Is there a way to guarantee that your video will go viral on YouTube?

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Virality. It’s the new holy grail, the mecca of marketing. Everyone wants it but nobody knows how to get it. It just happens: it’s a matter of luck. Or is it? With YouTube becoming such an overwhelming force for marketing, with 800-million unique users every month, it’s no surprise that whole schools of thought are developing around how to tap into this market.

Marketing professor Brent Coker claims he has found an algorithm that explains why some things go viral and others don’t. He has called it the Branded Viral Movie Predictor.

This includes 4 key elements: if they are all lined up, then it’s likely your video will break through.

  1. Congruency: Apparently, “themes of a video must be congruent with people’s pre-existing knowledge of the brand”. People want something that reinforces what they already think – one can’t subvert everything people know about a brand and expect virality.
  2. Emotive strength: Emotive strength is something we can intrinsically understand. The video needs to provoke strong emotions – good or bad – but the stronger the better. Coker rates emotions on a scale of virality. So humourous and happy are strong but if you really want something to take off, the emotions of fear and disgust are far more likely to take hold. This is an age-old phenomenon, as witnessed by the kind of newspaper headlines that sell papers.
  3. Network involvement: The third vital ingredient that Coker identifies is network involvement. It stands to reason that “Videos must be relevant to a large network of people and the larger the better.” Networks like schools, or large office environments, allow strong videos to spread quickly and effectively. It should also be ‘relevant to most nodes of the network’, so that it has broad crossover appeal. Rebecca Black’s Friday meme is a good example of this. Whole communities of people were built up around the world, all dedicated to putting their own spin on Friday, or ranting about poor Ms. Black.
  4. Paired meme synergy: Finally, Coker has identified and named 16 various ‘Meme Triggers’ which are instrumental in creating an online sensation. All viral videos require at least one of these but if you can combine at least three, you’re pretty sure of a hit.

Take a look at the video below, which combines the three triggers of “eyes surprise”, “voyeur” and “simulation trigger” which is apparently the ‘sensation when the viewer imagines themselves being friends [with the people in the video] and sharing the same ideals’. These three triggers pop up very often in most videos that go viral.

These guidelines are helpful and provide a framework for thinking about a video. But much like writing a bestselling book or movie, one can read all the self-help manuals, attend all the lectures and hit all the required plot points and still not have that magic which turns your content into a hit. That magic and mystery about what will come next is one of the great attractions of the thrilling world of YouTube.

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