious (happiness), or extremely controversial  (outrage), or extremely gross (disgust), etc. The point is, they are very VERY effective at eliciting one particular emotional response.

Here’s another video. We’re almost there!

(Caution: extremely funny)

Consider the above example, an advertisement from the Dollar Shave Club. The video’s deadpan humor and entertaining/shocking scene changes propelled the video to 10 million views and a nifty 10 million dollars in venture capitalist funds. What I mean by extremity is  the crucial factor of any viral video is the X-Factor that separates it from the masses and makes it unforgettable. 48 hours of video are uploaded onto Youtube every minute, so it is incredibly easy to get lost in the shuffle. How this is achieved, as I mentioned before, is not nearly as important, as long as the video elicits an emotional arousal from the viewer.

Don’t forget an extremely important fact about human beings. We all, as human beings, are emotional creatures. That means we would much rather share opinions and feelings than facts. Therefore if there is a video that comes along that perfectly embodies a particular emotion, we feel compelled to share it. This is the heart and soul of a viral video. However, don’t forget that a viral video should be high quality, usually professionally produced. Nothing is worse than watching a video that seems like it would be outrageously hilarious, if only you could see more than grainy images and hear more than muffled sound. Now that we’ve discussed content of viral videos in depth, let’s move on to the most important parts, audience and distribution.

Here’s another video break for you. You didn’t think I’d let you down, did you?

(A tad long, but talk about unforgettable…)

You can spend hours and hours into making a beautiful video for an idea that you think is beyond hilarious, and it can still fall flat. This is what happens when you don’t know your audience. Let’s face it, it’s near impossible to create a video that everyone is going to think is funny, or that everyone is going to think is just adorable. Therefore it is crucial to target a specific crowd.. say middle aged moms, or Canadian men, or curly haired weiner dogs.. whatever catches your fancy. Moving on.

Finally, we’ve reached it, the most important step. In order for a video to go viral, this step is a MUST. You need to take your beautiful, hilarious, perfectly targeted, unforgettable video, and get it promoted by a tastemaker. A tastemaker is someone who is a public figure, either in society or a community such as Youtube, whose taste is admired and therefore whose recommendations are widely respected. Such an example would be Jimmy Kimmel, whose tweet about the “Double Rainbow” video launched it into the viral video hall of fame.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the video is below.

Another example would be a YouTube star, who would be able to recommend your video to his massive fanbase. While it is very much true that virality ultimately comes from rampant sharing, someone needs to push the snowball down the hill to create the avalanche. Investing in this distribution phase is arguably the most important part of this entire process.

Well, that covers a good amount about the qualities of viral videos. To review,

Just kidding, but this is another good example of a finely crafted viral video.

Takeaway Message: Qualities of Viral Videos



-Extreme (in one or two ways)

-Elicit Emotional Response from viewer


-Know thy Audience

-Get it to the tastemakers (!!!)

Additional Examples of Viral Videos

Old Spice : Old spice does a fantastic job with its videos and their ads have been widely successful (in terms of views, no knowledge of their actual sales, although I am a proud Old Spice man).

Susan Boyle : Shocking. Who expected that?

Honey Badger : Honey Badger don’t give a **** about how to make viral videos

The (recently) famous Harlem Shake


How did you enjoy this article? Are there additional qualities of viral videos that I missed out on? What did you think of this breakdown? Let’s discuss in the comments below!