There is no recipe for going viral.
But the man behind one of YouTube’s most viral videos is sharing some of his tactics with us. Remember when this inspiring piece about Arthur’s transformation showed up on your Facebook feed?
Arthur Boorman’s powerful story was shared over and over. Nick Jonas tweeted about it. George Takei posted it. As of this writing, the video has been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube. That’s not even counting the countless places it’s been reposted!
I had the pleasure of chatting with filmmaker Steve Yu before he left for Slamdance earlier this week. Steve can claim not one, but two, viral videos to his name. How did he accomplish this enviable feat? Read on.
Q: What makes video special as a storytelling medium?
Steve: I’ve always loved video editing and I love creating stories with video. When you add music and sound to video, you get such a full experience. Video generates emotions better. And over the past few years, the internet and technology allows us to give a richer experience, to more people, with video.
Q: Did you have any idea that the video about Arthur would go viral?
Steve: No idea. I had watched other viral videos, but it’s hard to make one and there’s no special formula.
What I did know is that we needed to take the viewer on a journey. We needed to play to people’s skepticism and then surprise them. My intent was to inspire, to open people’s eyes to what is possible. But the shocking, that surprise, was key.
Once you have a viral video, it’s just going to follow its own course. You can’t force it. It’s all about how people share it.
Q: How did the success of “Never, Ever Give Up” impact DDP Yoga?
Steve: I’ve known Dallas [Diamond Page], the creator of DDP Yoga, for ten years. Dallas had DDP videos but they weren’t emotionally moving. I knew I could help and Dallas let me go for it.
A few days after we posted the video, a friend saw it on the front page of Reddit. We watched it go from #20 on the front page to the top post in 90 minutes.
Before we posted the video, DDP Yoga was selling about 10 DVDs per day. After the video, that jumped to 1,000 DVDs per day. In 3-4 weeks, DDP sold 18,000 DVDs. When Dallas and I went on Shark Tank, the Sharks couldn’t believe the success DDP Yoga had experienced!
Q: Did this experience shape how you approached future projects? Did it confirm your hunches about powerful storytelling?
Steve: At the time I was discouraged with my documentary. Arthur was part of the documentary, and by making this shorter video and seeing it go viral, it was a confidence booster for me. People wrote to us to tell us how watching it changed their lives.
When I saw Marc Mero‘s talk in person, I knew I could make a video that would go viral. Marc had been trying to get his message out with his non-profit Champions of Choices for 8 or 9 years. We first posted the video to Facebook, taking advantage of newsfeed autoplay, then to YouTube. That was on a Monday. The video was #2 on YouTube by Thursday. We got lucky, but I knew Marc’s story had viral potential.
Q: In your opinion, what is the key element, the must-have characteristic, to a viral video?
Steve: There’s not really one thing, and it’s hard to predict. But the video has to reach the viewer in an emotional way, in a way that makes them want to share it.
I believe viral videos have to be one of three things: funny, shocking, or moving. And concise. Funny isn’t my thing, so I try to move people. Will it make the viewer cry? For me, the video has to be concise and it has to move people.
Inspired? Take Action!
Video perfectly captured Arthur’s and Marc’s stories. Is video the right medium for your brand? Potentially. Brands like American Greetings (World’s Toughest Job) and P&G’s Always (#LikeAGirl) created videos that went viral. And they did it with the help of talented creative agencies.
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