The lessons we’ve learned on making videos go viral

Michael Langdon, founder of eCommerce video agency Levity, breaks down the elements of successful viral videos and finds a few common factors in what gets traction online.

Viral videos: It’s the jewel in the crown of any company’s marketing strategy, right? Wrong. Up until a couple of years ago, one of the most common requests from companies requiring video content was, “How can we make it go viral?”

They seemed to think that virality was the only measure of success when producing a video. Things change often and quickly in the video production industry, and much like with fashion, it’s very seasonal.

Marketers today seem to acknowledge that getting their video seen by a few right people, will generate a bigger return on investment for them than getting millions of eyeballs on a film that will lead to no action being taken. Having said that, if global exposure is one of your measures of success, then a viral video may well be part of your marketing strategy.

In our 10+ years in video production, we’ve had a couple of videos go viral. And, in the very early stages of our video production journey, that was definitely not through lack of trying. Ironically, the couple of videos that went viral, were more accidental and through luck, than by intent. Nevertheless, we’ve learned a few key lessons on what makes videos go viral:


This is single-handedly the most important factor if you want your video to go viral. You have to tap into people’s emotions – into people’s limbic side of the brain. Leave people feeling something so that they are compelled to click that share button.

Notice that I said ‘something’. Emotion comes in different shapes and different sizes. The subject of a video doesn’t necessarily have to be a cute cat, a comedic fall or an epic journey to gain virality.

Controversy, anger, joy and inspiration are only but a handful of other emotions that a video can contain in order to make people share your video. If you happen to capture your cat haphazardly tap dancing to Fred Astaire though, get it on camera!


Timing they say, is everything. When it comes to viral videos, this could not be more accurate.

One of our viral videos was a parody sketch about Prince William and Kate’s engagement interview. The video was uploaded the day after the engagement and it lived in obscurity for months. Come the day of their wedding though, it got found and it exploded around the world! It got a million views in just a couple of days.

That taught us that people have to be in the right frame of mind to share your content, and you’ve got to ride the wave of emotion that, in this case, was sweeping the world.

Viral videos get a lot of traction in and around special events. April Fool’s day is a good day to try and get virality, as people are purposely looking out for the funniest and most innovative videos to share with their peers. For big companies, Christmas is also a great time to target people who a receptive to sharing feel-good video content – Supermarket chains making this an art they’ve perfected.

Riding the Zeitgeist

Similarly to timing, virality comes and goes very quickly. The internet has created these mini zeitgeists that you’ve got to ride fast and early if you want a video to get traction.

If you recognise a viral trend early (think Mannequin Challenge, or Harlem Shake a few years back), then get onto it early. This is a risky strategy in that if you jump on the challenge too late your brand may be seen as a bit out of touch, naff, and simply late to the party.

With every great risk comes great reward though, and if you manage to jump on these zeitgeists early, not only will you humanise your brand, be seen as being relevant, but you’ll also get plenty of exposure.


It’s not very often that someone asks you to be general and, for lack of a better word, “vanilla”. The truth is though, that if you want a video to go viral, you cannot niche to a specific type of person or target market.

Viral videos are general in nature because they must appeal to the masses. This is what’s going to make them transcend all the barriers (gender, geography, culture etc.) that make them go viral.

A video aimed at a specific niche may be extremely popular within its category, but it wouldn’t be defined as viral.

To make a video go viral you must appeal to the niche that is “humans” and the one trait that defines us all, is that we are feeling, thinking beings. That is why your number aim when producing a viral video – and it brings me nicely back to tip number one – should be to target people’s emotions. Emotion gives you virality.

Michael Langdon is the founder of eCommerce video agency Levity.


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