When Viral Videos Go Bad (the art of making video lemonade out of video lemons)

By Dave McAnally, Associate Director, Content Solutions

We've been doing a lot with video assets lately. Everyone who creates a video and unleashes it on the world has visions of it ‘going viral’ which is marketing-speak for "A lot of people and their friends watch it". Quantifying "A lot" can be a dicey endeavor, but for all intents and purposes, you know it when you see it.

I'm always at a loss when a client asks "how do we make a video go viral”? It's sort of like asking "What do I need to do to be famous?" There are many paths to becoming 'famous' (which is really what this whole 'viral' topic is all about now isn't it?) and some of those, well, you really don’t want to pursue.

Now I assure you, we've achieved the elusive "viral" status with some projects we've worked on. As much as I'd like to take all the credit for that, I can't. Sometimes things that seem like they'd NEVER work end up taking on a life of their own and becoming resounding successes (dare I say it, memes even).

There are some common characteristics of course; they are funny, they show some amazing stunt or blow something up, they have celebrities in them etc etc. You see, nobody wants to watch your president sitting in a manila colored room pondering out loud in a monotone voice about the direction the company is headed in (unless your president happens to be Steve Jobs, since that's precisely what everybody wants to watch because that man can sell sand to a Bedouin).

Unless of course, said ponderings are so tragic that they become famous in spite of themselves by being a parody sensation. Is that a bad thing? I'm reminded of the Video Professor. You know the guy who has the CDs that you "just put in your computer and within minutes you'll be USING THE COMPUTER JUST LIKE YOUR GRANDKIDS!" He implores you to "try his product". He never refers to what he's selling by anything other than "his product". "Try my product!" "My product is so simple to use!" "Millions of people have turned on to computing thanks to my product!"

It's absolutely obnoxious! I wonder if he did it on purpose so he could just change in/out what he's pitching (how to use your computer one day, how to tune a piano the next). But I'll tell you what, that commercial is permanently lodged in my brain (and it will be in yours too...email me so I can say I told you so). See what happened? Here I am talking about a basic computer skills tutorial disc on a search engine marketing blog. While we at RM are most definitely not his target audience, he's got my attention and now yours.

Now I don't mean that obnoxious vocal idiosyncrasies will put you on the primrose path to viral nirvana. Rather, the point I'm making is that in the video realm, any publicity can be good publicity if you want it to be. Parodies are a HUGE category in user-generated video content.

Let's go back to the scenario with your characterless president talking about 2010. After he delivers his state of the union, he'd like you to put this video on YouTube so your customers can watch it. You promote the video on your site in earnest, tag it with keywords that are relevant to its content, and you've got a fantastic title and description. A few weeks go by, and you garner a few thousand views. Comments range from glowing praise, to “hey that guy should have been a Rambler salesman!”

After about month or so, parody videos of your president start to appear. They mock him and depict him talking about various subjects (let's say Kanye’s outburst, his love of the Chicago Cubs, the price of tea in China etc). You'd never tell the president this but they are actually pretty funny! Soon, these videos start ranking for your company's name in universal search on Google. While your videos have a few thousand views, these things have a few hundred thousand views! It’s apparent there’s a lot more interest in these parodies than your presidents’ thoughts on the coming year. You may have a bit of a reputation management case on your hands depending on how you look at it. What should you do?

Well you can do one of two things. A. You can try to combat them with baseless cease and desist orders. This is probably your president's kneejerk reaction if hasn't thought of the PR nightmare depriving people of entertainment can incur. B. You can go with it! Promote your own videos as the ORIGINAL. Don’t punish these people for drawing attention to the spectacle.

Needless to say, I highly recommend option B. First of all, being willing to laugh at yourself is a fine trait right? And secondly, since it’s there, you might as well capitalize on the groundswell these parodies created. If your descriptions talk about parodies and how this is the original, pretty soon engines will show your videos for your company and you can build your presence and engage a dialogue with this new wide range of viewers (you did seed your description with a link to your website didn't you?).

Here are some other general tips I've found to be effective when in a viral/parody scenario like this:

-Moderate comments, but do so sparingly. Put a disclaimer in your description that you'll remove comments that have vulgar or threatening language. That way, when you do delete something, people will assume that's why. Deleting something because it might hurt the president's feelings just means those people will go complain about it somewhere else.

-Make sure you use the words 'parody' and 'original' in your copy. This will help those videos rank alongside the parodies faster.

-If possible, consider a follow-up video that is somewhat a thank-you to the parodies. As long as your president is a good sport, this is a great way to endear yourself to people. Besides, the parodies have already done the heavy lifting as far as creating buzz for you.

-TRACK EVERYTHING! Get yourself a Radian6 account, or in the very least a YouTube Insight account. Use how people are talking about your video to test new descriptions and copy. What you’re looking for is reactions, new trends and future keywords to optimize towards.

-Don’t be afraid to reach out to the parody videos and ask them to link to your video. After all you’re the original, why wouldn’t they want their viewers to be able to see that? You get the link and they get the context.

Obviously there are a lot of options/opportunities for videos to go viral, but I strongly recommend when people start a parody of your video to AVOID attacking or defending yourself against them (in comments or otherwise). Rather, if you embrace the fact that your videos have eyeballs on them, and people have even taken the time to make parodies of your video, you may find more traffic and branding than would have ever been possible on its own.

So…is that video professor still stuck in your head? :)


Lauren Vargas said...

Thank you for the shout-out of Radian6 as a listening tool! Listening will help monitor feedback of video and potential fodder for follow-up video or other materials/engagement.

Lauren Vargas
Community Manager at Radian6

Tyler "Gator Daddy" LeCompte said...

Good advice for any brand/agency considering video marketing integration into their marketing plans. Online Video can be a tricky thing if not properly planned, managed and, most importantly, encouraged "in house". Avoiding negative or damaging re-creations of original content can only be done through proactive monitoring of available content (see Radian6) and online relationship management.

If a brand is considering user-generated video content/contest, they might want to consider using a service such as MeHype (www.mehype.com) where they retain an element of message control while still encouraging video submissions relevant to the brand's marketing persona.

Thanks for a great article.

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