I’m a sucker for a good headline. When I saw this in my Google reader from Social Media Examiner I simply could not resist:


This piqued my curiosity not because I thought they had unlocked the secret code of what lights the spark that makes a video go viral. I wanted to see how they were using that headline to sell me something.

And, I was right. The point of the video is to sell a book. I’m ok with that and don’t feel tricked or betrayed in any way. It must be my cynical nature but I knew going in that NO ONE has the secret sauce for viral videos. No one.

A lot of people will do a post-analysis of truly viral videos and dissect why they worked. There are also social media gurus and experts who can tell you great ways to promote your video into virality (is that a word?).

Viral videos are pop culture flashes. Like the Pet Rock. For those too young to remember, the Pet Rock was simply that – a rock in a box that you kept as a pet. It cost about four bucks and what you did with it was anybody’s guess. But it was a huge – if short-lived – success making its creator a millionaire. In effect, the Pet Rock was a social meme.

Do you really think that Gary Dahl (the creator) KNEW his idea would be an overnight sensation? If he did you would think he would have become the “viral” toy guru? Writing “how to” books and going on tour? Instead, he opened a bar with his windfall.

Fast forward to today. Take the Bed Intruder song. Great idea and great execution. Do you think the producers KNEW they had a hit on their hands? No. They knew the landscape and HOPED their video would go viral.

If you watched the Social Media Examiner video you saw the author mention two of his viral videos. His most recent had racked up 27,000 views in a couple of weeks. Not a shabby performance for his client. But – does that qualify as viral? Sure, those were all “free” views (production costs aside). This qualifies as a great promotion and not something that achieved viral status.

This raises the question. What is a viral video? Is there a certain threshold that needs to be reached for a video to acquire true viral status? Do truly viral videos break through the social sphere and become the topic of discussion in more traditional media venues?

I leave that valuation to the gurus and experts. However, I will say that a reach of 27,000 for a video is a bad television campaign. For a relatively modest investment you could dwarf those numbers by just buying cable TV.

Having your video go viral is as much a product of serendipity as it is skill. You Tube has centuries worth of videos on their servers – with more arriving daily. The competition is fierce. Just having a great idea is not enough. Spreading your idea via social networks does not guarantee people will care and share. It has to have that, well, something that no one has been able to exactly quantify. Every new viral video hits us as a surprise.

No one saw the Pet Rock coming. No one knew it was something they wanted. It was a silly idea that arrived in the right place at the right time and became an overnight sensation.

But, for every Pet Rock there are thousands of cool, gimmicky, different ideas that fail miserably. The same dynamic holds true for videos.

Be smart. Make a great product. Promote it effectively. Do all the right things – and hope yours is the idea that sparks the fire.

Just remember there are no guarantees. No ‘sure fire’ tricks. Nothing that a guru or an expert can sell you that will put your video on You Tube’s Most Popular page.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist