The debatable science of the share

We were extremely pleased to have our friends at the Viral Ad Network back up in Manchester for another installment of the ever-popular #KittenCamp last week.

Billed as a ‘meme meet up’, #KittenCamp is an opportunity to get together and take a look at some of the most successful recent online campaigns while you drink free beer. Although always a slightly bizarre evening that kicks off with adults dressed as animals battling to earn the audience’s ‘lolz’ (yes really!), it also has a more educational side that offers an insight into branded virality and the science of the social share.

Viral has perhaps become a bit of a dirty word over the past couple of years, as more and more branded videos designed to hit the big time languish in the depths of YouTube with a few hundred views.

And yet as long as the possibility of going viral remains (and we are still seeing branded content achieve millions of views on a regular basis), marketers will continue to be drawn to the concept. After all, they offer us the potential to earn unprecedented levels of reach for our frequently tight budgets.

So what can we do to avoid the dreaded video fail?

VAN’s argument is that virality can be, to some extent, manipulated. They believe, based on their experience and an analysis of the top performing virals, that there are two essential elements that makes a video shareable rather than simply watchable. Get this right and you should have a viral on your hands:

Conversation triggers: People only share content if they think their friends are going to appreciate it. Ask yourself what the sharer would write next to the video to convince their friends to watch it, and what their friends would write back underneath. Could anyone truly respond with a ‘lol’, ‘wtf’, ‘wow’ or ‘awww’?

Communities of interest: Are there specific groups of people that would find the video of particular interest? After all, everyone loves an in-joke. Buzzfeed have become experts at this: ’13 things Welsh people are tired of hearing’, ‘Signs you grew up as an only child’, ‘Awkward moments when you’re unemployed’ — all designed to make you exclaim ‘that’s so true!’ and want to share with friends in the same situation.

But this proven formula still comes with a warning. Even VAN –who obviously have a vested interest in arguing that there’s a surefire way to ‘go viral’ — admits that it’s not an exact science that can be accurately predicted. In fact, not even everything they make themselves works as hoped, with some big budget videos needing a giant push on paid seeding to reach targets.

So, although the age of the branded viral videos is not dead yet, we will have to be realistic in our ambitions. We can only ever optimise for virality, not guarantee it.