Common Elements of Highly Shared Videos

Creative videos are some of the most engaging content on the Web — and the most shared. Some are professionally produced, such as Volkswagen’s “The Force” ad or Air New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings-inspired safety video. Other personal projects went viral with no warning, like “How Animals Eat Their Food” or the adorable sneezing baby panda.



The massive view counts of videos like these are a marketer’s dream. Though many sigh and resign themselves to the belief that their own publicity efforts could never go viral, or put too much effort into failed viral videos, most highly-shared videos actually have several things in common.

Necessary Traits of a Viral Video

Many of the shared characteristics of viral videos are surprisingly simple:

In addition to content, there’s some technical stuff to keep in mind. The number of credited co-creators, the length of the description (which boosts SEO rank), the pacing, any internal links to the poster’s similar videos and more all factor into a video’s shareability.

What Makes Videos Go Viral

While the above traits are common to the majority of viral videos, the actual reasons for their success are more ephemeral. Generally speaking, here are some common trends to expect when you observe viral behavior:

  • Tapping into people’s emotions is a reliable method, whether those emotions are good or bad. Emotional content generally wins over flat information.
  • Happy emotions are more likely to steal the show than sad ones — though the reverse can be true if the sadness level is extreme or infuriating.
  • Titles that promise information and time commitment right up front (i.e. “10 Ways to Make Your Boss Notice Your Hard Work”) frequently bring results.
  • Appeals to common ground or niches — a meme that only certain demographics recognize, an everyday annoyance common to shift workers, the nostalgia evoked by a classic movie — draw clicks.
  • As always, promises of insider interaction with celebrities (even if only vicariously, through the interviewer) have wide appeal.

These all seem fairly obvious, but sometimes viral videos behave the opposite way for different audiences. You can write a headline that’s begging to be clicked on, only to end up alienating jaded clickbait-watchers. If you create a hilarious video, but your target demographic prefers the macabre or terrifying, your content is going to fall flat. Marketers who know their audience and tailor their content accordingly are more likely to see success.

Creating a Successful Video Marketing Campaign

If you’re ready to try your hand at video, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Build a strong network. Enlist social media power users who are known for sharing quality content. Invite them to take a look at your work to offer you constructive critiques and to promote it if they see potential.
  • In the same vein, paid advertising can work wonders, especially within the video-hosting site that you use. Be careful not to rely on it and pay attention to your organic advertising, too.
  • Funnel your brand reputation into everything you produce. Your video channel should have the same look as the rest of your brand, with familiar faces presenting your content so that people will know they’re in the right place.
  • Be prepared to shoot a follow-up or sequel to any video that gets comments begging for more.
  • Use Wordtracker, Google Analytics, or a similar feature to identify the current top-performing keywords related to the content that you’re about to release.
  • Make different kinds of videos — snapshots of your company culture, informational pieces, animals trying to use your product with hilarious (safe) results. Cross-link these videos, either in the description or in the video frame, to get people clicking around within your channel.
  • Use your website to direct people to your videos, and your videos to point people to your website.
  • Encourage viewers to post reaction videos and feature loyal customers and fans every so often. A supercut of the funniest fan reactions you receive is one good way to do this.

There’s no guarantee that the videos you create will go much farther than your existing sphere of influence. The father of David after Dentist had no idea that his son’s anesthetized antics would become a cultural phenomenon, proving that success is mainly unpredictable. Let your goal be to create quality content, incorporate as many share-worthy elements as you can fit in naturally, and leave the rest to the magic of the Internet.