Why Did ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Go Viral? 7 Good Reasons.

Why did the ALS cold water, ice bucket challenge go viral? Secrets revealed.

Models doing ice bucket challenge
Models doing ice bucket challenge

At this moment, marketers around the world are trying to replicate what has happened with the ALS ice-bucket challenge. See the ALS Association website (news) if you’ve somehow missed this unplanned viral campaign that’s exploding from celebrities and your community.

First some context. Few knew until now, but ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It was brought to attention by major league baseball player Lou Gerhig (whose name is synonymous with the disease). I’m happy for ALS because it’s getting the awareness and discussion otherwise reserved for breast cancer.

The ice-bucket challenge isn’t new, but the ALS angle seems to originate as follows: a golf trainer challenged a Sarasota NY professional golfer, Chris Kennedy, to dump a bucket of ice water on his head AND choose a charity to support. In mid-July he took the offer, and chose the ALS because his wife’s cousin has it.

So how did it go viral?

Based on my experience as a “Viral Video Genius,” I’ll now outline seven of the reasons this ALS cold-water challenge has caught fire. Let me confess that while I’m thrilled for ALS awareness, I’m also burnt out on the ice-bucket challenge. I kinda throw up in my mouth when I hear “I nominate…” soon followed by a giggling scream. But please feel free to enjoy the blooper reel: ALS ice-bucket fail compilation video I created. It’s been seen about 75,000 times.

I’ve also provided some examples below to underscore my theories, which are, of course, highly credible since I’m a viral author. So now you’ll sound very sophisticated when you analyze the ice-bucket campaign at work, home and with friends.

  1. als, viral, challenge, secret, why, how
    Why did the ALS ice-bucket, cold water challenge go viral? Easy, timebound, personalized, exponential and charitable.

    It’s one-to-one and exponential. Each person names 3 people they know, so if just half (1.5) of those people respond, it spreads extremely quickly. “Tagging” a person in a video has worked before. Remember naked vlog tag from 2008

  2. Let's just hope that other charitable efforts don't reuse the "ice bucket" like they did with Livestrong bracelets
    Let’s just hope that other charitable efforts don’t reuse the “ice bucket” like they did with Livestrong bracelets

    It’s charitable not commercial. Of course it doesn’t matter what charity has benefited, because it’s unlikely that the majority of this was motivated by a personal connection to ALS. Charitable efforts go viral because they appeal to our generosity (and our desire for recognition of said generosity). Think about the explosive impact of the Hank and John Green (Vlogbrothers) Project for Awesome. If it was breast cancer, we’d have seen this go further. Of course it can’t work for another charity now. Find something new, folks. Don’t pull a “Livestrong Rip” on this.

  3. It’s time bound. The “24 hour” plea is a vital ingredient. That forces the recipient to act or not act. And guilt prevents the latter. These things need to be fast to work, and we know quickly if it’s a success. Think Kony 2012 (Feb 2012 through April 2012), which lasted about 3 months and was forgotten.
  4. Participation is formulaic. People like to join these types of games if the assignment is easy. That’s why the Harlem Shake took off… it was a very short, simple formula that almost anyone could replicate. Do you remember the Chicken Soup dance? Same idea.
  5. It’s easy. With the proliferation of video-enabled smart phones, no editing is required. That factor isn’t exclusive to this challenge, but certainly enables participation by the unwashed masses (instead of elite web or online-video junkies). It’s like a video meme we can all join.
  6. It’s a visceral, visual stunt. Same idea as Gangnam Style, but you don’t need skills.
  7. We like modest pain. It shows our courage and discipline. Remember the cinnamon challenge? I did a “double dog dare” with eating worms, but it unsurprisingly didn’t catch fire. We seem to have a strange fascination especially with getting iced. But most don’t have the conviction to do the “polar bear plunge.” Although frankly, I’d do the plunge to end this campaign.

There is actually an eighth reason that has something to do with wet t-shirts, but I’m not going to count that one.

Busted: I Know What You Videotaped Last Summer

Busted. I’ve got 50/50 odds that you’re one of those people that secretly videotapes others. So I don’t want ANY more shit about my prank antics, okay?

Harris Interactive polled more than 2,000 adults and found that 50% of Americans would use a Smart phone to make a secret video (note wording is “would” not “did”). So what would we videotape?

• 23% – people in embarrassing outfits
• 20% – athletes at a sporting event
• 15% – someone tripping/falling
• 10% – sexy waitress at a restaurant
• 9% – shirtless hunk mowing the neighbor’s lawn
• 7% – cheerleaders
• 7% – boss or coworker sneaking a second doughnut
• 6% – disgusting grooming habits
• 5% – couple kissing or making out
• 8%- other

Video Secret: How to End Your SNL Skit

What was the best season of SNL you can recall? Wait let me ask it a different way: which of these years did you like best and why:

  • the Belushi years
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Dana Carvey
  • Chris Farley
  • Tina Fey

And why is it that 85% of the best potential comedy fail one one singular account? What’s the missing ingredient that could have made a funny bit a “Cowbell” moment? The fuckin’ ending. The same is true with speeches, movies, books, television, human interactions and online video.

Good people know how to start and carry a conversation. Great people know how and when to end one.

That ends today’s abbreviated lesson. But if you want to read one of my most important and stream-of-conciseness posts, click “more”

Continue reading “Video Secret: How to End Your SNL Skit”

How to Be Popular on Facebook

Trying to become more popular on Facebook, or promote your Facebook channel, brand or page?

This short “how-to” instructional video contains everything you need to know about having a robust, quality base of friends on Facebook and other forms of social media. It was created by the accomplished author of “The Stupidest Article on Social Media Ever” so you know it’s advice worth following.

The trick here is to be totally transparent about your intent (to make loads of friends), yet not appear desperate. Appearing desperate in social media, my friends, is a turn-off. Hold your head up high, and people will be attracted to your charisma, leadership and wisdom.

Done watching? Get your ass over to Facebook and “like” this damned page, then send a friend request to Kevin “Nalts” Nalty because there’s a friggin’ cap at 5,000.

Boo Hoo. You Didn’t Get a Google Wave Invitation.

Google Wave Hates You. That’s why you didn’t get an invite.

But that’s not my point. I just wanted to share this video courtesy of Shira Couric. It’s informative and hysterical, and there’s no greater moment of panhandling on the web than a restricted Google beta.

Naturally you’re saying to yourself, “surely Nalts must have an invite.” He’s a YouTube Partner and even painted his office the four colors of the Google logo. No. I don’t. And I’m not begging. In fact if I get an invite I might just RSVP, “sorry- busy on a Yahoo beta right now.”

In the meantime, you can go fool around with other products in Google Labs. Heck- you can even search photos by color preference.

YouTube’s Homepage Not as Important as Google’s “Secret Sauce”

The power of YouTube’s ability to commercialize is not based on the homepage, but “The Secret Sauce.” Here’s a glimpse into it, and what you can do to advantage yourself.

There’s been a fascinating and widespread reaction to YouTube’s redesign, which was based somewhat on superficial changes to YouTube’s homepage (phase one referenced in YouTube’s blog, and a broader change is planned per NewTeeVee and ClickZ).

But the fate of YouTube’s partners, professionals and user-generated content is driven less by the homepage than the “secret sauce.” What, you ask, is “the secret sauce”? Hang with me for a moment first. I promise we’ll get there, and I’ll even give you tips for giving yourself a competitive advantage.

In this horrifically long post, I’m going to analyze the homepage, show why most reactions are missing the point, explore how a video gets “love” on YouTube, and give you some tips for getting views.

Since the redesign, we’re seeing the homepage’s vitality wane. Those homepage videos fetch fewer views than they once did. Where a featured (now “spotlighted” video) once got 100,000 to 500,000 views, the YouTube homepage is less of a driver than before. In case you missed the memo, here’s the latest vernacular.

  1. Spotlight Videos: Highlighted videos YouTube thinks you’ll want to watch, and a “thematic” approach to showcasing the best of the community and partners.
  2. Promoted Videos: Those driven by advertising.
  3. Featured: Includes YouTube’s partner content, other popular content, or those previously spotlighted.

Compare these two screen shots as exhibit A & B: The first is a shot of today’s “Spotlight” videos (aka featured), and the view counts are perhaps 200K on average.

picture-2

Now see YouTube (via archive.org) about 2 years ago when “Farting in Public” was on it. This is not a scientific study, but you’ll see higher average numbers despite the fact that YouTube’s traffic today is exponentially higher than it was one or two years ago. We’d expect to see today’s YouTube homepage videos commanding views that are exponentially higher. So what gives?

picture-3

The coveted YouTube homepage is still prime Internet real estate, of course, and the slippage of average homepage views isn’t entirely driven to the recent redesign — because this phenomenon is not new. A year ago I spoke with an interactive director of a popular company that had its video ad featured on the 2006 homepage, then again in 2007. Before asking him about his results, I told him I imagined far fewer people watched his most recent homepage-featured ad. He asked how I knew, and I explained that we regular YouTubers had grown immune to the large ad on the homepage.

Alas, the power of the YouTube homepage has become, and will continue to become, less important in influence, at least relative to other secret tools at the disposal of The Commercializers of YouTube. Why?

  1. First, only a small portion of daily YouTube visitors even actually see the homepage. They dive deep into YouTube for a specific video, and then out.
  2. Regular visitors (those who spend 20-60 minutes per day on the site) have largely customized their experience to give primacy to their favorite creators via “subscriptions.”
  3. That leaves only the people inclined to visit a homepage of any site, or those that are new and eager to explore. This is a minority, and the longer we spend on YouTube the less we care about the homepage.

YouTube, now behaving more as a division of Google than a standalone UGC/video sharing site, will continue to reward content based on two factors: relevance to viewers, and the premium of the ads they generate. Google prides itself on a legacy of innovation that is often instinctive and not customer driven — we didn’t know we needed Google search in a crowded market. And we didn’t know we needed Gmail, which has more traffic now than YouTube itself.

But most of us miss this fact. Let’s look at some comments about the redesign (from blogs/discussion groups, especially NewTeeVee and ClickZ). They’re focused mostly on the homepage and organizational principle, but are overlooking the more powerful dynamics driven by YouTube’s “secret sauce.”

  • They’ve been disenfranchising us more and more. Eventually we’ll migrate elsewhere and youtube won’t have an audience to advertise too.
  • I think the trend is going towards compartmentalizing video content 1. Quality + Professional free with the hassle of advertising 2. Mixed Quality + free between terrible and good UCG that can be found on sites like youtube and howcast with the hassle of advertising 3. Paid entertainment, video content that can be purchased through itunes 4. Paid, quality instructional content that can be purchased
  • I reckon that for four tabs.: Music-25% , Films-10% , TV-15% , UGC-50%
  • In effect, they are garden walling all the UGC on YT into a section so that if you want to ignore it you can.
  • I go to youtube because I *like* seeing good UGC (gasp)! I totally get that advertisers worry about what stupid crap their ads show up next to, but if youtube can’t patrol their homepage – why can’t they let their trusted users do it
  • I feel this change will marginalize UCG content, but it’s still a million times more democratic than the TV model.
  • The creation of a premium “sand box” for professional content will allow independent producers and large media companies to showcase and monetize their content more efficiently. Also, all content producers on the site will benefit from the inevitable increase in ad spends that are pushed to Youtube.
  • Hilarious! “Premium content” is just what the many millions of YouTube watchers don’t want!
  • I think this will give websites like Viddler and Vimeo a chance to grow their communities to the height of YouTube’s current level of success.
  • The UGC community on YouTube can succeed if they are able to monetize more easily and if established and rising “stars” are identified and receive promotion that positions them as “must-watch,” “YouTube only” content. They can be seen as complementary, and the more YouTube facilitates a parity the better.

Well you’ve made it this far, so it’s time to reveal “The Secret Sauce” of Google/YouTube. As I said, video content will rise/fall based on consumer relevance (duration of view, relevance by keyword, ratings, view counts, favorites, etc.), but the most vital aspect is “black box,” or confidential. We can deduce some things using “Google search” as a proxy. Google’s search results rewards advertisers who bid high prices for “paid placement,” and organic (natural) results based on whether the content is “relevant” (as defined by inbound links and whether we engage, or return Google to refine the search).

Not surprisingly, YouTube is replicating that Google model — giving “love” to content that either satisfied viewers and/or can be monetized via the Partners program. Unfortunately, YouTube is less transparent about whether a video receives primacy because of relevance or ad dollars. There isn’t a clear visual divide between paid and organic videos, even though the new labels (spotlight, promoted, featured) are a step in that direction, and this will continue to become more clear to even the naive surfer that still can’t distinguish between an ad or organic result on Google.

To consider how a video fails or thrives, consider the experience of a typical viewer navigating YouTube. They may choose to engage in the following ways:

  • Visit a specific video based on a link/forward from a friend. They may hang around, or dash.
  • “Hang out” with the community — and that segment continues to grow, but represents a smaller share of overall traffic. It’s also less important from a commercial standpount.
  • “Browse” related videos, and passively accept the “related content” YouTube serves after a video.
  • Dive into a favorite creator (and subscribe)- that could be a pro or an amateur.
  • More and more, visitors search for what they want — whether it’s the latest video gossip about a news figure, or “how to play a jawharp.”
  • Few, I believe, use the homepage design to delve into specific segments or such areas as “most watched” of the day, week or month. It’s possible that YouTube’s user interface (tabs, categories) can be important, but less so than most think.

THE SECRET SAUCE

The “secret sauce” is Google’s proprietary scheme for keeping the viewer engaged, and ensuring that the content continues to not just satisfy their curiousity, but more importantly “hook” them for more viewing (and it works based on average views consumed by a YouTuber relative to a Yahoo Video viewer). The “secret sauce” is, and will always remain, highly confidential and in flux. Otherwise we’ll “game the system” through various tricks. The algorythm that makes up that sauce will get smarter, and more difficult to fool.

We can complain about the “secret sauce,” or accept it and evolve. That means our video content needs to be relevant and captivating. Partners have a distinct advantage, because YouTube would be foolish to favor videos it can’t monetize. So we’ll see powerful and deep-pocketed commercial networks/producers (and advertisers) get an increasing “leg up” on amatuers by giving YouTube a financial incentive to show their videos “love” through paid buys, and favored placement. These entities can pay for “love,” or YouTube may give them free “love” to hook new audiences and mutually monetize their content long term. Recall how much premium placement PopTub had for a while. And sometimes an amateur gets lucky because their content gets “stuck” on the homepage (we saw that last month with CommunityChannel and a few others).

In the meantime, here are some basic tips, and some haven’t changed since last year when I wrote my free eBook (“How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent“).

  1. Create videos about content that is topical and searched. That’s how Buckley and Sxephil attracted a following that is now somewhat self sustaining.
  2. Build a distinct niche, and market your videos via like-creators and via properties (blogs) beyond YouTube.
  3. Continue to reply to videos that are already popular. The viewer will see the thumbnail, and your video will pick up “spillover.”
  4. Ensure the videos are tagged appropriately, but are also compelling, and engage the viewer. Otherwise algorythms will mistake those for spam. It doesn’t work anymore to tag your video with “sex” and expect that video to sail.
  5. Those thumbnails are as vital as ever. If a video is promoted, featured or spotlighted, the viewer will decide to engage based on the title, thumbnail and duration (we still want short videos).
  6. Here’s a doozy: Leave blank space after your video, so your viewers are less likely to “escape” via “related videos” served involuntarily by YouTube after the video plays (you want your viewer instead choosing a thumbnail for your own video, and those appear beneath the video).
  7. Finally, you’d better monetize your videos and become a YouTube Partner. Sponsored videos that aren’t monetized are not likely to thrive as well as entertaining videos that earn Google and its partners ad dollars.

It’s indeed harder to become an “overnight” success, especially when we have a “vicious cycle of fame”: it takes lots of views to qualify as a partner, and partner status to get more views. So the rich may get richer, and the bar is rising. But don’t despair! JeepersMedia is surpassing 100,000 subscribers, and had only had 4,300 subscribers 10 months ago. So there’s still room for new video creators who tap distinct audience niches, and manage (like Jeepers) to rank continually among the most highly-rated videos of the day.

And as long as the “subscription” model remains important to new YouTube addicts, your success breeds success. A good video can prompt a YouTube noob to subscribe (especially if you ask them to), and then your chances of that individual watching your future videos are much higher.

Happy for No Reason

Can you be happy without any reason?

hamster

 

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m into the whole “positive attraction” concept, and recently read Marci Shimoff’s “Happy for No Reason.” It’s now on paperback for those of you who are open to happiness at a lower price point. Here’s a video she just sent her e-mail list…

  • The old way of thinking: my situation sucks and I can’t stop thinking about it. So now I feel crappy, and as a result things cycle downward.
  • The new way of thinking: I selectively tune into the parts of my situation that are nice. Now I feel better, and things improve.

It’s far more simple to understand than to put into action, but it’s a nice goal. After all, most of the things we do are in avoidance of pain and pursuit of happiness. What if we didn’t need to do anything to be happy? It was just a default state? 

Then I went back to “Road Less Travelled,” and thought about the premise that “life is difficult.” That book, by M. Scott Peck, is more about discipline, discipline, discipline. That’s also important, but I find it’s a lot easier to do a difficult task if I trick myself into enjoying it. Then it’s flowing with the current instead of against it.

The Secret Sauce of Viral Video? Falling Off a Stage. And Dressing Like a Dork in Public.

It’s now officially my Halmark. I like falling off the stage when I speak. This morning I did it at a Yahoo! conference in Toronto, and practically caused the organizer to go into labor early (sorry, Adina).

Here’s the highlights, and includes some footage for a future video called “Dork Runner.” Thanks to mugglesam for finding the costume store and working camera on this footage. Dork Runner will be in Philly’s YoTube event Friday, NYC on Monday, and LA on Wednesday. Stay tuned for a montage.

On Slideshare, you can download the presentation I showed here, which is called “The Secrets of Viral Video Marketing.” The embed is below, and you can click thru to get to the download page. Please attribute it to willvideoforfood.com per creative commons or whatever.

Another YouTube Myth Debunked: “Best Rated” Videos Get Views?

highest rated video of weekI made a spoof video last week called “Why You Should Rate” that was designed to point out a little YouTube myth. People think that a highly rated video with lots of comments means that they’ll get views. To further illustrate the point, the video itself is one of YouTube’s “top 20” highest rated videos of the week, and has about 7,000 views. Contrast that with my recent “Snake in a Pool,” which has no “honors” and 100,000 plus views.

While I’m too lazy to disprove this “ratings = views” myth via statistical analysis, I would invite a high school student to take this on as an independent project. Further, they could analyze the correlation between total duration and total views to identify the theoretically ideal video length. The time that optimizes views (I’m betting on 75-90 seconds). There’s plenty of public data to help here, and I’d love to publish the findings.

While it’s true that a video resulting in lots of comments also often gets lots of views, the comments and views are not directly related. It’s likely the video topic’s  high impact and/or controversial nature that causes other things: views, comments and ratings (although it’s possible that videos ranking high on these ratings are rewarded with preferred placement on the YouTube’s “promoted videos” homepage section to balance the paid videos that sneak there… and that would result in a second wave of views).

Very few people surf YouTube’s ranked videos on a regular basis. So while the “highest rated” or “most viewed” of all time is almost impossible to dethrone, the daily and weekly honors are little more than ego feeders. The sustainability of a YouTuber is a function of good content, fresh material, a balance of consistency with variety, creator adaptability (I’ll call the Madonna reinvention factor), and a loyal audience that is satisfied enough to watch and share the content with friends.

In theory, a highly rated video would be highly viewed. But in fact the highly viewed videos are often one-hit wonders that pop outside YouTube and therefore have lots of views by innactive YouTube viewers- those that don’t tend to comment or rate. It’s also true that what we watch isn’t necessarily what we like. Would you rate a highway accident 5 stars? Nope. Would you look?

So where am I going with this post? The same place I went with this video, which is artificially ranked in the league of HappySlip, Smosh, KevJumba, The Onion, College Humor, and even the Retarded Policeman. Heck I even topped the inexplicably popular “Fred” and one of the”very funny cats” videos.

In the end, I like the creative experience of YouTube, the people with whom I interact in various ways, the videos that don’t suck, and the revenue subsidy (aka debt-relief fund). But assessing yourself based on subscribers, honors and other proxies to faux fame is fools gold, friend. Shiny and perty, but it will just sink you when you try to swim from the shipwreck. And that’s a mixed metaphor you can take to the bank on your horse that you lead to water in a stitch in time.