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How to Go Viral, Every Time

Jess Bachman

published on March 8, 2013 in Design

Everyone wants their content to go viral. It’s the holy grail of marketing. It can turn companies and product into the talk of the town, even if they sell toiletries. The ROI on content with more than a million views is almost unmeasurable. So how do you make sure your content will go viral?

The secret is simple. Be incredibly lucky.

Luck is the third piece of the virality triumvirate and obviously the hardest to bank on. In fact, you cannot achieve true virality without it. With great content and powerful tactics you can certainly get millions of views on a consistent basis, but if lady luck doesn’t give her blessing, you will end up with a good – but not great – ROI.

So let’s take a look at these three puzzle pieces and see how they fit together so you know where to put your efforts.

There are different levels of viral success, from a few thousand views to Gangnam Style. It’s important to understand what you can reasonably achieve with the right amount of effort and to set your expectations accordingly. The chart below outlines what you need in order to achieve consistent results. Consistency is important because virality is, by nature, all about the outliers — and you can’t set expectations on outliers.


To get any type of fire going on a consistent basis, you need the right tools and expertise. The most important is your platform. You just put up some content that you think will do well, how many eyeballs can you access to jump start the viral loop? This can be YouTube subscribers, Twitter followers, blog and newsletter subscribers, and main website traffic.

CollegeHumor has a huge YouTube platform of almost 4 million subscribers. This alone is enough to get the first 100,000 views on their videos inside of a day. This huge subscriber count is an outlier and would push the slopes of the above chart to the right, but it still does not guarantee virality. Their content is consistently funny and well produced and they have vaulted 16 videos above 10 million views. However, their total uploads number 1,900, making 10 million views a 100-to-one shot. You can’t escape the luck factor.

If you are looking to create dozens of videos with over a million views, then at the very minimum, you need a platform of this magnitude.

What if you have no platform? No YouTube subscribers, no audience, no tribe? Then you are like most people and everyone starting out. There is no roadmap of what to do here other than hustle and be smart. Social voting sites like Reddit and HackerNews will allow great content to flourish… some of the time. Sometimes, the very best content will get lost in the noise and never be heard from again, or it will resurface a week or a month later as the biggest thing ever. Trying to make sense of this will drive you mad.

The lucky outliers will destroy your expectations

Remember Rebecca Black? Her Friday video has topped anything by College Humor and her 33 total uploads have netted her 244,000 YouTube subscribers: a very respectable platform. But her Friday video was an outlier and with the absence of any real platform power (at the time), and questionable content, pulled in 48 million views. The obvious major factor here was just luck. She has done six music videos since, each receiving fewer views than the previous, with the latest one receiving 1.2 million views.

So if you do achieve some viral success and want to replicate it, take a hard look at the factors that lead to your virality. If it does look like luck was a major factor, then avoid a strategy that includes “winning the lottery twice.”

Even if you think your content is great, do not be seduced by outliers. The video from DollarShaveClub is hilarious and with a minimal platform would be enough to get to 100,000 views. But 10 million? That requires a substantial amount of luck and it’s likely they will not repeat that level of success even with better content. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, as 100k views can still provide an exceptional ROI.
Jess Bachman is a Creative Director at Follow him on Twitter.

Featured image: Shutterstock