10 Lessons From My First Viral Video

Creating a video and having it go viral is surely every marketer’s dream. Last month, it happened for me. The outcomes — ranging from monetization to brand awareness — were surprising, eye-opening and beyond my wildest dreams. Since you, too, may hope someday to have a video you’ve created go viral, I offer 10 lessons …

The outcomes, though, are a lesson in what happens when you don’t try to sell anything. Nowhere on our Facebook post did we promote a website, or that the CD with the recorded version of “Hallelujah” was available for purchase online. Nowhere did we push Christmas Show tickets. Nor did we ask for opt-in’s to our email list or for viewers to like our Facebook page. With no promotional angle, here are some statistics:

  • Four sold-out performances for Christmas Shows the first weekend of December, setting a new record for a 4-day run of performances in our 40-plus-year history. Based on prior year sales, we estimate hundreds of fans became first-time ticket purchasers to our shows. About 150 traveled to see us from 18 states outside of Texas.
  • CD Sales for the chorus’s recording of “Hallelujah” on the CD The Spirit of Christmas soared (and continue to soar) by more than 50 percent compared to the same time a year ago.
  • Website traffic blew up by five times in the days after the video was posted.
  • Email opt-ins grew (and still grow), increasing the size of the opt-in email list by about 15 percent.
  • Facebook likes may be most impressive: Before the video, about 6,300 liked the group’s official Facebook Fan page. As of the deadline for this column, it went up three times to more than 24,000.

Bottom line: Once the message was out there and embraced, people searched on their own to find where they could buy the recording, purchase tickets, or follow the organization via email and Facebook.

And then there is this: An invitation from America’s Got Talent to audition for their nationally televised show.

But the bigger impact is on individual lives. A few examples:

  • The woman who contacted the chorus saying, “A friend shared your live video today and it brought me to tears. For me November, December and January are almost unbearable to get through. In those three months we lost our grandson, our triplet girls, and my father. So, for four years now, I hide from the world during that time. Today, you made me feel joyous about Christmas for the first time in four years. We haven’t celebrated Christmas, and we haven’t put up a tree. But I decided I want to put up a tree this year.”
  • The parents of a nonverbal Down syndrome teenage boy saw the video, and played it for their son. Then they shared a video they took of their son responding to the music and, in a rare event, jumping and making sound.
  • The woman who said she “played this song to my mom this morning. First time I’ve ever seen her so calm and happy since her stroke. She was keeping beat by nodding her head. She asked me to keep finding more and more songs by Vocal Majority so we kept going. It was beautiful.”

The halo effect for the Vocal Majority chorus brand continues to be felt, making the performers feel good about the work being done to advance the mission to enrich people’s lives.

The full impact of this viral video is yet to be fully known as the story continues to unfold. But so far, these are the lessons learned and reinforced:

  1. Stimulate Emotion: People want to feel genuine emotion, and be taken to emotional places for a feel-good experience.
  2. Don’t be Staged: Our culture responds to authentic experiences … something behind-the-scenes … not staged.
  3. Instinct Rules: If you dream of creating a viral video, you must instinctively be in tune with your audience, and instinctively feel what will move them.
  4. Embrace Spontaneity: You must always be ready to be spontaneous. Recording on a smart phone is perfectly acceptable.
  5. Newsjack: Marketing guru David Meerman Scott labels, in a positive light, what we did with the news of Cohen’s passing as “newsjacking.” If a story is building somewhere, be part of it.
  6. Build Your Social Media Base: When you have a base of customers, fans and followers, they can share your content with their friends and followers on social media getting you out there faster. On Facebook, it’s reported the average person has 338 friends. So, for example, at least some of the original 6,300 followers shared the post; in theory, enough to exponentially grow to more than 184,000 likes, potentially reaching 62 million Facebook users.
  7. Live Streaming Works: Facebook live streaming, in my opinion, is the new standard of how to go viral more quickly. We put a slightly edited version of our video on YouTube and, with no promotion, there are more than 11,000 views. But Facebook is where the eyes of about everyone are today.
  8. Resist Selling: As marketers, we want to sell and monetize. But sometimes, the greatest success comes from not selling and just letting people take finding you in their own hands.
  9. You Can Monetize Social Media: But only with certain types of messaging. My experience is that Facebook and other social media are about building brand, and not so much about monetizing. But this is one example where there was monetization of social media without even trying.
  10. Culture Continues to Change: Our culture continues to evolve. It used to be that you’d only want to burnish your brand by putting out the most polished look and experience possible. Today, that doesn’t seem to be so important. In fact, in some instances it could be a turn-off.

Finally, in situations like these you never know what could happen. I’m reminded of the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” when you do something big and risk success — or failure. At the moment, I prefer to call having a video go viral the “Law of Unimagined Opportunities.”

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.