3 Things Viral Science Teaches About Successful Nonprofit Videos

Why is it that some videos shoot out of the gate like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred while others, like slow turtles, get stuck at the gate?

Viral success doesn’t always have to do with production values, ergo the millions of cat videos that we can’t resist watching.

It makes getting a piece of the viral pie seems so irresistible, like easy money.

But before you go investing in a viral video campaign, let’s dispel some myths about video marketing and discover some principles so you can make the most of your video marketing.

1. You need emotion

Nonprofits actually have it easy when it comes to the creative devices used for sharing.

You don’t need babies and puppies to make a video go viral.

Babies, jokes and animals among the top creative devices, but they’re not the only ones out there.

In fact, in a study of 800 social videos, stories of intense personal triumph are among the videos that get shared the most.

As Karen Nelson-Field states in Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, “Of all possible creative devices, videos that display personal triumph appear most likely to deliver sharing success.”

2. You need to arouse

Is it any wonder that 50 Shades of Grey took off like a rocket? The “9 and a half weeks” retread had “arousal” going for it in spades.

But your cause doesn’t have to be sexy. Far from it.

Arousal, in the psychological sense, just means the strength of emotional response.

The best videos get you laughing so hard you fall off your chair, make your skin crawl, or have you looking for a towel to mop up your tears.

And strong emotions get people hitting the share button.

3. You need to be sincere

The success of “What Does The Fox Say” was apparently pure chance, but the talent behind the video worked at their craft for a long time with sincere ardor at their personal brand of comedy before they hit gold.

WestJet gets it with a Christmas miracle that, although clearly meant to benefit the company, still comes across as genuinely generous. (I dare you not to shed a tear!)

But after the initial sincerity wears off, the follow-ups don’t get as much traction.

Compare about 526 million views of “What Does The Fox Say” compared to the 3 or 4 million of their subsequent videos, and WestJet’s 41 million views for its first miracle video in 2013 compared to 3 million for its 2014 video.

In other words, the more it looks like you’re trying to be viral, the less viral you’ll be.

Don’t go viral for the sake of going viral  

Hitting the vial jackpot doesn’t happen every day, and when it does, the content has to be highly arousing and authentic.

Remember that the most viral videos generally happen by accident, so a lot of this control is out of your hands.

Getting a professional team to write your video scripts is one way to increase your vial chances, but if you don’t have that luxury, try another approach:

Think of your video as a way to tell a storytelling device that explains the emotional side of your cause to donors.

Try and go as deep as you can into that emotion, and be as sincere as possible without manipulating people.

Even if you don’t hit a million views, a sharp uptick in views will result in more exposure to your cause… and happier viewers of your content.


Next article: What 7 Marketing Gurus Can Teach Nonprofits About Remarkability

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