The top video in the Viral Video Chart is Kony 2012, “a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” Uploaded on March 5, this video had over 69.8 million views as of the time of the writing of this column six days later.
Created in-house by Jason Russell, KONY 2012 had been shared more than 7.6 million times on Facebook as of Sunday morning, according to the Viral Video Chart, and embedded in more than 6,200 blogs. According to Google News, 4,950 news sources have written stories about “KONY 2012.” The phenomenal success of this film shatters some myths about viral videos and teaches some other important lessons for video marketers.
Conventional wisdom says that videos need to be short and funny in order to go viral. Well, KONY 2012 is 29 minutes and 59 seconds long. So, it isn’t short. And Joseph Kony was indicted for war crimes in 2005 by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but has evaded capture. So, this video isn’t funny.
This isn’t to argue that short, funny videos don’t go viral. They can and do. But there are other formulas for success that video marketers should consider.
In fact, some recent research conducted by a university in Australia identified many of these other formulas.
The study, led by Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, Dr. Erica Riebe, and Dr. Kellie Newstead at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, based in the University of South Australia, identified the emotions that are the most likely to trigger sharing across the social web.
Here are their key findings:
- While most videos are either amusing or boring, they aren’t the most shared. This explains why most videos don’t go viral.
- Videos that evoke marked physiological responses (laughter, anger, crying, shock) are the most likely to be shared. So it's content that makes us laugh or cry, not just smile of frown, which triggers the desire to share it.
- In general, videos that evoke positive emotions (exhilaration, hilarity, astonishment, happiness, inspiration) are more likely to be shared than those that evoke negative emotions (anger, disgust, sadness, shock, frustration). KONY 2012 isn’t an angry diatribe.
How did the Australian researchers come up with their data? Well, their study group took 400 user-generated videos and worked out the average number of daily shares each clip generated on Facebook.
They then asked 14 independent people to watch a sub-set of the sample and indicate the emotions they personally felt from a list of 16 potential emotional responses.
These were: astonishment, exhilaration, inspiration, hilarity, surprise, happiness, calmness, amusement, shock, anger, frustration, disgust, discomfort, sadness, boredom, and irritation. Each video was “coded” twice to lessen the impact of subjectivity.
They then allocated each emotion an average number of daily shares, with hilarity and anger coming top with 6,392 and 5,293 respectively, and boredom (622) unsurprisingly finishing bottom.
But what does this all mean for video marketers? Well, certainly there is a lot in this report to be learned about the kind of content brands should be creating to improve their chances of going viral.
The first lesson is that it seems laughter isn't only the best medicine, but also the best way to get someone to share your content, with hilarity easily the most likely emotion to trigger sharing activity.
As the report states, “An advertiser might be on safe ground to aim for hilarity but be willing to accept happiness or amusement, particularly if it results in a better branded video.”
The second is something that "Kony 2012" illustrates: Namely, the stronger the emotion, the more likely a video will get shared. So creative types should pick the emotional response they are aiming for, and then crank it up another notch.
However, be careful when picking anger as your trigger. Sure, people are more likely to share your video, but it runs the dual risk of being merely irritating and tough to create in a way that is relevant to your brand. Being positive is a much safer bet.
The shock tactics employed by most political videos these days also needs to be re-examined after looking at these results. Shock managed an average of only 2,865 shares a day.
The fact that the research focused purely on user-generated content (UGC) means it excluded a number of “confounding factors” – as the report calls them – such as offline campaign expenditure, prior product usage, and video seeding. These are also crucial factors.
However, another study, which will look purely at branded video content, is already being planned for this year. And the group plans to use the same measuring tool.
There are still some other problems with the data, notably the subjectivity of the emotional responses. After all, people don’t all respond to content in the same way. Something one person may find hilarious, another may find disgusting, or, even worse, boring.
So, your reaction to "Kony 2012" may differ from the more than 94.8 percent the people who had given it a “thumbs up” as of Sunday morning: The video had 1,259,314 likes and 68,908 dislikes.