Sometimes a video goes viral for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it was intended for a smaller audience. Maybe it’s embarrassing to someone, like the infamous Star Wars Kid clip. And sometimes a video goes viral because the audience thinks it’s bad while trying to be good.
The University of Georgia put up a YouTube video earlier this week for incoming freshmen, called Party in the UGA—that’s an interesting choice for a title since Georgia was just named the top party school in the country. The song is a parody of the Miley Cyrus hit song, Party in the USA.
The main goal of the video appears to be highlighting some of the best things about the university, at least from the school’s perspective. There’s some talk about the meal plan… the football team… rival school Georgia Tech… the campus bell… and so on.
Unfortunately, the video was not considered to be well-made by the bulk of its initial viewers. The Huffington Post even called it “cringe-worthy.” Ouch.
And maybe it’s a bit cornball. Perhaps the stars of the video aren’t studio-quality singers. Okay, I’ll admit it… it’s not a great video. But I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone’s making it out to be. Maybe I’m just an old softy, but it’s hard for me to bash a group that’s at least trying to embrace online video as a means of reaching out to their customers (in this case, incoming students).
When compared to the viral video efforts of BYU, though, it doesn’t look nearly as polished. Take a look:
Apparently they pulled the video, either out of embarrassment or to help stem the unwanted negative attention it was bringing. But, as you might know, the video is not gone. Someone ripped it and re-posted to YouTube (that’s actually the version Huffington Post embedded when they wrote about it), and now it’s getting hot in the viral world—up over 100,000 just in three days.
As badly as I feel for anyone involved in this video’s production who might wish to avoid the attention at this point, this is another fantastic example of viral gone wrong—when you go viral for the wrong reasons… or at a time when you don’t want to. So I have a few informal rules about online video for you:
- Anything you post online can go viral. Anything. I don’t care if it’s behind a pay wall, because someone else with a membership could grab it and share it. I don’t care if it’s only sent out via email, because anyone can forward it to a friend. I don’t care how much you trust your Facebook friends, one of them could always send your video to a person outside the social circle. It is a good rule of thumb to simply assume that your videos can be viewed by anyone.
- Removing a video is not a guarantee that it’s gone (this goes for any piece of online content, for that matter). Google indexes the web pretty quickly these days, and you’d be surprised what you can find in a Google cache of a page. Additionally, there are sites like the Way Back Machine, that attempt to archive the entire web on an ongoing basis. And lastly, you have users… who can right-click to save images, copy and paste your text, and rip your YouTube videos… at which point they are able to do anything they want with it.
- Even embarrassing viral videos can lead to positive publicity. There are many in the marketing world that still hold to the philosophy that any publicity is good publicity. And while that’s certainly not 100% accurate, it is definitely true that some seemingly negative publicity can still have a positive effect on sales—or in this case, enrollments.Consider the award for being a top party school, mentioned above. On some level, the university has to hate that label, because it makes them look less committed to education than their rivals. On another level, though, it almost certainly increases their profile among prospective students, leading to higher enrollment numbers (which lead to profit). Even embarrassing viral success can have positive benefits… and that may well end up being the case here, since the University of Georgia is getting all kinds of free press this week.
In conclusion, do not post anything online that you want kept private. I cannot overstate this. Of course, in this case, they didn’t initially want the video private—they started out wanting to share it. But once the public reaction turned sour, they tried to hit the ESC key, but it was too late. The above rules may seem obvious, even unnecessary to say, and yet this video is living proof that a lot of people still don’t quite understand how this viral Internet thing works.