What’s the easiest way to go viral? Lick a doorknob in a hospital. In all seriousness, writing an article about how to go viral is like writing an article on how to be cool: I can tell you that cool people usually have a good sense of style, nice hair and teeth, and a devil-may-care attitude, but just having all those things doesn’t necessarily make you cool. I can tell you the things that successful viral content has in common, but there’s no foolproof guide to becoming the next Justin Bieber.
What does it mean to have your song or video “go viral,” anyway? It’s when something is just so amazing that people who see it just have to share it with everyone they know. It’s when you open your Facebook page and see that five unrelated people have posted the same video: that’s viral.
Whether it’s singing cats, Muppets or mariachi music, successful viral content always has shared attributes. All viral stuff is original, entertaining, and accessible. But just because you create something that goes viral doesn’t mean you’ll benefit in any way or see any profit.
How do you make viral work for your band? Take the example of OK Go’s “Here We Go Again.” They started with a quality song, one that is awesome enough to stand on its own. Then they took a completely original (but not costly!) idea: intricately choreographing a dance number on a bunch of treadmills. Not a complicated concept, but one that had never been done before, and one that they totally, totally killed. If you’ve never seen it before, you can watch the video half a dozen times and still be entertained; if you have seen it before, you’d probably enjoy one more watch. That’s the kind of video you see and immediately think “my roommate from college/brother/coworker would love this!” That’s good viral.
So what’s the catch? Planning your career path around going viral is like planning your retirement savings on the lottery. It might work for a couple people, but the vast majority are going to find themselves SOL. You may just waste time and money producing something that never takes off. Company after company has tried to create “viral” marketing ads: a few have succeeded but the majority have just spent money.
Worse things can happen. A few years ago, an incredibly cheesy “viral” video went up online — supposedly a plea from a kid to his parents to buy him a PSP for Christmas, it was instead a horrible attempt at hipness by a multinational corporation that just really didn’t get it. Much deserved ridicule ensued. So remember, viral can backfire. And consider the ramifications of forever being known as the guy that did that really stupid funny thing.
Once you’ve created your (hopefully worthy) content, it’s time to get it out there. Facebook, Twitter, MadeLoud, YouTube - these should all be no-brainers. If your content has a theme of some kind, try and post it where like minded people will see it and want to share it. Link to it all over the place, wherever you can (while avoiding overkill). Lean on your network of friends and ask them to retweet/like/share/etc./etc. it. But once you’ve put it out there, the fickle tubes of the 'net take over. If it’s embraced and goes viral, you’d better strike while the iron’s hot and capitalize on your new-found fame. If it doesn’t go viral, well, you can always try licking that doorknob again.