Common elements in viral videos – with examples!

By Darby Jones


Viral video is like the lottery. The winners are few and the dreamers are countless. However, with viral videos, many factors can increase the odds of winning.

Learning all the elements common to viral videos will not guarantee success, but it will help you create engaging content that can be used to glorify God. To be honest, you really don't need a viral hit. You just need to attract enough attention to draw your local community.

As always, focus on the story and goal of the video. Before you get clever, consider the message. Why are you producing the video?

Maybe you want to invite people to church. Your strategy might be to take a light-hearted approach to help the community feel more relaxed about coming to your church. Maybe you’d like to create something with a celebratory feel. Perhaps you want to educate or tell an inspiring story. With your goal in mind, let’s dig in.

Most viral videos incorporate one or more of the following elements.

1. Low budget. Many videos that go viral are unplanned or captured on inexpensive devices. The key takeaway is that authenticity and excellent content are more important than big budgets and professional equipment.

2. Humor. Sometimes, it’s awkward; other times, the video is outright hilarious. The point is that humor can help you get your point across. Consider creating a parody, composing an original song or dancing like King David, with no cares about who may be watching or what they may think. While planning your video, think about and tap into all the extraordinary talents of your church.

If you need help with creativity, contact a local improvisational comedy troupe to find an actor or writer to help you conceive a good idea for a modest fee.

3. Piggyback on trending topics. Many viral videos play off current topics in music, film and news. Find ideas in your inbox, on Twitter or on other social websites. Or save time and get ideas by paying attention to current trending viral videos. Just google “viral videos,” and you will find several sites that curate the latest most shared videos on the Web.

Parody, defend or comment on trending videos or the topics they cover. This tactic is hugely popular and often successful. Just be sure that you aren’t infringing on copyrighted material. Also, act fast or forget about it. Keep in mind that the topic and your video will be forgotten in a few months.

4. Provocative footage. Your church will want to offer thought-provoking, not offensive, messages. Start with something compelling in the first 20 seconds. You also could pretend to film the video using hidden camera techniques. People love surveillance footage because it makes them feel as if you’re letting them in on a secret. This method has a lot of potential – however, be sure the technique fits the overall message and tone.

Tell an untold story or the "eureka" moment that inspired your church or community. Incorporate visually arresting images and footage that dramatizes a larger point.

5. Surprises. Think you can’t plan a surprise? You can script a surprise, and as long as it looks genuine or authentic, people really won’t care.

6. Viral video songs. Compose a song or parody around a current trending topic. Don’t worry about the budget (but don’t infringe on copyrights). Just create something buzz worthy. As long as the talent – or extreme lack of talent – is there, you don’t need a Billboard 100 production.

Other common viral video traits

Elon University took a strategic approach to viral video research and identified some other common traits:

  • Titles were three or fewer words. Consider using fun keyword-optimized descriptions.
  • Run-times were shorter than three minutes and included music.
  • Content contained elements of irony.

Promote your potential viral video.

Post your video to YouTube, Metacafé, Godtube, Reddit, Digg, Technorati, Stumbleupon and any other appropriate video sites. Unless you get lucky, though, that’s not enough.

Send the video to every person you know. Ask your friends and family to do the same. Make people laugh with your email subject line, and you will get more views. Ask everyone to share the video on their favorite social websites. The goal is to get as many influential people as possible to join the cause.

Viral success is just the beginning!

If your video does go viral, congratulations! Head back to the drawing board. Piggyback off your own success. Most of the barriers have been broken, and you don’t want to disappoint your fans who are now primed for a sequel – or even a series. Now, go do your homework! And for crying out loud, QUIET on the set!

--Darby Jones, e-marketing specialist, United Methodist Communications

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