‘You Only Need To Do One Simple Thing To Go Viral’

Foil Arms And Hog(Image via FoilArmsAndHog/YouTube)

When starting off a new advertising campaign, one of the biggest aim for any company or brand is to create something that will go viral. Its meaning tends to differ from person to person – some would see 100,000 views as a respectable marker, while others would feel that you have to reach one million to qualify, but the objective is the same: create something that will be seen by as many people as possible for a minimal cost.

The hope is that if your video or product is good, it will create a ripple effect where people will share it and expose it to a larger audience who will then do the same thing. Working in digital marketing for any length of time will quickly teach you that as everyone (understandably) wants their content to become a hit.

Obviously, the reality is a lot more complex than that and there are numerous different strategies to help reach this point. While there are a number of factors that contribute to this, you only need to do one simple thing to go viral.

Be popular!

Normally when you say that, people treat it as a punchline and wait for you to give the real answer, but the size of your immediate audience is usually the defining factor. There are many other factors in play such as the quality of the idea, the execution, how much you pump into advertising and public reception – both positive and negative – but having a significant audience right in front of you will get you places. How you build that audience up is another story entirely, but some have it easier than others.

A great example of this emerged this week involving two videos, one by Irish sketch group Foil Arms and Hog (FA&H), and another by  Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Both did comedy sketches involving the use of hashtags and were released at different times, but the results couldn’t be any more different.

Audience & Influence

From a comedic perspective, there doesn’t appear to be any real example of plagiarism involved as the two sketches approach a broad subject in different ways. Fallon’s sketch goes for longer and more extravagant hashtags, something that everyone on Twitter can relate to. The sketch is short and snappy, and is perfect for the TV audience it was designed to please.

On the other hand, FA&H creates a narrative and frames a lot of clever jokes around it. Since this sketch has more layers, it means that you’re more likely to catch one or two new jokes the next time you watch it, the background reaction to #badediting being a perfect example.

Both are funny in their own right, it just depends on whether you go for extravagant or subtle comedy. Personally, I like Foil Arms and Hog’s sketch more as they’re an incredibly funny group live but each to their own. However, we’re not here to read an in-depth analysis on comedy, which admittedly isn’t a strength of mine. Instead, we want to know why one became hugely popular while the other is only getting recognition now. Both release new videos and content regularly, some more successful than others, but what’s the difference?

If you haven’t guessed already, the key factor is immediate audience. Jimmy Fallon hosts one of the more popular shows in the U.S. and so combine that with a large and dedicated follower base online and you’ve got a large audience who will watch your video automatically, and more importantly, will share the video to their friends, creating a large ripple effect. And that’s excluding the impact TV viewership has on it. To put this into context (and apologies to FA&H for doing this), let’s compare the fan bases between Fallon, Late Night, Timberlake and FA&H. FA&H Vs Fallon & Timberlake (Note: Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have a YouTube channel but can be subscribed to as a topic)

To put it bluntly, once two sides end up with the same idea, the bigger side will almost always outshine the other and unless it’s a blatant ripoff, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It’s incredibly annoying when you see someone else do a similar idea and they get the credit for it, but the figures shows above that very few of the people sharing Fallon’s video would have even heard of FA&H, let alone its hashtag video.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know!

Fallon’s sketch would have been popular in its own right, but the reason why it exploded was because of Justin Timberlake. To put it into context, his most popular video on YouTube, Mirrors, has over 110 million views after being released six months ago. The second biggest was What Comes Around… Goes Around with 77 million and was released four years ago.

Fallon’s team knew this – which is why it featured Timberlake in a week’s worth of sketches – and when a massively popular music artist takes part in a sketch that everyone can relate to, it’s going to be popular. While Timberlake’s PR team didn’t share the sketch on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter alone was enough to propel it into the stratosphere. If you have someone influential talking about your video, it’s going to have a significant impact on the overall view count.

It’s entirely possible that something obscure (obscure in global terms, that is) can go viral given the right circumstances, but these are rare cases. If something is good, it has a decent chance of making its way to the top, but that’s never guaranteed so the more popular you are, the easier it is to achieve this aim.

That said, since FA&H’s fans became vocal about the sketch and more people were made aware of it, it’s been covered by a number of media outlets, it made the top of Reddit’s videos page and has close to 70,000 views at the time of writing. And if it leads to bigger and better things for FA&H, then maybe it’s not a bad thing that the former sketch was so popular. Sometimes, the ripple effect can benefit more than one side.


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