Recently, a large snowstorm hit the east coast of the United States. Among the numerous news segments reporting on snowed-in houses and sub-zero temperatures, came a video of a man snowboarding through New York City, tied to the back of a speeding Jeep. It was featured everywhere, it appeared on BBC News and it gained over 12 million views, so I think it’s safe to say it went viral.
Viral video. We’ve all heard of the term, but what does it mean? Only since the emergence of the Internet in the ‘90s, has the idea of a video going viral (to spread like a virus) become a spectacle. With terms like ‘Damn Daniel’ and ‘what are those?’ viral videos as a result have slipped into our vocabulary.
Usually containing humorous content, videos become popular typically through the process of sharing via social media, email and video sharing websites.
But in reality, viral videos span a range of genres from eyewitness events such as the Battle at Kruger, to music videos like Gangnam Style, and even advertising and awareness campaigns. Many may remember Kony 2012, which brought attention to the war criminal Joseph Kony, and became the most viral video in history, attracting 34 million views in a single day.
So how do viral videos happen?
For filmmakers even one can lead to fame and success, but for most it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. In truth, no one is entirely sure, but there are theories. Many suggest that a video’s popularity depends on a hook, which reels the audience in to watch it, and after repeated viewings it’s possible for this hook to become part of viral video culture. An example is the video All your base are belong to us, based on the badly translated video game Zero Wing, it grew in popularity in 2000 due to the hook that was its grammatically incorrect title.
Another idea is it depends on the video’s emotional impact on viewers. Studies carried out at the University of Texas & Pennsylvania, have found that people would rather share funny videos over shocking videos. People are more likely to share content that provokes a strong emotional reaction: uplifting videos > depressing videos.
Going viral can be a big deal, providing content creators with exposure and new opportunities.
Back in August 2015, British film production company Realm Pictures released a video titled ‘Real Life First Person Shooter,’ showcasing a live action first-person zombie shooter that they invited unsuspecting people on Chatroulette, Omegle and Skype to take control. And you can imagine what happened. It blew up of course! Reaching millions of views in an instant and now it almost has 10 million views. This success led to a string of new opportunities, the chance to make a sequel and new partnerships with other international film production studios.
Now back to the infamous snow rider of New York – Casey Neistat, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He’s somewhat a viral video connoisseur with his wide collection of viral videos and here are his main tips on – going viral:
- Zeitgeist. Make sure it’s of the now.
- Timing. If you’re too late no one cares, if you’re too early no one knows what you’re talking about.
- Fresh. If you’re doing something that a million people have already done, chances are it’s not going to catch on.
- Clear message. Is it something everyone’s going to get? Or is it so unclear that no will care?
- Have you accomplished all of these things? Is it a great video that everyone will actually want to watch?
Even with all these taken into account, Neistat acknowledges that the video will probably not go viral. Ultimately, there’s always an element of chance involved. However, he has also recited that famous saying “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Time to get filming.