The most fun — and still useful — panel I’ve attended at SXSW Interactive so far was Saturday’s How to Create a Viral Video. It doesn’t get much better than the three viral experts that Flux creative director Jonathan Wells brought together:

The tone for the session was set when Damian Kulash teed up “the definition of viral video”: Boobies and Kitties, which presents the view with 30 seconds of plunging necklines, 30 seconds of saccharine-sweet kittens and 30 seconds of kittens stuffed into bodacious cleavage. With such quality artistic contributions to our cultural good, who needs Quentin Tarantino?

Once we were all laughing, the panelists proceeded to illustrate answers to the 30 million-page-view question: How do you create videos so compelling that your viewers become part of the distribution process?

  1. Hit people on an emotional level. TEDTalks are 18-minute taped academic lectures, which could easily be “online suicide” but instead have been viewed by 230 million people to date. According to Wishnow, the production quality — shooting in HD, using multiple cameras, actually being able to see details on the supporting visuals — enhances the “talk of their lives” feeling that TED is going for. The real key to viral success, though, is the ideas that genuinely inspire the speakers and their work, he says. Content that taps into viewers’ emotions travels farthest.
  2. Go for a sense of wonder, optimism and surprise. OK Go’s approach to viral video is to “think of the craziest ideas they can come up with and figure out if we can pull them off,” said Kulash. This has led to masterpieces like “Here It Goes Again” (the treadmill video that inspired a whole host of fantastic spinoffs), “A Million Ways” and the Rube-Goldberg-inspired “This Too Shall Pass,” which recently led to the dissolution of the band’s contract with EMI. Damian’s advice — to embrace cleverness and the element of surprise — jives with recent research out of the University of Pennsylvania about what compels people to share. “The fact is, humans like to share good news. So Debbie Downer won’t work,” said Margaret Gould Stewart. “We are trained to put things in buckets. So when you mix cookie monster with German metal, it’s really funny!” Oh man, is it ever.
  3. Think about production value. While high production-values work for TED, less high-tech videos can also be an effective content strategy. Your video doesn’t have to be pixel-perfect. It should have appropriate production values, depending on the content and context.
  4. Have people participate in the things you make — if not in the actual shooting of the videos, then after they go public. Solidify your community by getting into the comments and engaging directly in what’s happening with your content. Create conversation between the creator and the audience, and encourage satire and offshoots.
  5. Make it easy to embed your videos. More than half of YouTube traffic comes from those who grab a video’s code and tweet about it or integrate it into their Web sites and blogs. “If you don’t make it easy to embed, you are hamstringing your video,” Stewart said.
  6. Mind your metadata. Embed key search terms into the titles of your videos. If you’re creating parodies, include the same key words in your video’s title as in the original. Surround your video with supplemental material such as additional video material and still images. Paying attention to metadata details will aid with search engine optimization.

To conclude this hilarious session, our esteemed panelists grabbed a video camera and climbed up on top of the panel table to recreate the infamous surprised kitty video with us, the audience, playing the role of kitty. What the result (below) lacks in production quality, it makes up in on-the-spot charm. Viral-to-be, for sure.
YouTube Preview Image

Image credit, Merritt Colaizzi

Related Posts

38 Responses to “Live from SXSW: Viral video how-tos from the pros”

  1. Thank you this is very helpful, entertaining advice. Especially for those not at the conference. Not sure "Surprised Kitty" will go viral tho,
    My recent post Looking for an Oasis in the storm

  2. Craig Stark says:

    Good points. Getting comfortable on video takes some practise before it feels spontaneous enough to be accepted.. it's hard not to appear "to be that guy/gal" in sales pitch mode!____Those at the conference- have a productive day!
    My recent post Welcome to SMW for 2010

  3. Thank you thank you thank you for point #3. I talk alot about not getting stuck in "perfection paralysis" when making videos and how one doesn't need the greatest production value if the story is good/great.

    @davemhuffman
    The Indie Launch Pad

  4. [...] – 6 tips for making a killer viral video [...]

  5. [...] – 6 tips for making a killer viral video [...]

  6. === popurls.com === popular today…

    yeah! this story has entered the popular today section on popurls.com…

  7. jimbo says:

    @davemhuffman – Apparently it is not about perfection with your spelling either (alot).

  8. Kris says:

    Some good tips here. Pay attention to tips 5 and 6 as they are really important to spread the video virally. I would also recommend that you'd connect your YouTube channel with your Facebook account. This way all your YouTube updates get automatically posted on Facebook.
    —–

    Kris Olin, MSc (econ.)
    Author of the Facebook Advertising Guide
    http://twitter.com/KrisOlin

  9. Alicia says:

    As a video production company I get asked to produce "viral" videos quite frequently, which sometimes means 1) make us a video on the cheap 2) make us a video that will get a lot of views. I've found the former to be most common. What I noticed from this article is there is no talk of what a company should expect to spend on the video. I have found that with "Viral" videos most of the work is in pre-produciton and coming up with the idea. Depending on the complexity of that idea will help establish the monetary implications of the production. Just becasue its being distributed online doesn't mean the cost of production shrinks in price. Even staging a scene that looks relatively simple or "consumer generated" can still require considerable amount of planning and practice. Check out our marketing videos at http://AliVega.com
    My recent post Video production kit for under $250

  10. Alicia says:

    As a video production company I get asked to produce "viral" videos quite frequently, which sometimes means 1) make us a video on the cheap 2) make us a video that will get a lot of views. I've found the former to be most common. What I noticed from this article is there is no talk of what a company should expect to spend on the video. I have found that with "Viral" videos most of the work is in pre-produciton and coming up with the idea. Depending on the complexity of that idea will help establish the monetary implications of the production. Just becasue its being distributed online doesn't mean the cost of production shrinks in price. Even staging a scene that looks relatively simple or "consumer generated" can still require considerable amount of planning and practice. Check out our marketing videos at http://AliVega.com
    My recent post Video production kit for under $250

    • Thanks for your comment, Alicia. I was talking with Margaret Stewart after the panel and mentioned that when I first saw the title of the session "How to create a viral video" I thought it was a joke! We laughed about the concept of executives calling in their marketing lead and saying "Why don't we have a viral video?" As if that's how it happens…

  11. [...] South by Southwest Interactive conference held a panel on how to create a viral video. SmartBlog offers a great recap of the event including photos and [...]

  12. Merritt: This is a handy little list – thank so much! We've increased engagement and decreased production costs (and weight!) by going to the FlipHD – so bloody simple and does not intimidate people. Much more authenticity and a lot less running to the bathroom for lipstick or hair-combing – and greater diversity when we're doing public engagement, which is great.

  13. [...] 6 tips for making a killer viral video [...]

  14. [...] by creators of everything from companies (like rockstar entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck) and multimedia content to technology and social [...]

  15. [...] March 26th, 2010 · No Comments · Educational Programming, Filmmaking, Multi-media clipped from smartblogs.com [...]

  16. Great tips, and a hilarious viral video of your own at the end, classic!

  17. I really wish you (and everyone else!) could have been at this SXSW session. It really was hysterical.

  18. [...] Optimization/KSP Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that the [...]

  19. [...] Optimization/KSP Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that the [...]

  20. [...] Optimization/KSP Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that the [...]

  21. [...] Optimization/KSP Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that the [...]

  22. [...] Optimization/KSP Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that the [...]

  23. [...] Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that [...]

  24. Thanks for giving us a simple checklist to critique our viral video ideas. The few examples were well-chosen too! 'The surprised kitty" video did not require expensive production. And the 'OK here it goes" video was refreshing—a music video with no heavy make-up, no bo%bs, and no sexy professional dancers and bling!
    Not against the latter, but it does dominate marketing.

    Surprisingly, there are more warm, sweet, original, charming viral marketing ideas that succeed online, compared to TV and print ads that are more filled with the 'ol sx and violens' and heavily styled artificial look.
    So viral video marketing reminds us not to take for granted the other ways we can touch people emotionally.
    My recent post Website Design Basics

  25. [...] Live from SXSW: Viral Video How-tos from the Pros by Merritt Colaizzi for SmartBlog on Social Media [...]

  26. [...] Tool. A post by Smart Blog on Social Media covering the SXSW Interactive’s “How to Create a Viral Video” track suggests if you’re making a parody, include the same keywords in the title that [...]

  27. I review a lot of music and bands local to my city, so I see a lot of shoddy and amateur video production. Although all of the points listed above are true and worth considering when making a video, I'd like to mention something that makes a video stand out to me: local landmarks. Granted, this isn't as effective when you're trying to make a viral video that will be seen across the world, but some bands are happy to just go viral in their state or city. Including local landmarks (a well-known bridge, a graffiti wall, etc) are sometimes helpful in catching the eyes of critics (who may in turn blog about it, etc).

  28. For anyone who's looking to download other system you cna check out my site :)

  29. Justin83475 says:

    Luminosity wrote 7 steps to a viral video here: http://luminositymarketing.com/blog/?p=3738
    Personally, I can think of at least one step that's missing. Can you?

Leave a Reply