More Secrets Of Viral Video Hits From Actual Viral Video Experts

Nov 26th, 2007 | By | Category: Digital Video Downloads, Internet TV, Making Money with Podcasts, Streaming Video, Video, Video Podcasts, Vlogs

French Maid TVThis is the second part of our look at The Secrets Of Viral Video Hits. The articles provide an alternative to the view, promoted by Dan Ackerman Greenberg at TechCrunch, that the secret to success with Internet videos is “clandestine marketing.”

In part one, Kent Nichols from Ask A Ninja and Andrew Michael Baron of Rocketboom offered their thoughts on creating a viral video hit.

In this part, we’ve got two more viral video experts: Tim Street, the creator of French Maid TV, and Hayden Black, creator of Goodnight Burbank, the show that USA Today called “better than 99% of the stuff on TV,” and the new series Abigails X-Rated Teen Diary. They discuss how sex, spectacle and social networking can help make a video go viral.

Here’s what Nichols and Street had to say about Greenberg’s article and about creating viral video hits……

Goodnight Burbank’s Hayden Black Has Seen This Before

Hayden Black“I had two initial reactions to the TechCrunch article about viral video promotion techniques,” said Goodnight Burbank’s Hayden Black.

“First, I was shocked at the reactions of so many of the commenters. I guess I’m jaded, living in Hollywood. Business people with lots of money will spend amazing amounts, and do anything they can, to promote their product.”

“My second reaction was that his promotion techniques all boil down to paid advertisement. He’s working for people with lots of cash. They’ll do whatever it takes to get their product promoted, and people outside the business might find some of those techniques dishonorable.”

Black was the least critical of Greenberg’s approach of the experts we talked to. “The only people who might want to hang their heads in shame,” said Black, “are the bloggers who don’t disclose the money they receive in exchange for their endorsement. They’re the ones playing the dirty trick on an unsuspecting audience.”

There’s No Secret Formula For Viral Videos

So, why do some videos go viral, and others don’t?

“It’s hard to discern a predictable pattern,” said Black. “But that’s what makes it viral, doesn’t it? (laughs)”

“Did you ever see the video of Chocolate Rain? It was a big viral hit last summer. I finally took the time to watch it last weekend. It is the most horrible song! Thick lyrics, like out of sixth grade, and the music is so cheesy – like a bad Casio keyboard from the 80’s. And the young guy’s singing reminds me of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (At this point, Hayden did a little singing in this style. It’s hysterical).

“You only know the song has moved from the verse to the chorus when he stops saying “chocolate rain,” and says something else. The melody is the same in both parts, chorus and verse,” notes Black. “I had to stop watching it, and come back later, it was so bad.”

“And yet it got an insane number of views. What made it so popular?” asks Black. “I heard that some anime site,, mentioned the video, and the interest those fans generated got the ball rolling.”

“There are so many other things that didn’t get hits — so many better things that are un-viewed.”

Black On Why His X-Rated Teen Diary Is A Hit

Awkward Turtles!

“If I had dollars to spend, I would’ve advertised like crazy for Abigail and Goodnight Burbank,” said Black. “But I don’t, I don’t have a big budget. Everything we’ve done has been word of mouth, and it’s done well. Abigail launched October 1st, and now, at the end of November, it’s approaching 1 million downloads. 1 million!”

We asked what Black thought made Abigail a hit.

“I’d say that the series has smarts. Abigail is a real person – I mean, you know she’s not real, but there’s something about her that speaks to people. We’re all outsiders, we all feel like we don’t fit in, like Abigail, and we can relate.”

“The early buzz about Abigail got us listed on the iTunes comedy page, which itself generated more interest. It was unexpected, and fantastic.”

Promoting Your Video Ethically On A Tiny Budget

When we talked with Black, he touched on a topic that may explain why “black hat” tricks appeal to some video producers.

“I get a sense of real desperation and fear from a lot of creators of Internet media,” said Black. “I can’t prove it, but I wonder whether some people fudge on their numbers, just to give the impression of success, to keep up with other people. And once you make inflated claims, then you have to keep on doing that. It’d be exhausting to perpetually do that.”
Black had other ideas on promoting Internet videos with a tiny budget.

“It helps a lot to cultivate a relationship with your viewers,” explains Black. “Facebook is a great, organic way to communicate with people. MySpace is a good place to announce new projects and episodes. And I have an email list. You can’t just spam everyone on your list with updates all the time, though, especially if they also happen to be on your Facebook list, or your Ning social network, or in several other places where you talk about your creative work.”

“I spend a lot of time making sure people stay current on what I’m doing, but also making sure not to be obnoxious with tiny updates every day. Abigail comes out three times a week; I’m not going to inundate people with three updates a week, every time there’s a new installment.”

French Maid TV’s Tim Street On Creating A Viral Hit

Tim StreetNew media producer Tim Street, right, had a lot to say about TechCrunch’s “secrets”. Street wasn’t surprised by Greenberg’s techniques, but questioned his approach.

“A lot of what he says is correct. Having an attractive thumbnail image is important. Brevity is important, too,” said Street.

“But, his techniques make me think he’s practicing some dark art,” adds Street. “I came away with this feeling of a snake oil salesman, and maybe not a very bright one.”

“He seems to think that 100,000 views is some fantastic number that somehow makes a video qualify as viral. 100,000 views is not a good ROI (return on investment), unless you’re in a tiny suburbia somewhere.”

We asked Street what makes a video go viral, without the use of snake oil and dark arts.

Sex, Emotion & Spectacle

The Spectacle Of French Maid Eve“To organically make a viral video, and actually get results, it has to be good, for one thing. And a viral video must move two or more human emotions,” said Street. “Which two emotions? Well, [laughs], comedy and sex intertwined will give you the best chance for views – but sexy women alone won’t do it.”

“With any new medium, spectacle comes first. With motion pictures, people used to pay money to go to the theater and see horses and wagons rolling down the street, or trains rolling into the station.”

“As the medium matures, the audience expects more. They expect storytelling, stories that move their emotions,” adds Street. “The Great Train Robbery was the first movie to really combine spectacle with a compelling story.”

“With new media, with Internet video, we’re not quite at that storytelling point yet. We’re still trying to get old media to fit the new media model. But it’s getting there. LonelyGirl15 was approaching that level of storytelling – almost.

“To get Internet video to a higher plane, it needs to interact with the viewer, and allow the viewer to interact with the characters or the creators,” said Street. “What if your video started sending you IM’s or text messages?”

Snake Oil Doesn’t Get Long-Term Results

The Evolution of Dance“He’s generating interest artificially, and that doesn’t get results,” said Street about Greenberg’s approach.

“Consider these numbers: A week or two ago, I was looking at the list of most-viewed videos on YouTube. The top video, Evolution of Dance, stands at something like 78 million views. Put that in context: the last episode of Seinfeld, it got 75 million viewers when it aired. That’s huge!”

“Another in the most-viewed list is Avril Lavigne’s video for Girlfriend. It has, like, 58 million views. When you compare those numbers to 100 thousand views, it’s just a whole different scale of measurement.”

“In the example of the Evolution of Dance video, it moves way more than just two human emotions. Depending on how old you are, as the guy moves through different eras, with different music and dances, there’s nostalgia for the olden days…there’s comedy…multiple emotions,” Street explains. “And, of course, it’s a spectacle, because the guy dances like a fool for something like seven minutes.”

“A lot of really smart people right now [late November 2007] are unemployed with the (Writers’) strike. They’re smart, very creative people. They’re used to making good money, writing for cable or the networks or movies. If the strike doesn’t resolve soon, they’re going to start getting itchy and look at new media. When they do, that’s going to give independent producers like us a run for our money.”

If You’re Paying Bloggers To Pimp Your Video, It Probably Sucks

So, bottom line, what should producers of new media do?

“Well, their work has to be good, or else they’ll have to hire paid bloggers to blog about it,” said Street. “The guy in the TechCrunch article is generating buzz artificially, and that isn’t going to get real, lasting results.”

“You know – if your work isn’t good, you may not have a viral video.”

“Use the Force; beware of the Dark Side,” adds Street. “And if there’s some promotional technique that feels sketchy or dirty, just don’t do it.”

2 Responses to “More Secrets Of Viral Video Hits From Actual Viral Video Experts”

  1. MrPackGoat says:

    What is it with all this focus on views? Who cares. At the end of the day, it’s the “quality” of people viewing, not the quantity. Big whoop if 20 million view a video… tell me what percentage actually do something as a result. View an ad? Buy something? Take action? Nobody every talks about these facts. Ultimately, all this has to be turned into a business model to be successful. Otherwise, it’s all just another O.J. chase scene… who cares.

  2. Weave says:

    What’s up with Tim and the sunglasses? Can you get me his autograph? 😉

Leave a Reply