One question many people ask me is how to make a video viral? You don’t make a video viral, audience makes it viral, all you can do is focus on making it share-worthy (we don’t want views, we want shares), focus more on storytelling than production value (it’s a tiny screen you’re making for), keep it fast moving (attention span is super low), think how it can start conversations (stop thinking campaigns all the time), make for mobile experience (keep it clutter free), have an extensive distribution plan (hope is not a strategy) and for **** sake .. don’t make an Ad, keep it authentic, and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Marketers dream of creating viral video content. However, with shorter human attention span and crowded and chaotic newsfeeds, it’s difficult to score a viral hit. You only have 10 seconds to make an impression before nearly 20 percent of viewers opt out, so what are the tricks to increase your odds of viral success?
In this blog post, we will unpack the magic behind viral videos by talking to award-winning viral video marketer Aashish Chopra of Ixigo, India’s leading travel search marketplace. He has made and marketed many viral videos, one of which reached a staggering 46 million views in two weeks. Aashish will explain what makes a video viral and share his tips and tricks.
Q & A with Viral Video Marketer, Aashish Chopra
Why is video marketing becoming more important? What is your take on the state of video marketing in 2017?
If 2016 was about videos getting attention, 2017 would be about the explosion of videos on tiny mobile screens. Look around, videos are dominating mobile traffic everywhere, to the point that all major social platforms are becoming video-focused.
Facebook added a dedicated video tab, giving tough fight to YouTube for video dominance. Even LinkedIn has joined the race with native videos, which might become mainstream this year. I expect many brands to jump on board the mobile video production bandwagon.
What was your first experiment with viral video content?
Back in 2014, every morning on my way to work, I used to dread passing through the bottleneck at the toll plaza at the Delhi Gurgaon Expressway. Long lineups, chaos, and frustration—they were all part of my everyday routine. Coming back in the evening was worse.
So I did an experiment. For many days, when my car reached the toll plaza, I paid the toll, and also paid for the car behind me. It was a random act of kindness. One day, I found out that the toll plaza was shutting down. On its last day, I thought it would be cool to remember this experience with a happy memory. I took two days to shoot and edit the video. I was in the news in a few hours.
At which point did you realise that viral video was not just a matter of chance?
I decided to study what made viral videos so successful. As I kept going, I recorded the learnings and applied them to my videos. After conducting some experiments, another one went viral. It blew my mind. A video made in August 2014 about the coolest travel hacks clocked seven million views in a few months, was shared by 350,000 people, and reached 25 percent of Facebook users in India.
I knew at the back of my mind that the day I stop making viral videos is the day I head back to the rat race. The learnings and experimenting grew into an obsession. I learnt that the secret for viral video success was to focus on the fundamentals of why we share, and adapt the content to make sharing easier.
I realised that changing the focus from ‘viral’ to ‘shareworthy’ could make all the difference.”
What are the rules that marketers can adopt to increase their odds of viral success?
We have to remember that our target audience is very different from the audience watching films in dark movie halls. Our goal is also different. We don’t just want people to watch. We want them to share our videos authentically. I’ve come up with this set of basic rules for viral video marketing success.
Basic Rules of Viral Video Marketing Success
#1: Is It Shareworthy?
The key metric for viral video marketing is shares—authentic, organic shares. The more people share on their own, the greater your organic reach. Select shareworthy topics, and make the video useful so people will share within their peer groups.
Use your video as a vehicle to share a sentiment about a breaking news, to inspire your audience, to celebrate their life.
Video views can be bought, but shares are earned. When shares start snowballing, that’s when the magic happens.
Case in Point: What Indian Students Pack When They Go Abroad (7.7 million views on Facebook)
#2: Move Fast and Engage.
Our videos have to compete for user attention in social media newsfeeds. We live in a constantly distracted world, and with so many apps and pings screaming for our attention all day long, the video must get straight to the point and keep the user hooked till the end.
As marketers, our dream is for users to stop scrolling through their newsfeeds, start watching our video, watch it till the end, then share it. For me, you only have three to six seconds to make an impact.
Case In Point: Unusual Beaches Around The World (40 million views in a week on Facebook)
#3: Storytelling Beats Production Value.
For viewing on a tiny screen, you don’t need the production quality of a TV show or a movie. Keep the production simple, but the storytelling in top gear. All the videos that hit millions for us were made with near zero budgets but high on ideas.
Keep the video fast-moving and make creativity the differentiator between your videos and your competitors’. It’s not about “how” you will make a video anymore, it’s about “what” you will make. The tools—HD camera, editing apps—are all in your pocket.
Case In Point: Coolest Hotel Room Secrets – Tricks For A Smart Traveller (465,000 views on YouTube)
#4: Make For Mobile.
Vine and Instagram introduced square videos, but Facebook made them huge. Square videos give you more real estate on the screen, and you don’t have to tilt them. Making videos native to mobile screens is, by far, the biggest learning we’ve applied to all videos.
Facebook’s algorithm is favouring more video content on the newsfeed. What’s more, Facebook has sharing in its DNA, unlike YouTube. The number of shares is an integral metric that can make or break a video.
That said, you have to:
- Make the videos square in format (no tilting required, more real estate on screen).
- Make them sound-proof, so that you can engage the audience even without sound (Facebook auto-plays them with sound off).
Case In Point: How To Speak Hyderabadi In A Minute (2.8 million views on Facebook)
#5: Have a Great Distribution Strategy.
Without planning the distribution, great videos ideas can die in a vault. Apart from sharing the content on all available channels, we need to build loyalty with the seeding core group. This is the group that shares the video in the first 10 minutes.
For video numbers to go snowballing, we need to kick it as hard as we can into the universe and hope it turns into a snowball. What we do in Ixigo is set a benchmark of getting 100 shares in the first 10 minutes. I go ringing bells in the office announcing the new video, and get creative to get those initial shares from within the office.
The launch time is also decided based on when this core group is best available to share. Apart from this, reach out to bloggers and journalists. They may not pick your video up, but they’re always hunting for good stories to write about. After this, distribute to all channels available to you, from mailing lists, mobile notifications, to different native versions for WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram.
#6: Please Don’t Make An Ad.
Content marketing is the exact opposite of advertising. Nobody cares about us, our brand, services, or products. It’s about your target audience, their pain points, and challenges. If, through our content, we can make an impact in their lives, then we have evangelists on our side.
When we have a million people sharing our video, we have a million messengers. Ads target eyeballs. Content marketing, in my opinion, should target hearts and minds— that way, people would be more compelled to share.”
#7: Think Conversations, Not Campaigns.
Thinking of marketing in terms of campaigns is the traditional marketing approach. What we should focus on is driving conversations. Social is built on conversations, and that’s where our videos swim. If our brand can facilitate conversations and people start tagging their friends, that’s the sweetest spot to be in.
Good News: Users Still Want More Video Content
According to a HubSpot survey in 2016, 43 percent of people want to see more video content from marketers.
To recap, here are Aashish’s actionable rules for video marketing: choose a shareworthy topic, prioritise storytelling, make it mobile-friendly, engage right away, distribute effectively, avoid making an ad, and think conversations.
Apply them all, and you’ll never know—maybe you’re just one video away from your first million views!
An amazing year comes to an end, with mobile numbers sky-rocketing, viral videos breaking the internet, organic reach nose-diving and content marketing becoming mainstream*. If 2016 saw the rise of online video, 2017 will see the explosion of video content on tiny mobile screens. It’s raining videos everywhere, from Facebook news-feeds to family groups on WhatsApp.
More than 50% of mobile data is already dominated by videos and this trend will see sharp rise next year.
NASSCOM estimates India to have 700 million smartphones by 2020, and 2017 will see the curve climb north, with majority of those consuming video content. With 4G expected to become the norm, we’ll be getting a lot more videos in our news-feeds.
From Branding To Kick-ass ROI
Facebook is planning to add a dedicated video tab in their apps in a major redesign, aiming to become the home of videos on the internet. That’s just Facebook, YouTube is paddling hard to stay relevant, new platforms like snapchat are right at the border and LinkedIn has jumped in the race with native video for B2B.
For me, this year videos came full circle, from just being conduits of branding, to impacting ROI. Just this year, we experimented with share-worthy videos, which reached millions (one almost broke the internet), drove massive app downloads, and even had impact locally, where a viral video increased footfall and enquires at a local restaurant.
Uphill And Against The wind
The challenge for creating branded video content would be to tailor the videos for short attention spans for the mobile only generation, make them native to tiny mobile screens, be free of blatant brand promotion and provide value. With distribution of videos becoming expensive (Facebook organic reach nose-diving), the content will need to work harder, coz it’s not the views we’re after, but organic, earned ‘shares’ from users. And organic shares help in beating platforms at their own game, as the content gets shared like wildfire, be it on Facebook on WhatsApp.
Views can be bought, but shares are earned! And that’s how you beat the big guys at their own game!
This is the time when brands become their own media companies, creating and distributing content to their own communities on Social. When users are migrating to tiny mobile screens, so will the budgets from TV ads to online video. All in all, exciting times for India and opportunities for marketers and storytellers. With eye balls migrating to tiny mobile screens and time spent on social rising by the year, video will be a phenomenal growth channel for 2017.
My Seven Secrets of Viral Video Marketing
And slide-deck for reference :)
One More Thing..
If you would like to be in the know about my ongoing content experiments and learnings in viral marketing… join my mailing list, tweet me up, connect on LinkedInor check the blog :) An FYI for 2017, ixigo is taking limited clients for videos, Happy New Year :)
* As confirmed and validated at DMAi’s Content Marketing Council Leadership Breakfast, December 2016
So, Campaign India released the Facebook Top 20 videos this week, the best list of branded videos competing neck-to-neck for engagement rates. The video we did for ibis hotels ‘How to speak Hyderabadi’ hit the top spot with 43,000 shares in a week. The next best was at 25k shares (Johnson’s Baby India) then the list nose-dived to 7k shares (Bewakoof.com) and below.
Shares are the magical metric for viral videos, period.
Made on low budget, with kick-ass execution and focussed distribution, this video has created it’s own benchmark. Storytelling beats production value, and that’s evident from the phenomenal reach of 10 million this video got, imagine reaching 1 crore news-feeds in a few days, all organic, zero boost spends.
Shares are earned, views can be bought!
So ibis India asked us to make a video about their new hotel in Goa. The challenge was to figure out a way to celebrate an overly celebrated destination. For the video to be share-worthy, it had to be about the users, not about Goa, or the hotel or the brand or us. So we asked ourselves.. What’s the number one problem for youngsters when they plan for Goa? Take a guess.. Parents! After few hours of brainstorming of all the things they say, we flipped it and our idea was born :)
Making it Share-Worthy
Mobile Native: Square videos are mobile native, and don’t need tilting for the full experience. Videos have been rectangle for long, but now we consume them vertically. Vine and Instagram started the vertical ‘square’ video trend, but Facebook is what brought it front and centre (at least in India)
Make It Easy to Understand: After much discussion, we decided to meme-ify the video and add a black strip with title on top, so when Facebook auto-plays it you know the context till the end. Even though meme videos are like the graffiti of video world, but what the hell.. it’s about storytelling and share-worthiness :)
Make it Sound Proof: From our data, 75% of video views are without sound on Facebook, so the video had to be sound proof and since this was a first where we had actual dialogues, subtitles are super important. And subtitles not in a different language but the same as script, so it matches the visuals.
Move Fast: First 3-6 seconds is our target, to make it compelling enough to continue. As marketers our dream is for people to stop in news-feeds, hit play, watch the whole thing, share it and then give us their kidney! lol First 3-6 are most crucial.
Execute, Execute Execute: We were really skeptical of going all in with in-house capabilities. Heck, I played a role too (my first). The only thing I told myself: Let’s follow the plan, however it looks and execute.. if it doesn’t look good. we’ll figure something out. But wallah, team did a kick-ass job.. :)
Results: The video is off to a good start, got about 200k views on first day (On Facebook)
After our success in videos over the last few years, ixigo is taking on limited clients (Travel brands only) for videos, ibis being our first :) Do check out the other video we made for ibis Goa titled ‘How To Fake a Goa Vacation‘
Remember I was writing a book? Yes I’m still on it going strong. Sign-up to get it before anyone else when it comes out :)
A recent report on India’s Digital Marketing Landscape (published by kstart-YourStory) included an article I wrote about Lessons on Viral Marketing. No nonsense insights from basics of content marketing to tips about how startups can make it fast, cheap and viral. Find the article below and here’s the full report PDF. Happy reading :) Feel free to ask questions in comments or join my mailing list for updates on killer content marketing and the upcoming book – cheers.. Aashish
A Happy Accident
In February 2014, I made a video that documented the last day of the infamous Gurgaon toll plaza. The video was about creating a happy memory, and so I decided to pay the toll for the person behind me and capture this random act of kindness in a video.
That day, I discovered two things: It costs just Rs 21 to make someone smile, and that if content is topical, newsworthy, and inspires action, it could go viral. That video was shared across Reddit and featured on Storypick, NDTV, IBN Live, Buzzfeed and put me on the radio the next day. Even today, more than two years later, a search for ‘Gurgaon Toll Surprise’ on Google throws up links to the video across the first two pages.
Before this, a viral video to me was nothing but a ‘happy accident’
Before this, a viral video to me was nothing but a ‘happy accident’, when the stars were in line, your luck was shining bright, and you had the blessings of a guru. That one video started my journey in learning the method to the madness in viral videos. And as I kept going, I kept recording the learnings on the notes app on my phone. The learnings from the first, I applied to the next video, which again went viral. I conducted some experiments, and another went viral, and went so big that it blew my mind. A video made in August of that same year, clocked seven million views in a few months, was shared by 3.5 lakh people and reached 25% of Facebook‘s internet user base in India! The same video became Asia’s most shared branded Facebook post and went on to win awards. The notes in my phone kept increasing, and I knew at the back of my mind that the day these virals stop, that’s the day I’ll be done, back to the rat race. So learnings and experimenting became an obsession. In a span of one year, multiple videos went viral, hit millions of views, and some even went far beyond our borders and went viral in China!
Today, these videos have garnered over 130 million views, and have been shared by over 3 million people.
Venturing into content marketing was a natural evolution after years spent in social media and website development. I realised that everything revolves around remarkable content, to the point that every brand today has become a media company.
So what makes great content? I have a five point checklist from two years of research. To make a share-worthy video, the ideas should be inspirational, useful, topical, celebrate the viewer’s life, or change the world. If the content falls into these buckets it’s a go, otherwise I trash it. I believe virality can happen as long as there’s compelling share-worthy content. Piggybacking on Internet trends is one way to increase the chances your content will go viral. News jacking gets your content super-fast reach and engagement when done right.
Focus on the user! Make their life easy and they will come in millions looking for you, downloading your apps and becoming your evangelists.
Content Marketing 101
Content marketing is like a rocket ship, you need fuel every day for it to go further and sometimes you need nuclear fuel to take it light years ahead! Start with images as everyday content and invest time and resources for the nuclear video once in a while. It’s true that videos offer a more immersive experience, but if your resources are limited, it’s best to stick to memes and images. Your top priority should be kick-ass storytelling. Don’t worry about production value since most of your content would be consumed on mobile devices and you don’t need fancy production to make an impact on that tiny screen.
Be so good that they can’t ignore you.
It is crucial to gain initial traction when you release your content: we target 100 shares in the first 10 minutes. It gives the content a jump start. One way is to reach out to blogs and news sites to pick it up. Cultivate relationships with blogs. If one focuses on creating kick-ass industry-leading content, they will seek you out.
The Magical Metric for Viral Content
In January 2016, we launched a video for ixigo, which became so big, it almost broke the internet. It was a video experiment using images and it hit 50 million views in a few weeks, was shared by 1.3 million people and sky-rocketed app installs for ixigo, the elusive ROI we’re all after. We replicated that success in multiple videos and crossed the 10 millionmark. It proved my belief that powerful content can catapult a brand and give it the reach of a TV ad on ridiculously low budgets. And when the ROI baby starts to dance, it’s a good day for everyone. :)
The magical metric I use is to track its shares and then reach.
Success for a viral video is decided by these two factors, in my experience. Also, the game just got tougher; now, only if a video hits a million it’s considered a hit; last year it was just 100,000.
Tracking ‘shares’ on Facebook is easy, but when we share it on WhatsApp there’s no way to find out how far it went. Until we get analytics for WhatsApp, I use the old-school formula to test whether the content has gone viral. The only way to track WhatsApp is to share something in a user group first, say your company group. If it comes back to you from your family or peers, then consider it a hit.
I do not subscribe to the view that incentivising viewers will increase virality. Your content should be compelling enough for people to share it. In my experience, incentivising hasn’t worked. The real goal must be to have you ‘share’ out of choice, not by a mail from your boss or arm-twisting by a friend.
Choosing The Right Platform
The more you re-package and distribute your content, the better. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Slideshare, mailers…build an audience base wherever you can, and remember, the rules are different for each.
Success on YouTube requires a solid subscriber base, which will take months or years to build. However, when Facebook opened up to video content, it opened the floodgates for distribution, since many brands already had a fan base on their pages.
I feel Facebook has sharing in its DNA; YouTube not so much.
Right now, Facebook is dominating the videos space and is injecting more videos in your news-feeds; it makes sense to experiment with video and reach millions organically. ‘Shares’, in my experience, make or break a video.
LinkedIn can also be a platform to generate more views for your content. Super value content with actionable insights is widely shared on Pulse, LinkedIn’s version of the newsfeed. At the bottom of your article, create an option for people to subscribe for more via email. This way, you’re collecting users from LinkedIn only. As you start building that list and distributing content, you start getting shares in the LinkedIn ecospace, and it attracts more views and shares.
In the end, pick a platform that makes sense for your business, where your users hang out most. If you’re in the B2B space, think Slideshare or LinkedIn. For anything B2C, kill it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and now the rapidly growing Snapchat.
Future of Video Content in India
It’s raining videos everywhere – from Facebook news-feeds to family groups on WhatsApp. More than 50% mobile traffic is already dominated by videos. Also, with 4G expected to become mainstream in 2016-2017, Facebook will start injecting more videos in news-feeds (as it does in other countries). In the coming years, I see videos taking over in a big way, replacing local language content in India with more visual storytelling.
There’s an incredible growth happening in India right now: mobile numbers are sky-rocketing. And it’s not just Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, but tier II cities that have maximum momentum. An entire generation of users has completely skipped the desktop era and is experiencing the internet for the first time on their mobile devices. We have seen mobile native videos work best, and videos that add value to their lives – not blatant ads – get shared by peer groups. Until the early ‘90s, there was just one TV channel and the idea of a remote control didn’t exist, but when multiple channels came on the scene, the BS radars in our minds evolved and we switched as soon as we saw ads. Users today have BS radars so evolved that as soon as there is a hint of an ad, they bounce off to the many options available. When the videos are authentic, add value, respect users’ time and attention and engage in the first 3-6 seconds, and are native to tiny mobile screens…that’s when the magic happens.
Startup Tip: How To Make It Fast, Cheap And Viral
There are three surefire ways to market your video content effectively. First, pick kick-ass topics. Research and curate, and use the five buckets of picking share-worthy topics. Second, find a video/content that comes close to what you want in terms of sensibility, so you have a creative yardstick. Third, either get your video guys to shoot or hire filmmaking students. They are skilled and passionate, and you give them direction, in terms of ideas and sensibility. This keeps the costs low, ensures good quality, and has potential to be shared like crazy.
Do 10 such experiments, and two will work, just like movie studios. We have two teams in our office: one that spends money and gets results, and then there’s us who get results without spends. To me, spending is easy, but getting there organically is startup swag! My number one growth hack is simple: Focus on the user! Make their life easy and they will come in millions looking for you, downloading your apps and becoming your evangelists.
(Copy credits: Anisha Abraham, Growth Hacks India)
Aashish Chopra is Head of Content Marketing at ixigo. He was named DMAi Content Marketer of the Year, at the Direct Marketing Association India (DMAi) Awards in February 2016. He recently was part of the ‘Ask Me Anything on Facebook’ event hosted by Growth Hacking India where he answered questions on everything from creating viral content and choosing the right platform to marketing content effectively. He blogs at http://www.aashishchopra.com/
7 days 7 million views, 150k shares, 25k comments and 270k likes!
Humbled :) Thanks for the mid week motivation :)
This is the story of a content experiment which grew so big, it smashed our benchmarks and created a whole new level of ‘Crazy’. It was early January and from the trends predicted for 2016, we knew this year belonged to videos. Videos are raining everywhere, from Facebook news-feeds to family groups on WhatsApp. More than 50% of mobile traffic is already dominated by videos, coupled with sky-rocketing mobile users in the country, it’s not just about videos but videos made for mobile. This is the story of how we took an innocent little content post and packaged it into a short and crisp video which hit 50 million views in under 3 weeks! (Learnings from experiment below)
Are You Kidding Me?
The challenge was to take a listicle with interesting content and fascinating pictures and convert it into a video. It had to move fast and engage and not look like a slide show (hate those lousy slideshows with cheesy animations). The strategy for a video listicle was born. Little did we know that this little experiment done on near zero budget, will catapult our reach, engagement and conversions to mount everest.
The Results – Beach Please!
We know from experience if something has viral potential, the numbers snow-ball, shares and views accelerate by the hour. The video hit a million views in ten hours, and on Day 3 the views were accelerating at a staggering 11,000 views per minute! Here’s the video
In One Week:
- The video hit 40 million views
- Shared by a million users
- Received 300,000 comments
- Reached 150 million news-feeds on Facebook
- Added 200,000 new fans to our Facebook page
- Made ixigo Facebook page the fastest growing in the country on that day
- Got 20,000+ additional app installs for ixigo apps
“A travel video that broke the internet”
“ixigo proves Facebook (not YouTube) is the place for video marketing”
“ixigo lists world’s most unusual beaches”
All In One Week – Look Closely!
“The power of content marketing is the fact that a near zero budget video can compete with a TV Ad and beat it with numbers!”
Learnings – From The Trenches
- First 3-6 seconds are the most crucial: News-feeds are getting chaotic, human attention spans are dropping. First impression is crucial (thumbnail image), but the ‘second first impression’ is the first 3-6 seconds, we need to move fast, engage and get them to hit ‘share’, the magical metric for viral content.
- Sound elevates: Even though Facebook auto-plays the video, music/sound plays a big role. Bad quality video I’ll watch but bad sound is a deal breaker. The sound / music must elevate the visuals.
- Move fast: Nothing must be static even for one frame: we panned pictures, added fast moving globe transitions. Videos are called moving pictures for a reason ;)
- Square videos: The vertical/square videos which vine/instagram started work well for mobile audiences, since the format is native to mobiles. You don’t have to tilt the screen and they take up more real estate on the phone. And it’s no rocket science to know that mobile traffic is killing desktop in India!
- Facebook video: Facebook has sharing in it’s DNA, not so much on YouTube. Facebook videos work when they are short, fast moving and tell the story in moving picture more than dialogues. You can use call to action buttons on videos and most importantly Facebook provides kick-ass distribution for video content compared to YouTube.
- Keep Experimenting: We replicated the practices into a Republic Day video, which hit a decent million in 3 days. Operate like a movie studio, do ten experiment, two will work :)
One More Thing, Seriously!
In the last two years it has been a roller coaster ride in producing, distributing and decoding viral content. I’m compiling it all into a non-nonsense book. It has the stories of learnings from the content marketing trenches, of how experiments became best practices for multi million views viral videos. About creating viral-worthy content, the art of news-jacking, earning users’ trust and coming up with topics for the next game changer. Join the mailing list and I will update you when it comes out :)
Oh BTW Here’s The Video
And This One Hit a Million in 3 Days, Same Learnings, On India’s Republic Day (News-Jack)