My sister lives in South Korea. She doesn’t get to come home often, but what she discovered on a visit a few months ago baffled her. Gangnam Style was sweeping the U.S. At first, she was confused. She said it was a popular dance in South Korean clubs, and she’d heard it on Korean radio. But that did not explain why I was asking her to teach me the dance during a TV timeout at a football game at LSU last fall.
Gangnam Style had gone viral. Traditionally, South Korean culture doesn’t have a big influence in the U.S., which may be why my sister was so confused by its overseas spread. The video became the first in YouTube history to surpass 1 billion views, crushing the record previously held by Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”
The Internet and social media mean that just about anyone can become a sensation overnight. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can guarantee they’ll be a sensation. Some of the best viral videos are a result of total accidents or someone having a camera ready at the right time. Consider the following:
• Charlie Bit Me – Five years ago, someone had the camera ready when baby Charlie bit his brother’s finger and “It really hurt, Charlie!”
• Rick Roll – If you’re familiar with this one, you know that if I did it right, I would email a link labeled as a funny cat video or something. If it worked, you’d be enjoying an unexpected 1980s flashback.
• Miss Teen South Carolina – Sometimes, videos go viral because enough people saw it happen the first time.
So how can you ensure lots of people see, share and enjoy your content on social media? Although you can never force something to go viral – that would negate the point of increasing view counts by popularity alone – there are a few steps you can take to help it along.
1. Create something viewers can relate to. If it’s funny because it’s true or very relatable, odds are people will enjoy it and want to share it.
2. Put it in the hands of the right people. In early January, One Direction set out to reclaim their record for the most video views within 24 hours. They hoped their new music video “Kiss Me” would break the record taken from them by Justin Bieber. But they’re One Direction. They can do that. They have millions of plugged-in teenybopper fans following them on social media outlets. Most people don’t have such a loyal following, so getting the right media outlets, video stars and supporters on board is the best way to go.
3. The definition of viral success is relative. Sure, some people aren’t happy until they’re breaking records, but if I post a video of my cat that gets 5,000 views, I’ll be pretty excited. Set realistic goals just like you would with any other campaign or tactic.
Kelli Eason is an account executive at Obsidian Public Relations, a Memphis-based public relations firm.