How to Make a Viral Video

 A viral video is essentially a video that garners millions of views at a rapid pace. Think of how quickly Psy’s Gangnam Style became a household name (it currently has 3.2 billion views).

If you work in digital marketing or advertising, there are high chances a client has asked you to make a viral video for them. Everyone wants the ownership of content that is universally loved or loathed, but interestingly, not many know how to go about it. With the number of hours of YouTube videos watched per month hitting 4 billion and a 6% growth in the number of internet users each year, advertisers and brands simply cannot overestimate the importance of creating content meant for this medium and with the intent of going viral.

So, are viral videos a fluke?

Some marketers believe that large YouTube channels with millions of viewers and subscribers are bound to create viral content, simply because they have so many eyeballs watching them. For instance, James Charles, a popular beauty guru has close to 10 million subscribers and gains anywhere between 2-14 million views on each video he uploads. Similarly, Casey Neistat, a popular Vlogger in New York, has close to 10.5 million subscribers and receives between 1-14 million views per video. With these numbers, can we call their videos viral successes or just products of a great subscribers list? It does not boil down to the latter. A study showed that only 0.3% of the content released by Upworthy, a brand known for generating tear-jerking click-bait content, goes viral. This is in spite of their large viewership.

Let us look now at one time videos that garnered attention without the help of millions of subscribers. Rebecca Black’s infamous song Friday has a whopping 127 million views and was released 7 years ago (of course these views are garnered over the course of 7 years, however, the song went insanely viral when it released), Pen Pineapple Apple Pen has 225 million views and Drake’s In my feelings has not only garnered 230 million views in just 3 months but also spawned a viral challenge, the Kiki Challenge, that took over the globe.

Though some of these one-time videos seem a bit absurd, one must not dismiss them as flukes. These are all carefully created videos that were made to generate the response that they did.

How do you make a viral video?

While there is no formula for making a video viral, there are certain parameters that one must keep in mind while designing such videos. These parameters are the following:

  • Don’t Save The Best For Last: If you’ve got great content, make sure that it’s shown early on in your videos. Do not wait to warm up your audience for the first minute and then get to the point. According to the New York Times, 1% of your audience is going to leave by the time the video hits the one minute mark.
  • Make It Worth Sharing: At the end of the way, consumers will share your video only if it is worth sharing. This means there has to be a strong takeaway from the video. By tapping into the right emotion at the right time, you can ensure that people share your videos. One of the best examples to look at here is President Donald Trump. He is a savage producer of viral content, without actually producing viral content. By tapping into emotions like rage, he speaks in short bursts that can be edited into clips, used by media houses as they please, and go viral. Don’t believe that’s true? Consider this: Donald Trump’s media coverage was worth 5 billion dollars when he was running for President. How much did his team spend? 333.4 million dollars on advertising (which is half of what Hilary Clinton’s team spent).
  • Align With Current Events: Another way to ensure that your content goes viral is to stay abreast with current events and generate content that people are bound to search for in any case. Last year, #MeToo took Hollywood by storm with stories coming out about prominent figures and their sordid sexual desires. One journalist took advantage of this and ran an article against the popular comedian, Aziz Ansari, which went viral and spurned other articles about whether the original one qualified as #MeToo. The result? Babe, an erstwhile unknown magazine with unknown writers shot to the top of the fame ladder, if only temporarily.
  • Inspire Your Audience: Other types of content that generally go viral are videos designed to inspire people, inform them about unknown world events or cultural phenomenon, and uplift their spirits. Spreading positivity is a great way to go viral.
  • Be Hated: Now this is something brands don’t want to do, but end up doing it anyway, with their videos going viral in the process. Consider the infamous Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner. While Pepsi has taken down the original video, versions of the video uploaded by other channels have 7.4 million views. The ad was completely tone deaf and minimalized the Black Lives Matter Movement and snuck it inside a can of soda.
  • Be Controversial: Another great way to go viral is to split people into two different opinions. ‘The Dress’, a picture that looked like a blue and black dress to some people and a gold and white dress to others is a great example of this. So is the infamous Nike Ad with Colin Kaepernick. While many fans of the brand supported the idea behind the message – the need for social justice in America – others boycotted the brand completely.

What’s the way forward?

There are a few current viral trends that content creators must keep in mind for the coming year. Some of these include:

  • ASMR: Autonomous sensory meridian response videos trigger a state of relaxation through visuals and sounds. This year, ASMR videos had 2 billion views during the first quarter of 2018 alone.
  • Live Streaming: These days brands leverage live streaming on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to connect with their audience or showcase new products. Many people tend to go online and log in just to watch. With a higher engagement rate, you can ensure that your target audience is more interested in your brand and product.
  • Humor: Being funny is evergreen. People will always want to watch content that lightens their mood and makes them laugh.
  • Sponsored Videos: This may sound counterintuitive as audiences generally do not want brands forced down their throat. However, the views for sponsored content are at their highest in 2018, and it is also estimated that they will make up to 80% of the traffic in 2020. Perhaps it might be time to jump on the influencer bandwagon.
  • Make Square-shaped Videos: This is important because viewers don’t like horizontal videos.


It is essential to note that going viral means hitting a bunch of different parameters all at once to find that magic sweet spot and triggers people to share your content. It is not enough to just be funny or informative. You must be funny or informative at the right time, with the ideal video length for your audience, and have content that is deemed worth sharing. Not so easy, is it?

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Rishi Rais