Fake headlines and other viral tricks to avoid

youtube on I phone

The stupendously popular viral video with an irresistible product message is the marketeer’s Holy Grail. But how can you give your product a story that attracts legions of fans?

Lots of so-called experts claim to know how to make videos go viral. But from what I’ve seen, most of them are hawking a combination of the obvious and some flat-out bad advice.

Wharton School marketing prof Jonah Berger has received attention far and wide as the author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s a catchy title—one of his so-called secrets is to use catchy titles. That in itself is no big revelation. But what exactly is “catchy”? There’s no simple answer. Provocative? Curiosity-inspiring? Against the grain? Yes, yes and yes.

But what about using fake headlines to seduce viewers into clicking only to take them to something quite different (and therefore thoroughly disappointing)? Though a staple of many successful You-Tube spoof videos, this approach nearly always backfires for the product promoter. You’re not looking for more haters for your brand, are you?

That doesn’t stop Berger from using this tired trick himself. An article he penned for Tech Crunch titled “The Secret Science Behind Big Data and Word of Mouth” features absolutely zero “big data.” The headline draws you in; the article disappoints.

Kiri Blakely admitted in her 2011 Forbes post Why Does something Go Viral? that randomness is often the only explanation why one blog posts gets hundreds of thousands of hits and another goes virtually unnoticed. As an experiment, Blakely loaded 20 of her posts on a variety of topics onto the site StumbleUpon. One of the posts received more than 100,000 hits; most of the others received less than 1,000 and a few none at all. What distinguished the virally popular one?  “If I knew that, I’d make a fortune,” she writes. Still she did offer some tips:

  • Keep it simple. “The Susan Boyle video had a very simple beginning, middle, and end structure that quickly encompassed human dreams everywhere: An unattractive, middle-aged woman waddles onto the stage, gets laughed at, and soon transcends with soul-lifting, heart-swelling triumph. It’s the template for millions of movies, bestsellers, and fondly-remembered wars.”
  • Make it relatable. “People like to read about things that they can relate to or that they’ve had conversations with their friends about.”
  • Make it snarky. “The Internet loves snark. And kittens.”
  • Try various social media venues until you hit the right audience. “Sometimes it takes awhile to find your location: some stories are LinkedIn stories, others do well on Twitter, some on Reddit.”

But also keep in mind that videos that go viral often have received quite a bit of behind-the-scenes help. As Godwin Delali Adadzie writes on tech site GADEL said what?   “Most YouTube videos that you see as a viral success are in fact made by top viral marketing firms. These marketing firms pay people to blog about these videos, send links to top influencers on Twitter and Facebook.”

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