If your line of work is content creation – particularly creating great video content – chances are you’ve dreamed of going viral. Having your YouTube, Insta, or TikTok account blow up overnight can set you up nicely. Even your average, relatively unknown YouTube video creator can net around $2,200 per month if they consistently generate one million audience “views” every 30 days. And that’s not even considering potential sponsored ad reads, which can earn you even more.
Sounds pretty good for a so-called “side-hustle”, right?
But viral fame and fortune don’t pop up overnight. Like any professional athlete or artist, you need to approach video-making with practice and consistency. You need to set aside time from “everyday work” and relationships and errands, so that you can brainstorm your brilliant ideas. You need to write scripts – and usually rewrite them over and over – until they’re of a quality you’re willing to stand behind. And you may want to consider getting (or renting) professional production equipment, if you’re planning on going at this hard.
But whatever you do, don’t let beginner’s luck be your guide. With over 720,000 hours of footage posted on YouTube daily and a fast growing creator economy, it’s pretty rare for a (non-celebrity) talent to cut their way through all that noise. Even if you’re able to pull off a one-time video virality, don’t depend on being able to do it again; not unless you understand some of the science and methodology that gets your content #trending.
In order to make video content that’s compelling enough to blow up across social media, you need (at least!) a few things.
Choose a niche
Finding the right niche for your brand is literally the million-dollar question. Before you start promoting yourself heavily, it helps to know what kind of video creator you’re looking to be.
Sure, you’ve got to study how other content creators are making viral videos, but that doesn’t mean you should try to start copying them either. There’s only one Kennedy Cymone for Lifestyle on Instagram. There’s only one UlissesWorld for Fitness on YouTube. And when it comes to TikTok, there’s only one Charli D’Amelio. In order to find your place in the sun, you’ve got to hone your own voice, discover your own passions, and refine your own bold and honest perspective about the world.
Don’t try to please everybody (pro-tip in 2021: you probably wouldn’t be able to, if you tried lol!) A certain level of controversy drives engagement on social media, and controversy only begins when you’re able to state what you truly and passionately feel about a certain subject — and generate honest reactions and shares from your social audience.
According to psychologist Paul Ekman, one of TIME Magazine’s top 100 influential people of the 21st century, there isn’t any “definitive list” to people’s emotions, but they tend to gravitate towards one of these six categories:
(Our own suggestion: We’d add a 7th emotion, “Humor,” to that list. People will always love and share things that are genuinely hilarious.) The point is to fine-tune your messaging and visuals so they produce these types of reactions in your audience.
Be smart about it. Obviously, you don’t want to be there saying to yourself, “How can I do my absolute, deliberate best to make people mad online?” Nothing good comes from that. But don’t be afraid to say things that might get people to disagree with you. The takeaway is that you, as a video creator, need to create engaging content that produces an emotional response in your audience. And the only way you can produce that effect is by being passionate yourself.
Without passion or conviction, you’re not going to generate interest and engagement. Whether positive or negative, that’s what makes you go viral.
Open with a powerful hook
Whether you’re writing a YouTube script or choreographing a TikTok dance challenge, be sure you catch the people’s attention right from the jump. Consider this opening line to a viral video from Rob Dial, a viral video creator whose videos have achieved over one billion views: “In case you didn’t know, one day you will die. And I want to show you why the job that you have that you hate is a waste of your life.”
That’s a lot more compelling than something like, “Hey, so here are my personal thoughts on the top 10 reasons you should change your career in 2021,” right? Dial’s statement has purpose, focus, and absolute conviction. Whether you agree with him or not, there’s a higher chance of you watching more of the video — and sharing it on social media.
The same goes for visuals: You’ve got to make your audience riveted to their screen instantly. Think about a visually-driven social media platform like TikTok, where an algorithm examines whether a small group of people are watching your video beyond the first three seconds. If that first group isn’t watching beyond three seconds, then TikTok will remove your video from the “For You” section of other people’s recommendation feeds — and your chance of going viral will die on the vine.
Think of the opening hook to your video as you’d think about the opening subject line to an email. If your opening message or visual doesn’t get people’s attention, they’re going to file your video into their mental “Spam” folder, and watch something else instead.
Think about it. If you’re a creator specializing in Fitness and Sports content for people ages 18 – 30, you probably don’t want to be targeting people ages 30-44 who are scouring YouTube for parenting tips, or 60-somethings searching YouTube for “Top 10 Towns in the USA to Retire to”. Knowing your audience’s cross-channel browsing and shopping habits can turn you into a subject-matter expert on what they love, like, and hate.
Know your audience’s favorite algorithms
Social media traffic flows through different channels… and those channels operate using a series of incredibly complex algorithms. You need to devise strategies that activate the algorithm so they start sending traffic to your video… not your competitor’s.
Think about who you’re trying to reach in terms of age. Are you looking to reach Gen Zers? Millennials? Here are some stats to bear in mind when it comes to picking the right video platform to reach those two coveted digital audiences.
Gen Z is notorious worldwide for its short attention span. Advertisers have calibrated the average Gen Zer’s attention to roughly 8 seconds… the same attention span as… well, a goldfish (though other studies dispute this claim!) The point is that Gen Z wants you to get right to the point. Constantly bombarded by visual stimuli, these digital natives don’t have time to engage with your content if it doesn’t sweep them away in the matter of an instant.
It’s no surprise that TikTok, with its quick-hit, easily customizable videos, is the #1 social media platform for Gen Zers when it comes to first spotting viral trends. In fact, one study finds that 60% of Gen Zers discover viral videos first on TikTok. If you’re looking to play to the spirit of that audience, then TikTok might just be your spirit animal.
And if you’re looking to unleash your viral video on unsuspecting Millennials? Unlike Gen Zers, there’s no overwhelming “first-destination” platform to get your viral message trending with these folks. You have to adopt a multi-platform targeting strategy.
Engage people on multiple social channels
Ideally, you want to create a video that’s shareable across all major social media accounts (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, you-name-it). But in order to do that, you want need tools and best practices that let you track the progress of your video as it picks up likes, follows, subscribes, shares, comments, and retweets as it makes its way to worldwide viral fame.
One of the best ways to follow your video is by tracking hashtags associated with it. Hashtag tracking technologies like Task Ant, Flick, Rite Tag, Taggbox, and Hashtagify all help you see which platforms your content is getting shared, and who’s sharing it.
Also, be sure to follow the comments and social media chatter around your video. Again, it helps to gain a clear picture of not only who’s sharing your content, but also why they’re sharing it. Curastory gives video creators like you a chance to expose your content in just one click across different channels. while also tracking your real-time engagement across those channels.
It might create some extra work for you, but if you’re going to get good at making video content go viral, what’s a little effort spent tracking the popularity of your content across different channels? The more platforms you’re engaging your followers on, the more data-points you’ve got on them. And the more information you have on the specific demographics of your channels, feeds, and accounts, the better you become at understanding the needs, interests, habits, and quirks of the target audience you’re looking to cultivate.
It pays to have a sense of humor
Take a look at some of the top-shared videos on YouTube for August of 2021… Do they share some things in common?
They absolutely do.
A girl innocently eating food… only to have it snatched away by a seagull. A man absurdly navigating his dirt-bike up a near-sheer cliff…and actually reaching the top. A kid trying to leap over an agricultural ditch… and then falling into the filth. A dog staring at two opera stars on a TV screen and howling along to their soaring voices.
All of these videos have an element of humor or absolute LMFAO absurdity to them. The lesson here? If you’ve got natural comic timing, you’ve already got a leg-up over your competitors.
One study found that it takes roughly 17 days for a video to spread virally. So, give it two weeks before you hang up the towel. And even then, you never know. Videos have a habit of going viral when you least expect it, long after they were first introduced online, so there isn’t some definitive “expiration date” for viral content. It can literally take years. That said, if you’re experiencing momentary frustration and battling with creator burnout, we totally get that.
Going viral doesn’t have a simple answer, but if you apply these tips, you’ve already raised your chances at making it big.