How to leverage visual media when you’re ready to go viral

Let’s face it: “Going viral” isn’t what it used to be.

It’s hard to argue that marketing and advertising have ever been easy for businesses, even in the days where YouTube and Facebook were in their infancy, Instagram didn’t exist yet, and MySpace was the predominant social media platform. Close to two decades later, it’s easy for even experienced producers to feel that every content creator that has come before them has raised the bar significantly, snatching all of the low hanging fruit for ideas.

If the saturation levels of TikTok and, to a lesser extent, Instagram Stories prove anything, it is that visuals are the way to go when it comes to creating impressions and making memories. But what can you do if your familiarity level with social media isn’t up to par – but you still want to use audiovisuals to send a message?

What does going viral mean?

If something you’ve produced “goes viral,” it means it’s spread rapidly through the internet or on social media by being repeatedly shared, moving across borders and even languages. To the untrained eye, it can seem to happen as much at random or by accident than by design. But its roots arguably predate the digital age, and instead say less about technology and more about the way humans are drawn to information – and the reasons why. 

Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell described the “tipping point” phenomenon in a 2000 book of the same name. The “stickiness factor,” as he called it, made the difference between messages that set the world on fire and those that sputtered. How a message is presented, he said, has the power to change how it is received.

That might seem obvious enough. But less so was a factor that he outlined in The Tipping Point by using an anecdote about a group of people getting tetanus shots. Researchers wanted to determine what would get them there, and after splitting them into two groups, shared two different kinds of information with each. 

One received materials about the importance of tetanus shots, stated mostly in factual terms. The other group received a pamphlet describing the consequences of tetanus in vivid and photographic terms. Predictably, the latter group was more likely to say they would get a tetanus shot. But when the researchers followed up, actual uptake was fairly low across both groups.

When the researchers re-ran the experiment, both groups received maps showing the nearest locations to receive a tetanus shot. At that point, even though Group Two was more easily persuaded, large numbers of people from both groups ended up going to get them.

There’s a crucial point about what it means to go viral here: however strong your message is, it isn’t strong enough unless it somehow enables, encourages or empowers people to take action.

What makes visual content go viral?

You really don’t have any direct control over something going viral, and succeeding has gotten considerably harder over time. But there are a few principles to cover. 

  • Know your point: What is the “hook” that will pull your audience in? Think of this as an “elevator pitch” for your content – particularly because audiences need to have a reason to give you 30 seconds, a minute, or five minutes they could be using elsewhere. Make it clear in the title and the outset of the video as to why that time is worthwhile. 
  • Make it share-worthy: If you can’t do something totally original, at least make it original enough to draw eyes and keep them by energizing an audience. Be edgy – without going too far. You want attention, just not for all the wrong reasons. 
  • Think about your “call to action” – even if you’re not including it. Maybe the point isn’t to get your audience to attend a class or sign up for something before a certain date. But what is it you want them to do with the information you’re giving them? Even if the message is subtle, it needs to be in there. 

Creating something that simply makes people laugh is fine. But the “why” still needs to be there: are you trying to show off your company’s culture, perhaps, or display the benefits of a product and how it brings people together? 
You want to have strong video quality, good attention to lighting, as well as consistent backgrounds, color schemes and fonts. If you’re producing something that will be circulated widely, it isn’t advisable to do so in-house unless you have team members who are very experienced and comfortable with managing video cameras, sound systems and microphones, and any troubleshooting that could be necessary on the set. And then there is post-production. The color grading, the editing, the motion graphics… All part of creating a memorable and engaging video. Audiences will notice things that look “off,” even if they can’t put their finger on what is wrong. A skilled audiovisual team is best placed to help you with these – and our professionals at V2 Media are more than happy to get you started.

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