the virality myth: why ‘going viral’ isn’t a strategy.

If you work in the communication field, someone may have approached you with a line resembling: Let’s make a video that goes viral! A nice thought, but making a video for the sole purpose of it going viral is as flawed a strategy as buying lottery tickets as a retirement plan.

Any video you make should serve a purpose first and foremost: To showcase a strength, entice prospective customers (or students), raise awareness on an issue, etc. To deploy a more simple breakdown I learned in a public speaking class, presentations (and I’d include video) should try to do one or more of the following: 1) inform, 2) persuade or 3) entertain. That’s where you start.

Making a video for the sole purpose of hoping it will go viral is mere folly. Viral videos are quite often accidental hits, double rainbows or kids after dentists or a dying professor’s extra-resonant lecture. Sure, the Old Spice campaign went viral, but that’s because it represented a breakthrough in terms of superior creativity, near-real-time interaction and remarkable talent on both sides of the camera.

I’ve heard the let’s make something viral pitch a couple times, and my first question is why they think the concept would go viral. One more flash mob or lipdub is just following the herd, and if you can’t provide an amazing new wrinkle, will you stand out from the pack? A clever idea is nice, but thousands of clever videos hit the ether every day. Remember that the latest YouTube statistic is that 24 hours of video are uploaded every minute! Have you truly made something that can cut through that clutter?

It’s totally cool to make and use videos in your communication efforts, but to borrow my favorite maxim from #stamats09: Think goals first, then tools. Does the video serve a purpose to some key audience (in highered: prospective students, current students, faculty/staff, alumni)? Does it inform? Could it persuade? Will it entertain? These are all good reasons to make a video, or a series of videos. When I work with my student videographers, these are our general parameters. It helps that they are members of the target audience and know what others their age may find interesting.

It’s funny that our video with the fastest rise in immediate hits was anything but non-stop excitement — the footage of a wind-turbine installation mentioned in this post. We saw the video as a sidebar to a story, a visualization of a neat green product. But it had news value and picked up hits, links and retweets from a lot of environmentally minded folks. A recipe for success? Not exactly. But here’s something to remember: There is no absolute recipe to success, any set of ingredients that guarantee anything on the web going viral. Period.

So if you’re heading out the door, camera in hand, to make that viral video, also swing by the convenience store and pick up a lottery ticket. Who knows, maybe your chances of the latter jackpot could be even better?



Filed under Web

2 responses to “the virality myth: why ‘going viral’ isn’t a strategy.

  1. Nice post. In my social media presentation, I describe this phenomenon as “hey, this amazing, spontaneous, thing just happened. Let’s do it again!”

  2. Pingback: Facebook Live and incoming student Q&A: a promising idea | InsideTimsHead

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