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What Makes A Video Go Viral?

What Makes A Video Go Viral?

Publishing literally thousands of videos every week and getting more than a billion views per month on sites like Facebook, LADbible makes the process of finding the next hit clip look easy.

But it’s really not…

When we researched our BBC documentary, How to Go Viral, it soon became obvious that what looks like a sure-fire video can be a damp squib. Whereas something overlooked, quirky and unfancied can grab millions of views in hours.

Just what is it about goats collapsing over a fence that suddenly captures the world’s imagination? Or a man dragging a child by the hood through the airport like a piece of towed baggage? Is there any method to the viral madness?

I think there is. Having watched lots of videos, so here are our rules for what I think helps a video go viral.

  • K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid! The best virals are direct. Anybody should be able to get them – and quickly. LADbible’s creative team told us a video must tell a story and connect with the viewer in the first 10 seconds. That’s why a baby manatee being bottle fed or penguins holding ‘hands’ are hits. They efficiently deliver a rush of emotion within seconds. Of course, simple gestures can sometimes be so powerful, they change the world. Look at the impact NFL footballer Colin Kaepernick had in 2016 by simply kneeling during the American national anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign. It generated months of debate and was even monetised through a Nike advertising campaign. A simple, repeatable symbol anyone could imitate – and did.


  • Humour. Everybody needs to laugh sometimes. Many hit funny videos deliver to our expectations, like fake reporter Jonathan Pie losing it all over again as he reports on Trump or Brexit. But often humour cuts through even more successfully when it plays against our expectations. That’s why so many pratfalls go viral and why incongruous celebrity encounters are often a hit, like when LADbible got the acting legend Judi Dench rapping with grime artist Lethal Bizzle
  • Insight. Virals don’t always have to be funny. Sometimes they offer serious observations about human nature or tell us a truth about ourselves. LADbible’s campaign on mental health, UOKM8?, or Trash Isles, another of their campaigns which this time warns of the dangers of plastic pollution, are great examples of virals you feel compelled to share. They allow you to say something important to your community about your values and outlook.


  • Lastly, controversy and debate. Who remembers the great blue/gold dress debate of 2015? Everyone seemed to have an opinion. Or what about that moment, in early 2017, when the BBC broadcast a financial interview, which was interrupted when small children toddled into the back of shot. It was unexpectedly funny. But the thing that really sent it stratospheric was the furious debate in social media about why people had jumped to the conclusion that the Asian woman who came in and snatched the children away was a nanny, not the interviewee’s wife. Let’s face it, we often share a video because we want to take a stand.

Stuff can go viral and it’s happening faster today than ever before, but actually it’s been happening for thousands of years ever since our prehistoric ancestors started to paint symbols on cave walls. How else would we end up sharing languages and how else would good ideas like the internet catch on?

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