Market Smarter

Helping Businesses Market Smarter and Create a Culture of Execution

Sign up to have blog updates sent to your inbox:

What It Takes To Make a Viral Video

Brian Olsen Performs at Presidential DebateWhat makes a video go viral?  It seems to be a question on the minds of many—it’s not just cat owners and new parents of cute babies, but businesses too. Let’s see what it takes to make it happen.

A viral video starts with a great idea that is worth viewing and sharing with others. Most viral videos fall into a few categories, or themes like funny, cute, or amazing (something that is truly surprising). If your video fits into this last category, it has to either be something that really wows us like Susan Boyle did when she sang on Britain’s Got Talent (more than 100 million views), or it has relevance around a current news story. The one element that runs across all the categories is that it must elicit a strong emotional reaction in the viewer.

Views + Action = Viral

For a video to go viral, the viewers need to take two distinct actions. First the video must be viewed. Then if it elicits enough interest and wow factor, the viewer shares with his or her network. If a video has mass appeal to a large audience, this plays in its favor. If the audience is small and niche, it doesn’t mean the video won’t go viral, but it means that the niche audience needs to be passionate enough about the topic to share with their audience, who in turns shares it with other like-minded individuals.


Optimization refers to the mechanics behind posting the video. All of these things help a video get found. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Thumbnail: A thumbnail is the small picture that accompanies the video link and title.
  • Title: The combination of the picture and title will give the potential viewer a quick snapshot of the content. The title will also help people search for the video.
  • Description: The description helps people see if the video is relevant to their interests.
  • Keywords:  The title, and especially the description, must be optimized with keywords so people can find it.


The last step is to get the video distributed in as many places as possible. Post the video to video sites with a large audience.  Send it to notable bloggers who have a large following and ask them to share it with their audience if they like it. If the video concerns an interest of a celebrity (think Angelina Jolie and Africa), by all means share it on Twitter with them. You never know whose attention it will garner.

If you want to track and measure the results across various audiences and distribution sources, create unique links for the URL so you tell which performed and which did not.

Call to Action

Some videos spread with no help. Others may need a little push to get the snowball rolling. If the video is linked to a cause people care about, ask them to share it. Tell them what you are trying to do, such as get a million views in a month to raise awareness, or encourage people to try something, or to take some other type of action.

Live experiment

Let’s try a live experiment. A few weeks ago one of my clients, Brian Olsen, an amazingly talented performance artist, performed at the University of Denver for the first presidential debate. We shot a video of his performance which he just posted on YouTube. Does it have what it takes to go viral? You be the judge when you watch it.

 I can’t tell you what he is painting or it will give away the element of surprise.  What I can tell you it is creative, it’s fun to watch, it creates a strong emotional reaction in the viewer, it has an element of surprise, and it’s very relevant to current events. It has all the right ingredients for a video to go viral. So watch the video and tell me what you think.

What’s fun about this experiment is you are the judge! If you like it, then share it with your friends. Regardless of your vote, yes or no, tell me and others what you think so we can all benefit from this real-time experiment.  Take a look at the video and let us know.