YouTube is a video-sharing web site that opened in 2005; it has become very popular and created quite an impact in popular culture. Candid and bootleg videos have rocked political campaigns, spawned a new generation of videographers, launched new celebrities, and exposed others (i.e., the Michael Richards incident1). Artists have been exploiting YouTube to promote themselves and their videos, both professional and amateur. Much like video cameras produced a new genre of America's Funniest Videos, YouTube has become an outlet for everyone with camera. Internet marketer Dan Ackerman Greenberg has described the strategy behind using promotional techniques to increase the popularity of videos on YouTube.

1 Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, was caught on video in a racially-tinged rant at a comedy club. One of the club's patrons used a cell phone to capture the moment and it was publicly disseminated, much to the dismay of Richards.

Both stars and emerging indie bands have found a home on YouTube for music videos. With the popularity of homemade videos, bands can create a music video or concert video at a fraction of what it would have cost just a few years ago. Postings on YouTube should be supported by a campaign to spread the word. Video "channels" can be created, and more traffic can be generated by joining forces with similar artists to set up a "channel" and promote it to the fans of all participating artists.


Dan Ackerman Greenberg Have you ever watched a video with 100,000 views on YouTube and thought to yourself: "How did that video get so many views?" Chances are pretty good that this didn't happen naturally, but rather that some company worked hard to make it happen—some company like mine.

When most people talk about "viral videos," they're usually referring to videos like Miss Teen South Carolina, Smirnoff's Tea Partay music video, the Sony Bravia ads, Soulja Boy—videos that have traveled all around the Internet and been posted on YouTube, MySpace, Google Video, Facebook, Digg, blogs, etc. These are videos with millions and millions of views.

Here are some of the techniques to get at least 100,000 people to watch "viral" videos:

Secret # 1: Not All Viral Videos Are What They Seem

There are tens of thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube each day. (I've heard estimates between 10-65,000 videos per day.) I don't care how "viral" you think your video is; no one is going to find it and no one is going to watch it. Our clients give us videos and we make them go viral. Our rule of thumb is that if we don't get a video 100,000 views, we don't charge. So far, we've worked on 80-90 videos and we've seen overwhelming success. In the past 3 months, we've achieved over 20 million views for our clients, with videos ranging from 100,000 views to upwards of 1.5 million views each. In other words, not all videos go viral organically. There is a method to the madness.

We've worked with: two top Hollywood movie studios, a major record label, a variety of very well known consumer brands, and a number of different startups, both domestic and international. This summer, we were approached by a Hollywood movie studio and asked to help market a series of viral clips they had created in advance of a blockbuster. The videos were 10-20 seconds each, were shot from what appeared to be a camera phone, and captured a series of unexpected and shocking events that required professional post-production and CGI [computer generated content]. Needless to say, the studio had invested a significant amount of money in creating the videos. But every time they put them online, they couldn't get more than a few thousand views.

We took six videos and achieved:

■ 6 million views on YouTube

■ 200+ blog posts linking back to the videos

■ All six videos made it into the top 5 Most Viewed of the Day, and the two that went truly viral (1.5 million views each) were #1 and #2 Most Viewed of the Week.

The following principles were the secrets to our success.

2. Content Is NOT King

If you want a truly viral video that will get millions of people to watch and share it, then yes, content is key. But good content is not necessary to get 100,000 views if you follow these strategies.

Don't get me wrong: Content is what will drive visitors back to a site. So a video must have a decent concept, but one shouldn't agonize over determining the best "viral" video possible. Generally, a concept should not be forced because it fits a brand. Rather, a brand should fit into a great concept. Here are some guidelines to follow:

■ Make it short. 15-30 seconds is ideal; break down long stories into bite-sized clips

■ Design it for remixing. Create a video that is simple enough to be remixed over and over again by others. Ex: Dramatic Hamster

■ Don't make an outright ad. If a video feels like an ad, viewers won't share it unless it's really amazing. Ex: Sony Bravia

■ Make it shocking. Give a viewer no choice but to investigate further. Ex: UFO Haiti

■ Use fake headlines. Make the viewer say, "Holy crap, did that actually happen?!" Ex: Stolen NASCAR

■ Appeal to sex. If all else fails, hire the most attractive women available to be in the video. Ex: Yoga 4 Dudes

These recent videos would have been perfect had they been viral "ads" pointing people back to web sites:

■ Model Falls in Hole on Runway

■ Cheerleader Gets Run Over by Football Team

3. Core Strategy: Getting onto the "Most Viewed" Page

Now that your video is ready to go, how is it going to attract 100,000 viewers? The core concept of video marketing on YouTube is to harness the power of the site's traffic. Here's the idea: Something like 80 million videos are watched each day on YouTube, and a significant number of those views come from people clicking the "Videos" tab at the top. The goal is to get a video on that Videos page, which lists the Daily Most Viewed videos.

If you succeed, the video will no longer be a single needle in the haystack of 10,000 new videos per day. It will be one of the 20 videos on the Most Viewed page, which means that you can grab 1/20th of the clicks on that page! And the higher up on the page your video is, the more views you are going to get.

So how do you get the first 50,000 views you need to get your videos onto the Most Viewed list?

■ Blogs. Reach out to individuals who run relevant blogs and actually pay them to post your embedded videos. Sounds a little bit like cheating/PayPerPost, but it's effective and it's not against any rules.

■ Forums. Start new threads and embed your videos. Sometimes, this means kick starting the conversations by setting up multiple accounts on each forum and posting back and forth between a few different users. Yes, it's tedious and time consuming, but if you get enough people working on it, it can have a tremendous effect.

■ MySpace. Plenty of users allow you to embed YouTube videos right in the comments section of their MySpace pages. Take advantage of this.

■ Facebook. Share, share, share. Take Dave McClure's advice and build a sizeable presence on Facebook, so that sharing a video with your entire friends list can have a real impact. Other ideas include creating an event that announces the video launch and inviting friends, writing a note and tagging friends, or posting the video on Facebook Video with a link back to the original YouTube video.

Email lists. Send the video to an email list. Depending on the size of the list (and the recipients' willingness to receive links to YouTube videos), this can be a very effective strategy.

■ Friends. Make sure everyone you know watches the video and try to get them to email it out to their friends, or at least share it on Facebook.

Each video has a shelf life of 48 hours before it's moved from the Daily Most Viewed list to the Weekly Most Viewed list, so it's important that this happens quickly. When done right, this is a tremendously successful strategy.

4. Title Optimization

Once a video is on the Most Viewed page, what can be done to maximize views? It seems obvious, but people see hundreds of videos on YouTube, and the title and thumbnail are an easy way for video publishers to actively persuade someone to click on a video. Titles can be changed a limitless number of times, so have a catchy (and somewhat misleading) title for the first few days, then later switch to something more relevant to the brand. Recently, I've noticed a trend toward titling videos with the phrases "exclusive," "behind the scenes," and "leaked video."

5. Thumbnail Optimization

If a video is sitting on the Most Viewed page with 19 other videos, a compelling video thumbnail is the single best strategy to maximize the number of clicks the video gets.

FIGURE 12.11

YouTube example of a video thumbnail (permission granted by YouTube and artist Grant Peeples).

FIGURE 12.11

YouTube example of a video thumbnail (permission granted by YouTube and artist Grant Peeples).

YouTube provides three choices for a video's thumbnail, one of which is grabbed from the exact middle of the video. As you edit your videos, make sure that the frame at the very middle is interesting. It's no surprise that videos with thumbnails of half-naked women get hundreds of thousands of views. Not to say that this is the best strategy, but you get the idea. Two rules of thumb: The thumbnail should be clear (suggesting high video quality) and ideally it should have a face or at least a person in it. Also, when you feel particularly creative, optimize all three thumbnails, then change the thumbnail every few hours. This is definitely an underused strategy, but it's an interesting way to keep a video fresh once it's on the Most Viewed list.

6. Commenting: Having a Conversation with Yourself

Every power user on YouTube has a number of different accounts. So should you. A great way to maximize the number of people who watch your videos is to create some sort of controversy in the comments section below the video. Get a few people in your office to log in throughout the day and post heated comments back and forth (you can definitely have a lot of fun with this). Everyone loves a good, heated discussion in the comments section—especially if the comments are related to a brand/startup.

Also, don't be afraid to delete comments. If someone is saying your video (or your startup) sucks, just delete their comment. Don't let one user's negativity taint everyone else's opinions.

We usually get one comment for every 1,000 views, since most people watching YouTube videos aren't logged in. But a heated comment thread (done well) will engage viewers and will drive traffic back to your sites.

7. Releasing All Videos Simultaneously

Once people are watching a video, how do you keep them engaged and bring them back to a web site?

A lot of the time our clients say: "We've got five videos and we're going to release one every few days so that viewers look forward to each video."

This is the wrong way to think about YouTube marketing. If you have multiple videos, post all of them at once. If someone sees your first video and is so intrigued that they want to watch more, why would you make them wait until you post the next one?

Give them everything up front. If a user wants to watch all five of your videos right now, there's a much better chance that you'll be able to persuade them to click through to your web site. Don't make them wait after seeing the first video, because they're never going to see the next four.

Once your first video is done, delete your second video, then re-upload it. Now you have another 48-hour window to push it to the Most Viewed page. Rinse and repeat. Using this strategy, you give your most interested viewers the chance to fully engage with a campaign without compromising the opportunity to individually release and market each consecutive video.

8. Strategic Tagging: Leading Viewers Down the Rabbit Hole

YouTube allows you to tag your videos with keywords that make your videos show up in relevant searches. For the first week that your video is online, don't use keyword tags to optimize the video for searches on YouTube. Instead, you can use tags to control the videos that show up in the Related Videos box. Why? I like to think about it as leading viewers down the rabbit hole. The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for viewers to engage with all your content, rather than jumping away to "related" content that actually has nothing to do with your brand/startup. So how do you strategically tag? Choose three or four unique tags and use only these tags for all of the videos you post. I'm not talking about obscure tags; I'm talking about unique tags—tags that are not used by any other YouTube videos. Done correctly, this will allow you to have full control over the videos that show up as "Related Videos." When views start trailing off after a few days to a week, it's time to add some more generic tags, tags that draw out the long tail of a video as it starts to appear in search results on YouTube and Google.

9. Metrics/Tracking: How to Measure Effectiveness

The following is how to measure the success of your viral videos.

For one, tweak the links put up on YouTube (whether in a YouTube channel or in a video description) by adding "?video=1" to the end of each URL. This makes it much easier to track inbound links using Google Analytics or another metrics tool.

TubeMogul and VidMetrix also track views/comments/ratings on each individual video and draw out nice graphs that can be shared with the team. Additionally, these tools follow the viral spread of a video outside of YouTube and throughout other social media sites and blogs.


The Wild West days of Lonely Girl and Ask A Ninja are over. You simply can't expect to post great videos on YouTube and have them go viral on their own, even if you think you have the best videos ever. These days, achieving true virality takes serious creativity, some luck, and a lot of hard work. So, my advice: Fire your PR firm and do it yourself.

This was written by Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of viral video marketing company. The Comotion Group and lead TA for the Stanford Facebook Class. Dan graduated from the Stanford Management Science & Engineering Masters program in June 2008. Reprinted by permission of author.

FiGURE 12.12

Imeem song page with many communication features. (Permission granted from imeem.)

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