Secrets Behind Content that Explodes Social Signals

Half A Billion Views?! Is That Even Possible? – A Funny YouTube Video Demonstrates What It Means To Be “Viral”

You must have already seen this video somewhere. Uploaded on YouTube, the 56 second long video clip involves two young brothers: the older one, Harry, is three years old, while his brother, Charlie, is only a year-old baby. The whole thing takes off with a quiet start – then it quickly commences into side-aching hilarious proportions when little Charlie decides to bite his older brother’s finger.

Yup, you got it right. It’s the famous “Charlie Bit My Finger” video. And it has over 450 million (almost a half billion!) views on YouTube.

Amazing how a video clip that barely lasted a minute was able to garner that many views. The content was simple and unpretentious enough – just two kids being funny and adorable, yet the buzz it has generated among blogs, forums and social networks was enough to propel the video (along with Harry and Charlie) to worldwide stardom.

Website owners, online businesses and other netizens got the idea. “Going viral” has now become the golden standard for online content.

Old Spice Man – An Example of Content Marketing At Its Best

So, why do people share content in the first place? There are a lot reasons:
1. The content is unique and has never been done by others before.
2. The content makes people laugh.
3. The content is provocative and incites action.
4. The content is not hackneyed (i.e., too mainstream).
5. The content is in accordance with people’s views and beliefs.
6. The content communicates with a wide range of audiences.

Whatever the reason is, content marketing has already been adopted by a number of companies as an integral part of their businesses’ marketing strategies. For example, in 2010 the makers of Old Spice products launched their Old Spice Man marketing campaign. The gimmick involves encouraging people to post messages, questions and requests to a physically and aesthetically-gifted baritone-voiced shirtless man (played by actor Isaiah Mustafa), who will then reply with personalized and highly humorous video responses.

In its three-day run, the campaign produced over 180 videos, increased Old Spice’s Twitter followers a thousand-fold, earned 600,000 Facebook likes and generated 23 million YouTube user views. Mind-boggling is the only word that can best describe this amazing marketing phenomenon. Which then leads us to another question: why is content marketing such a big thing nowadays? From the example above, here is what we can infer:
1. It’s cheap. The Old Man Spice campaign was shot in a bathroom and promoted freely on YouTube. Compared to traditional advertising, it is more cost-effective.
2. It sticks to people’s minds for a long time. Up to the present day, the Old Man Spice videos can still be recalled by most of its viewers. Same goes for the “Charlie Bit My Finger” video.
3. It can be interactive. Tweeps (which is what you call people on Twitter) can ask the Old Spice Man questions and request for personalized video responses.
4. It can enhance brand awareness. Since the release of the hugely successful campaign, there has been a renewed interest in Old Spice products in the men’s grooming essentials market.
5. It stays accessible for ages, and at the same time, drives web traffic and produces social signals long after its initial release. A whole YouTube channel is dedicated to the Old Spice videos, which users can surf and view at their own leisure.


Let us start with the basics. First off, a definition of the word “viral.” From the word itself, “viral” means something that spreads at a rapid, virus-like pace. When applied to marketing, it defines a “contagious” campaign that is capable of reaching out to a wide pool of audiences and influence them accordingly.

The advent of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest made it easier for marketing campaigns to achieve viral status. These websites have remained the platform of choice for online marketers everywhere. And as major search engines like Bing and Google have made social signals (usually defined as social interactions such as likes, shares and tweets that a user performs on web pages) important ranking factors in search engine results, the need for an online presence among these websites has risen tremendously in recent times.

Top Six Characteristics of Effective Viral Content

All types of viral content – videos, images, infographics, articles, and podcasts, even if they involve different mediums, share common characteristics that make them so unavoidably viral. Here are some of the shared traits that made these type of content so shareable and contagious.

1. Viral content need awesome titles all the time.
Creative, well-written titles will grab people’s attention. Think of it as something like a hook. It is the first thing that people will see on search engines’ results pages, and the determining element that would ultimately decide whether people would visit your web page at all.

Compare these two titles: “Five SEO Tips” and “Top Five SEO Tips That Will Catapult Your Website To Success!” The first title is bland, boring and uninteresting, while the second one is more dynamic and specific. Which of the two do you think would attract more visitors?

2. Viral content can be shared easily.
That’s why it’s called viral. An exciting piece of content, even if it is highly interesting and informative, can never get far if people are not passing it on to their friends. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there that can help with this aspect. Social sharing widgets – those little menu bars that contain sharing buttons for a variety of social networks – are an example of these kinds of tools.

3. Viral content is shared by people that matter.
Another thing that made the Old Spice Man campaign highly-successful is that celebrities and other Internet bigwigs were able to take notice of it on Twitter. These prominent people, who already hold a considerable amount of influence over their fans and followers, were able to generate enough buzz about the campaign to get other people (including fellow celebrities and their respective fanbases) to check out the campaign for themselves too. These celebrities were, in a way, lending a part of their popularity to Old Spice Man, thus driving the marketing campaign to far greater heights than what it could achieve under normal circumstances.

4. Viral content is creative, and most of all, unique.
What sets the Old Spice marketing campaign apart is the inherent creativity of its execution. The Old Spice Man is funny, has an original personality of his own, and can relate to his viewers, male or female, young or old, on a very personal and highly amusing level. This kind of interaction, where users can post questions and messages directly to the Old Spice Man himself, has never been done before and tickled people’s fancy so much because of its novelty. As the figures have shown, the results were astounding and very impressive.

5. Viral content delivers concrete messages.
Beneath the funny (and sometimes ridiculous) exterior of the Old Spice Man lies one clear message: buy Old Spice products! General and fuzzy subtleties do not work here. One must be able to deliver the content’s message straight to consumers in whatever way possible. Viral content is memorable- it does not easily erase itself from the minds of people who stumble upon it.

6. Viral content works on a variety of platforms.
Twitter and Facebook, two of the Internet’s most populated and active social networks, were utilized to provide exposure to the Old Spice Man viral marketing campaign. The videos were then hosted on YouTube, a video-sharing website, which also helped drive traffic to the campaign. This just shows that content should be able to work not just on a single platform alone, but on a variety of platforms that can work in conjunction with each other.

A Few More Tips From A Marketing Guru

Marketing expert Jonah Berger, currently a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, has made numerous studies regarding the sociological and psychological framework behind contagious ideas and products plus the underlying dynamics that fuelled them. Here are some of the things he observed that can be of great use to people who want to make their content stand out from the rest of the pack.

1. Useful content – those that provide value and/or practical information – are far more likely to be shared than those that do not add anything of note to a person’s knowledge. This explains why infographics are such a hit among the Internet community.

2. Positive content is MORE viral than negative content. Think of the thousands of funny videos that have already registered millions of hits on YouTube. Content that rouses positive emotions is a whole lot better than content that will leave you with feelings of anger, guilt and other negative emotions.

3. Content with emotions, whether it is positive or negative, is always better than bland content that does not elicit any sort of feeling or emotion from the reader.

A Little Snippet Of Info About Social Signals

Google’s onslaught of algorithm updates (Google Panda in 2010, Venice and Panda in 2012) brought about radical changes that completely reshaped the way search results are calculated. One of these changes involves discarding outdated ranking methods such as backlinks, in favor of more “human” factors such as social signals. Social signals, like the name suggests, are Facebook likes, Twitter tweets, Pinterest pins and other social interactions that a visitor does on a web page. The more social signals that are being generated by a website, the higher up it will be in Google rankings.

Social signals are the main driving force behind successful viral content. These signals turned the Old Spice Man campaign into a memorable overnight sensation. Without social signals, viral content like these would not come into existence.

Conclusion: As search results become more and more social over time, the need for high quality content is becoming the number one priority of websites and online marketers everywhere. It’s not just a fad, it’s a new phase of marketing that should influence the way people consume information over the Internet.

Viral marketing campaigns are a great way to get your message around the Web, fast. Though no specific recipe exists for a successful marketing campaign, there are a lot of techniques that anyone can use that will surely send content to viral levels. Creativity is the most important element here, plus a whole lot of guts and the right marketing know-how.

About Daniel Tan

Daniel Tan: A veteran Internet Marketer. Founder of SomoThemes, Social Metrics Pro, SEOPressor and XTabApps. Daniel's focus is to simplify marketing with technology, to help marketers reach more people in an organized and effective way.

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