A definitive listicle on how to make your video go viral (disclaimer: no promises)

 A definitive listicle on how to make your video go viral (disclaimer: no promises)

Ah, yes. The mythic ideal of going viral. That old chestnut. Once the hallowed pursuit of every content marketer. Creating a video for a brand that gets seen, shared, and liked so often spawns its own HBO series of memes, homages, and spoofs. In my case, the first Alienation example was a long-form Facebook piece I penned, which clocked over 35,000 views and almost half as many shares. I forget the exact amount because a few days later, it became an SMH opinion article only to score a mere fraction of the page views on my initial post (curiously, the original story has disappeared from my social media feed altogether. I have no idea how).


The second was an illustration I shared by an artist called James Fosdike (and for the record, I attribute its 88,000+ views more to his powerful political cartoon than my accompanying rant). As Social Caffeine’s Lori R. Taylor said the other day, the point is, “Going viral is not an outcome; it’s happening. Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Just remember, fans are vanity, and sales are sanities.” So, putting aside the flawed if not naïve premise of the goal (are we better off asking if the strategic purpose behind the video is served by ‘going viral’ or should we be more concerned about how precise it is in reaching a desired audience and affecting change in their behavior?), it remains an understandable question.


Is there some magical secret golden recipe for crafting a viral video that clocks up more collective kudos than cute cats doing slapstick on YouTube? In search of an answer, I consulted the oracle (read: I Googled it), and sure enough, a guy called Kevin Allocca and his 2012 TED talk popped up. At the time, Kev’s day job was as a trends manager at YouTube. Holding court for seven minutes or so, he put going viral down to three simple things: “tastemakers” (we called them influencers in 2016), “communities of participation,” and “unexpectedness”. Of the three viral video examples Allocca sites, one is a beardy mountain man cackling hysterically at a double rainbow that inexplicably materializes over Yosemite National Park (imagine an early equivalent of the Chewbacca Lady, but not as funny), the second is Rebecca Black’sFriday (either an anomaly or an atrocity of the worst kind, I’m not sure). The third is the infamous 8-bit pixel animation Nyan Cat (if you haven’t seen this, I would save yourself a lobotomy and don’t click on the hyperlink).

Still, the videos have amassed roughly 43.5, 99, and 130 million views since Kev’s talk. Keep in mind this was 2012, so the interwebs worked differently. In contrast to the pay-for-play arena, it is now, back then, viral YoYouTubelips arose more out of the vagaries of chaos math than anything else, which is why Kev’s logic sounds a bit nebulous. ReUnexpectedness: AtAt best, that seems like a ramplistic interpretation of storytelling tropes or reversal to provoke engagement. IImaginImagineeo nowadays to a brand manager with that as your ROI justification: “Rest assured, this video will go viral because it’s… [cue drum roll]… unexpected!” Huh? [Disclaimer: Kev is now head of trend and culture at Google, so the guy’s doing okay for himself, and fingers crossed he doesn’t blight us with bad SEO because we missed his TED talk.]

Dennis Bailey


Professional beer geek. Alcohol ninja. Social media scholar. Award-winning twitter fanatic. Writer. Basketball fan, mother of 2, audiophile, Saul Bass fan and communicator, collector, connector, creator. Producing at the sweet spot between simplicity and purpose to create strong, lasting and remarkable design. I'm a designer and this is my work.