A couple of months ago, ABC's "Nightline" did a piece on trying to get a video to go viral. They hired ad agency and online viral video specialists Mekanism for the job: they would take reporter Dan Harris and a cat named George through a video shoot for the ASPCA. Now, "Hovercat" is not a huge, huge, superhit (a little over a million views), but the process ends up being successful and the behind-the-scenes is something that is very well worth watching. It gives you an idea that virality is more of a science than a circumstance. It requires work outside of making the video and merely publishing it, and hoping people will see it.
The Process of Hovercat, ASPCA Viral Video as Seen on Nightline
First, let's take a look at the finished product:
And here's the behind-the-scenes:
Now, this is a good video but I have a feeling that there were numerous short deadlines that everyone was trying to meet, and perhaps this doesn't come out as polished as it could be. But what's important here is how a video gets "picked up" and shared.
The first thing we see is Mekanism and Harris looking for the right kind of video. They reject a couple of pretty good ideas before settling on the Hovercat concept. Here's where I think perhaps a reporter who wants to be taken seriously actually prevents the better ideas from being done. It's understandable. If you're a brand or personality, you don't want to be associated with something that might harm your image.
What happens next is Mekanism creates a spreadsheet of a number of "influencers" that could propel a cat-related video to a great number of views. They push it towards Veronica Belmont and I Can Has Cheezburger? and probably a great many other sites we don't see in the piece. This is a technique that is covered exhaustively in the YouTube Creator Playbook and Advertiser Playbook. You want to share the video with people who are most likely to post it on their sites. If you have a prevalent theme, you want to find sites with similar tastes.
After the video gets to 300,000 views, there is concern. Mekanism has hooked top influencers into posting the video, but they've peaked here, so what do they do? They send it to media influencer sites, including Mashable, who picks it up, and suddenly, major newspapers are following suit. The video takes off from there and jumps up to 500,000, ending up with 800,000 by the time the story aired. Since then, it's gotten another 200,000 and it hit the million mark. With all that coverage, including being featured on "Good Morning America," I have a feeling that a million is considered disappointing.
What is missing from this piece is the idea of why it doesn't take off in a particularly special way. I think the forced nature of the content is why--this isn't a cat that really looks like it's hovering, and the cat isn't doing anything with his skill other than looking awkward. If he used this skill to say, fly out of the house and save another cat out of a tree, or reach a particularly tasty treat on a high shelf, or anything other than, "Hey, it's fun to hover," I think this had the potential to do much more. Like I mentioned before, it looks like a lot of things, like time and possibly money, conspired to limit the views on this one.
What's missing from all this is the idea of people sharing the video through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. And that might have been part of the problem: it wasn't. It was getting views through referral sites but not very likely getting shared on a large scale. To have a cat video struggle to find an audience is curious.
I mean, look at this video of a cat singing the "Game of Thrones" opening theme:
I'm not sure how many media outlets have picked this video up, but in a little more than a month, this has 1.9 million views. I'm pretty sure it wasn't given the massive amount of coverage that "Hovercat" got. But in this video, we see the leveraging of a popular TV show and a hilarious, spot-on delivery of the opening theme with cat meows. There's a lot of character in this that people are willing to share.
Views aren't everything but you can tell a lot by the amount of backing a video has and how many views in which it translates. Hovercat had every advantage in the world and could only cash in a small amount relative to its coverage.
However you look at it, it's worth taking a look at the Hovercat story just to see how ad agencies like Mekanism try to get a video seen by a mass audience.