There’s a phrase every marketer hates to hear: Let’s make a viral video.
The formula for having your video go viral is more convoluted than the math problem Matt Damon solves
at the beginning of “Good Will Hunting.” If creating a viral video is your goal, chances are you’re going to fail.
Luckily for PBS, there’s an exception to every rule when it comes to social media.
PBS Digital Studios’ fourth installment in its “Remixed” series features “Reading Rainbow” host Levar Burton not singing exactly—well, just take a look (it’s in a book):
The series has also featured auto-tuned PBS luminaries Fred Rogers
, Bob Ross, and Julia Child
—and even if you don’t think they’re phenomenal, the numbers don’t lie. Combined, these videos have racked up close to 14 million views.
“We decided we really needed to take a different approach and get more in tune with the gestalt of the Web—retain the PBS quality but put a YouTube sensibility around it,” Jason Seiken, senior vice president of interactive for PBS, told NPR
Seiken said via Twitter
that we can expect the mixes to appear on iTunes next week
Beyond the quality of the content, PBS has found something that companies crave: the ability to reach a massive audience with surprising, shareable content. But by nature of calling something a viral video, it has to be that—viral. (And we’re talking millions, not tens of thousands of views.)
In July, Fast Company
published a fantastic article titled, “Why No One Will Watch Your Crappy Corporate ‘Viral’ Video, And How To Fix It.” In it, writer Scott Stratten astutely lays out exactly why videos go viral. It boils down to one word: emotion. He wrote:
“If you're hoping for your latest content to go viral, it has to do one thing: evoke strong emotion. Key word there is 'strong.' If someone lightly laughs at something, or is slightly inspired, that doesn't make them jump to the 'share' button. It has to be to the level of awesome. Awesomely funny, upsetting, uplifting, offensive, whatever the emotion is—it has to hit it hard.”
By marrying nostalgic childhood memories of those who tend to watch and share video online with something like auto-tune, PBS created the perfect storm for virality.
But don’t try to emulate it because chances are you’ll fail. And that’s what’s so frustrating about the viral video phenomenon.