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I’ve grown up in a time and place where if someone says ’viral’ it’s more likely
that they’re talking about an internet video than an actual infection.
And yet having watched so many, I don’t really know what makes a video so shareable
that everyone is talking about it.
So in the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a silly amount of time rewatching the top
videos from the past decade, looking for patterns to see if I can figure out some kind of formula.
So join me as we over-analyse these videos to see what we can learn from them.
Let’s start simple.
Here’s a pool of 100 viral videos - dating from 2006 to 2017.
They all have more than 4 million views on YouTube alone, one of them almost 3 billion.
Out of the hundred, there were 24 videos i’d describe as shocking or surprising - for example
this guy blending a brand new iPhone, or the kids who interrupted this BBC interview.
30% could be described as ‘impressive’, like these trick shots from dude perfect,
or OK Go’s music videos, that clearly take a huge amount of time and effort to make.
Only 14% of them had the ‘cute’ element, and it's usually kids.
17 were just plain weird, wacky, cringey etcetera.
But by far the most common was humour - about fifty percent of them were comedic in some
A few other notable stats - the average video length from my sample was 4minutes and ten
seconds, the longer ones being much more recent, and only 12% didn’t clearly show humans
or animals.
Okay, now that’s enough statistics, clearly we need to look closer.
Because the videos that go viral usually aren’t the highest quality or most artistic videos,
most of the time it doesn’t actually matter how much effort went in, but they all have this
quality that makes thousands and thousands of people find a friend and say “ hey, you’ve
gotta watch this…”
And even if they’re sharing it to say, look how hilariously bad this video is, it still
So let’s try and work out why someone might wanna share some of these videos:
Susan Boyle - here someone who doesn’t look how we expect singers to look, ends up shocking
everyone by singing impressively, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
Charlie bit my finger - it’s relatable, it’s quotable, it’s got the cute factor,
and the mischief of this little guy is pretty funny.
And then there’s evolution of dance, which is impressive how many genres he can switch
between, and there’s some humour, but I reckon mostly this one is nostalgic because
he covers about fifty years of music, there really is something for everyone.
Now obviously we could come up with theories like that all day long, and it’s kinda useless..
Unless we can reverse engineer these ideas.
So let’s say we’re making a snowboarding video - and we’re gonna film someone doing
some jumps.
Would that be funny?
Would that be cute?
Would that be shocking?
Not really.
And is it impressive? only a tiny bit.
I struggle to imagine lots of people watching a video of a guy doing some snowboard jumps,
and then rushing to their friends to tell them all about it.
So what could we do to change that?
The most obvious might be if the snowboarder did some mind-blowing, world class tricks...
That could go viral, but they’d need to be really, really impressive..
It's probably easier if we think outside the box.
We could try the cute factor, what if it was a little kid on a snowboard, that could be
both cute & impressive… or what if it could be shocking - like someone gets hurt really
badly, but they just keep going?
Now each of those has a bit more potential than just filming ordinary snowboarding, but
none of them are easy to film, they sound complex, time consuming, dangerous or expensive.
So instead what if we tried a different kind of “shocking” - why not snowboard in a
really surprising place?
Instead of down mountains, we could film someone snowboarding down the streets of a city.
And of course that’s exactly what happened in January 2016, Casey Neistat snowboarded
behind a jeep driving through new york.
He didn’t need to do any world-class snowboarding, or break any bones for it to go viral, because
the idea of snowboarding through the middle of the street is novel enough.
So the concept was solid, but of course that’s only the very beginning - they had to work
out the logistics of filming it, and get the video online as soon as possible while the
snow in New York was still a hot topic, I believe they did the whole process from start
to finish in 24 hours.
Now, if Casey was a less confident snowboarder, the video wouldn’t have been as good, if
they’d edited it differently, or chosen a different piece of music, it might not have
had as much energy.
And crucially, if they hadn’t established in the beginning that the roads were closed,
it wouldn’t have been so rebellious.
And so let’s just imagine that after watching that, I went out and filmed my original idea
of filming some regular snowboarding jumps, and then I added some music to it and uploaded
it, i’d be crazy to expect it to go viral.
But really, it’s pretty delusional to expect anything to go viral, even Casey Neistat other
people who’ve had lots of viral hits - they all say that it's incredibly unpredictable.
I know that in my time on YouTube i’ve been constantly reminded of just how bad I am at
guessing what will and won't be popular, so I almost feel like it's a waste of time to
research in to the latest trends.
Maybe the most efficient way to ‘go viral’ would be to shoot pranks or try and fake one
of those home videos, and I don't know about you, but that’s not what I wanna make.
I’d like to get to the point where I don't even care about ‘virality’ and where i'm
just entirely focused on making stuff that I would want to watch.
And in a way that’s kind of freeing because it means we’re in charge, instead of desperately
trying find the formula for viral success, it means that we're focusing on what we're doing
rather than just desperately hoping that everyone else will help share our video and get it
to work.
So that’s my cliche conclusion really, that there is no formula, and that we shouldn’t
care about what people think, and instead just focus on making the best stuff that we
can, and if we do that, and it happens to go viral, then great - we’ll enjoy it while
it lasts, because one things for sure - the hype does not last long.
My name’s Simon Cade, this has been DSLRguide an i’ll see you next week.
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What Makes Videos Go Viral?

836 Folder Collection
一叶知秋 published on June 14, 2017
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