How to Go Viral: At Look at the Most Shared Videos on the Web and the Reasons Behind Their Success
By , posted on May 30, 2014

Virality is the holy grail of Internet marketing. It’s something that video producers, bloggers, and other online content creators clamor for because achieving viral status can put  you on the map and give you a massive lift in traffic.

But how exactly can you achieve viral status? To answer this, we looked at some of the most shared videos on the web and identified what made them spread like wildfire. Check them out below and see if you can incorporate any of these aspects in your content:


It’s ridiculously catchy and original

Naturally, the first video we checked out is Gangnam Style—the most viewed video on YouTube with nearly 2 billion views at the time of writing this.  What made Gangnam Style such a hit is a combination of hilarious dance moves and a catchy tune you just couldn’t get out of your head.

The song isn’t even in English, and yet it had a beat that just stuck with people. Combine that with Psy’s ridiculously funny moves and you’ve got yourself a hit.


It’s genuine (or at least it *looks* like it isn’t staged)

In early March a video entitled “First Kiss” started making rounds on the interwebs. The video featured 20 strangers who were asked to lock lips for the first time.

The result? A touchy film that pulled on people’s heartstrings and kept their eyes glued to the screen. And yes, it spread across the web, garnered tons of coverage and now has more than 80 million views.

What are the secrets to its success? Our theory is that “First Kiss” hit it big because it looked so genuine. The people in the video were hesitant in the beginning but gradually fell into the moment until they were locked into a beautiful makeout session.

All in all the video had an awkward but charming feel to it. It looked so candid—and that’s why people were so eager to watch and share it.

In other words, it was the video’s “realness” that made it such a hit. What’s ironic however, is that “First Kiss” wasn’t real. At least, not really. The video is actually an ad for an apparel company. And while the people in it were indeed strangers, most of them were actors and models who were used to being in front of the camera. But the fact that they made it look real was enough for it to hit the top of the viral charts.


It’s so bad it’s actually… um, good?

In 2011, a girl named Rebecca Black released a video where she sings the song “Friday.” Her video started racking in views, and pretty soon it was getting covered in the blogosphere and in mainstream media. Parodies were created, and the department store Kohl’s even picked up the song for its Black Friday ad. “Rebecca Black” then went on to be one of the most Googled terms for that year.

Here’s the thing though: Rebecca’s rendition of “Friday” wasn’t that great. In fact, her singing was downright off-tune. Yet people kept viewing, sharing, and commenting.

This falls under the category “It’s so bad, it’s good”. In an ironic twist, people sometimes find content entertaining simply because it’s so horrible. Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is the perfect case study for this.


It contains the usual viral ingredients

Cats, babies, and other adorable creatures are page view magnets, so naturally, videos containing these elements have high chances of making it big.

Cases in point:

Charlie bit my finger – again! – A video of two young boys, Charlie and Jasper. Charlie, the younger brother bites Jasper’s finger, and their reactions are just so adorable, people couldn’t help but share.

Baby cries at mom’s song – A YouTube video where a baby sheds some tears of joy while watching her mom sing.

Nyan Cat – A video of an animated cartoon cat with a body of a Pop-Tart flying through space.


It involves pranks

Perhaps this stems from people’s fascination with “real” things (see item #2) but videos featuring pranks have also proven to attract views.

Take for instance, Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise, a video produced to market the movie “Carrie” last year. Set in a coffee shop full of unsuspecting victims, the video featured a girl who used her “powers” to make books fly off the shelves and move tables and chairs.

Needless to say, coffee shop customers and bystanders freaked out and viewers watching everything unfold got some top notch entertainment.


Itching to claim your 15 minutes of fame? Not so fast

We just gave you some insights into what makes videos go viral. However, before you start working to become the next YouTube sensation, ask yourself: do you really want and need to go viral?

While the impulse answer to that question would probably be “yes”, it’s important to remember that going viral isn’t for everyone. A lot of businesses aren’t ready for it.

For instance, before claiming your 15 minutes of fame, ask yourself if your site would be able to handle all that traffic. Do you have the resources to accommodate the spotlight? Is your business equipped to adapt to the media coverage, scrutiny and attention that comes with viral status?

Another question you should ask yourself is if going viral would really help your business. It may seem counter-intuitive, but most companies are actually much better off targeting small and specific audiences rather than trying to get in front of millions.

So how do you decide if the viral route is right for you? One thing you could do is to look at similar companies who have had success in virality. How did they do it? How did it work out for them? The answers to these questions should help make your decision easier.

You could also turn to online marketing pros and ask them if the viral video route is right for you. For instance, at ViberAgency, part of our process is talking to clients about their marketing goals, audience, and business. These insights enable us to determine which marketing route works best for the business and allows us to use their budget in the most efficient way possible.