When “viral” videos aren’t really viral

I’ve been following a fascinating discussion at TechCrunch over the holiday weekend, and it’s a worthwhile read for anybody who follows this stuff.

It began with a rare guest post (The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos) on the site Thanksgiving day by Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of the “viral marketing company, The Commotion Group.” It got my attention, because, well, who knew there were “viral marketing companies?” I mean, isn’t the whole idea of viral marketing that it’s, um, viral?

Well, it’s not. It’s “managed” by guys like this, and the post was a how-to list of their secret sauce. Fascinating. Provocative. And ethically questionable. Here’s an example on how to get a video to an important level on YouTube:

3. Core Strategy: Getting onto the “Most Viewed” page
Now that a video is ready to go, how the hell 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 we 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 twenty videos on the Most Viewed page, which means that we can grab 1/20th of the clicks on that page! And the higher up on the page our video is, the more views we are going to get.

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

  • Blogs: We reach out to individuals who run relevant blogs and actually pay them to post our embedded videos. Sounds a little bit like cheating/PayPerPost, but it’s effective and it’s not against any rules.
  • Forums: We start new threads and embed our videos. Sometimes, this means kickstarting 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 we 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. We take advantage of this.
  • Facebook: Share, share, share. We’ve taken Dave McClure’s advice and built a sizeable presence on Facebook, so sharing a video with our 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 we 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. As I mentioned before, when done right, this is a tremendously successful strategy.

The post infuriated TechCrunch readers, who left over 400 comments slamming what Greenberg does for a living. It apparently made him feel bad, so TechCrunch let him post another guest entry (Follow Up To The Viral Video Post: Dan Wants Another Word), in which he backtracked on much of what was stated in the original post. That, too, didn’t go over well with readers.

Trust me, it’s a good read. And the lesson is Umair’s “good beats evil” in the new world. We simply MUST accept that empowered consumers are in charge these days, and they’re using that power to escape the kind of manipulative crap that marketeurs have foisted upon them for decades. By pulling back the curtain on his own manipulative practices, Greenberg ran into the buzz saw that is angry consumers.

You may read this and come away thinking, “Gee, maybe we should be doing some of this stuff.” In fact, there are a lot of smart tactics listed, and perhaps that’s correct. If you choose this path, however, do so with extreme caution: caveat venditor, let the seller beware. Proceed at your own risk.

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