How To Make Something Viral

We asked our speaker, Jesper Åström, to share his tricks on one of the most talked about topics in the world of social media: virality.

Are you, like the most of us, sobbing about the fact that your media spend budget does not give you the privilege of the Superbowl spotlight? Dry your tears. Straighten your back. Look forward. Cause there is a bright tomorrow! If, and only IF, you are willing to do the groundwork!

The tools and tactics discussed in the post are all part of the Digital Marketing Online course - A chance to learn how to build, test and implement to deliver actual results. The course will teach you to navigate the entire digital marketing funnel, from acquisition and conversion, to retention and optimization.

Digital Marketing Online Course

Being a part of the viral revolution We have all seen them. The videos, making it big through the YouTube mash of content, becoming the viral hit of the moment. How do they do it? What makes them boom, when other content rarely gets noticed? How can I get a million views on YouTube… better yet. How can I get 1 billion views?

To complicate the narrative. Quite frankly. How will my commercial message, ever be able to compete with something that is fantastic in its own right. Meaning, how will our creative ever be able to compete with something real?

Don’t worry. Viral success is rarely about the content or the story. Viral comes from the story about the story. This blog post aims to give you a hint on how to build it and use it in order to go viral!

Why most communication struggles to go viral Most planned communication, such as advertising, has been produced from the notion that a good creative is enough to get the attention of the viewer. This attention will lead to a reaction, affecting the viewer to an emotional circumstance where he or she views a brand or a product in a particular way.

Once a thirty second spot was done, it was sent to the media house for distribution on screens, readily available in the livingroom of practically everyone. The brand, the agency and the production company, could kick back and hold their thumbs for the next advertising award open for nominations.

Along came the Internet and, in the late 2000’s, with it came the social web, allowing users to interact with each other and brands, in a completely new way. It did not matter if the brand was online or not. People talked anyhow. And although they used to talk to friends and family prior to the growth of the social web, the living room, playground, workplace or other social sphere had grown immensely.

One in a million, used to be difficult. However, one in a million, on Facebook, is a crowd of 1200 people. Thus, even the smallest of issues, seemingly overnight, had gone from an issue between a brand and the company, to being an issue of the crowds.

Although the setting for communication has changed, many companies still struggle with adapting to the new settings. Advertising, in its traditional format, is still the number one mean of reaching an audience. And rightfully so. It still works surprisingly well.

However!! Most companies still fail to produce advertising that becomes a part of the dialogue between users, when they themselves are not there to govern the interaction. It is as though the “think outside the box”-theorem has done a 180, and is now biting itself in the arse. Creativity, outside the box, is not enough to become a compelling part of an online dialogue between two users.

So, what should brands do? In order to change the present and become a part of the dialogue of the social and digital crowds, you have to dig deeper. You have to understand what the web is made of, how users interact and how to tap into that interaction. How to become a part of the dialogue and the mechanics that set the boundaries.

Equally, you need to understand that mass media, still owns and drives the vast volumes of traffic online and offline. Essentially, you need to understand and work with both worlds in order to become successful by any other means than mere luck.

And yes. As you have heard a million times before. It is about content, and it is about marketing. And more importantly, it is about accepting that nothing is ever done, finished, completed or perfected. Nor, does anything become old or unuseful, but simply periodically irrelevant - IF you give it the chance to become irrelevant.

And this is where the story about the story starts coming into play!

How to get a billion views on YouTube! If you accept that virality, meaning the mechanics behind people sharing stories and content like a virus, does not happen by chance, the limits for how many people view or interact with your content are only capped by the number of all the people you make your story relevant to.

So. Although a billion is a bit extensive, let’s look at the latest in the row of viral miracles and see what mechanics actually made it reach the audience it did.

Epic Split - Van Damme & Volvo collaboration The rest of this post will debug what Volvo did in order to get over 100 million views on their advertising, without paying the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to be aired on the Superbowl monitors.

What they did was to use a three step rocket. Propelling their content to the top of mind amongst a very broad spectra of online users.

Step 1: Publish, seed and push The first step is really about boosting your view count. This is a pretty simple step as there are so many possibilities to choose from, if views are all that you want. However, in this piece, views are only half the story when it comes to virality.

First off. Let’s post the video in the entertainment-category as this gives you the best second hand effect by being shown on syndicated feeds on other websites than YouTube as the “viral hit of the day”. There are more entertainment websites with large volumes of traffic than there are educational websites. And so. If you are stimulating your view count to list on a toplist, you might as well list on one that gets noticed. Entertainment is my number one pick for that purpose.

So. The idea here is to buy the first bulk of views through advertising, spam or seeding. Giving you a reason to communicate that your video is being shared rapidly - although, it is actually just yourself creating the big numbers.

The Volvo video was published on the 13th of November last year. If I would have had access to the YouTube-analytics, or even the curve, I would have been able to tell you exactly how they bought the initial views. However, I don’t, so I have to give you a range of possibilities.

Advertising possibilities to gain views fast

― Buy placements in media - embeds of your video. Big bloggers usually accept this kind of editorial content and the cost ranges depending upon the country you are in. For most mid to high range bloggers, you have to pay $1000+ to get one post in the right type of blog. Sadly enough, most of the retailers or sellers within the professional blogger world, won’t accept you unless you buy a few posts, with a budget of at least $10K to start out with. The benefit of buying this kind of seeding is that you get an initial vouch for your video, that will later become significant when other users determine how authentic the initial push was.

― You could choose to buy Adwords video advertising - in the TrueView format. This usually costs about 5 cents per view if targeted properly. I recently ran a campaign that got 8100 views from a budget of €100/$140.

― If that doesn’t suit you, but you have a gigantic budget, you could always hire an agency such as BeOn/GoViral to do the trick for you. You will pay 15 cents per view, but someone does all the seeding work for you.

― Or, you can decide that you want to go the spammy route and buy views from one of the many fake view outlets available online, only a Google away.

― Or, you can buy banners that direct traffic to your video.

All in all, the main purpose is to get an initial view count up in order to be able to say that you have something bubbling that a lot of people care about. In this phase you should NEVER forget the internal resources you have. You might have subscribers to an e-mail list, or possibly a range of other types of contacts through a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Do not forget to include this “free” view count boost at this stage of the process.

Step 2: Get your story about the story out there Now that you have created an initial view count boost, you can focus on the next step of the process. Depending upon what is perceived as a lot of views in your market, you need to keep going until you have reached a number that sounds like a lot in a few days. In Sweden - where I'm from - that number might be 100 000 views, whilst in the US or many countries in Asia, a large number has to be above one million in order to have the right type of communicative impact.

This step is purely about PR and as I previously described - the story about the story. THIS, my friends, is what makes the difference between a viral success and just another video. Especially within the commercial space. Hard work and good PR-people. In the Volvo case you can clearly see that the PR-push starts around the 14th with a full effect on the 15th of november. (spoiler alert to look at the graph further down in this post)

How you catch the eye of the mass media As I said, the volumes of traffic, still resides in mass media. In order to reach this traffic, you have to appeal to mass media in your release of a video. For the past few years, there has been a classic push towards traditional media outlets with a pitch sounding something like this: “The social media users are BUUUUUZZZZZING around this content… you should get in on the action.” Cause, as we know, whatever is buzzing, is also popular, which in turn means more visitors to the news websites, which in turn leads to more impressions, which leads to more CPM-revenue for the online newspaper… well… I believe you get it…

“Check out my video - it is viral and has received x million views in just x days”

In the case of the Volvo video. The pitch was that they had received 6 million views in two days. Not bad, right? Must be important stuff!!


Buzz is not enough though Along with the PR push based on the buzz, you also need to ad relevance. This is where the story about the story comes into play.

In the case of Old Spice that was published a few years back, the story about the story was that they had filmed the video in one shot. No cuts. This made visitors watch it several times to see if it was true.

In the case of the Piano Stairs, the story about the story was that it actually changed the behavior amongst the people going to work. It was not the fact that they had made a piano of a staircase that went viral, but the case movie - or the story about the story - that went viral.

In the case of Volvo there were several storys about the story. This is probably why it has become the most viewed advertising on YouTube - EVER. Whoever was in charge at the PR or content agency for working day and night with the press seeding, deserves a huge round of cheers!

Either way. The stories about the story was (amongst many other): Van Damme is nearly 53 years old and it is REALLY he who does the stunt - this was pushed towards broad press The first take is what is being shown on YouTube - advertising/media-press He does the classic split - movie press It was REAL drivers, behind the steering wheel - motor press There was only ONE safety line edited from the clip - basis for discussion in social media The trucks went backwards - also a topic for discussion in social media

Creating a viral conversation In order to get what the story about the story is, you have to understand what a viral conversation is. Or moreover, how to get your content to be a part of the dialogue between two users. Not as a topic, but how you make your actual content to be the way that they communicate with each other.

Let’s take a normal conversation between two people online.

Person 1: Have you seen this clip on YouTube?

Person 2: Yes!

End of discussion.

Now. Let’s take a video with viral potential and compare what happens when you add a story about the story.

Person 1: Have you seen this clip on YouTube? Person 2: Yes! Person 1: Did you know that [insert any of the stories about the story from above] - the split is in 3 movies - it was the first take - only ONE safety line was removed in editing etc. Person 1: NO WAY!! [watches 10 more times to confirm]

This, my friends, is a viral conversation - or BUZZ.

IF you work with the story about the story, the meta of the story, or the details in the story and adapt them to the receiver, along with the bought view count, you have got a pretty compelling argument to get published where the real numbers start making their way through to your content.

And so, if successful this leads to a bundle of publications in mass media all over the Internet. Which in turn leads to:

  1. A lot of more views from the embedded videos in the articles
  2. Which in turn leads to yet better top list rankings on even more high volume traffic websites
  3. Which in turn increases the demand for your video (as the buzz gets around) in terms of Google/Yahoo searches

Which is also what happens on the 15th with the video from Volvo when WSJ and a lot of other high traffic mass media websites decide to publish the story in their online editorial.


The A in the graph above denotes the publishing in WSJ that also creates the spike in the curve. The graph in itself shows the search volume for “van damme” on the 15th of November - clearly showing that people now started searching like MAD for this content about Van Damme.

Step 3: Create your own “How was it possible” pitch The third phase of the push is to reach out to media and tell the story of how this all happened. Many news outlets that missed the first round of publishing, when the story was new, now finds the angle to publish “how was it possible”-stories.

The natural result being more interest, more views and the story goes on!

To sum it all up Viral is nothing that happens by chance. Especially when it comes to commercial content. The way you do it is to find angles, or stories within your story, that you can sell as an idea to a mass media company. The pitch is helped if you boost your video with some bought views to begin with, and the story almost always ends with some other media, that was left out of the first round, to tell your “behind the scenes” story.

This and a lot of other things will be debugged during the The Digital Marketing Online Course.

Digital Marketing Online Course

To find out more from Jesper, follow him @jesperastrom or check out his website.