Unruly’s David Waterhouse on social video success

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Unruly‘s Global Head of Content and PR David Waterhouse on why you should stop trying to make your ads go viral and his top tips for social video success:

How do I make my ad go viral?
Of all the questions, this is the one we’re asked most often from brands and agencies wanting to promote online video content via social media – aka social video marketing.

They care about going viral with good reason (aside from ticking the viral video campaign box on their CVs). The number of video shares of branded content has rocketed over the last eight years. In 2013, the top three ads attracted 11.6 million shares combined – almost 50 times more than the top three ads in 2006 (244,395 shares combined). There are now more than 500,000 shares of branded videos online every 24 hours.

But what makes people share video content? And what steps can a brand take to improve its chances of attracting more shares?

For starters, there’s a lot more than to it than featuring cute babies, talking dogs and cats that looks like Shakespeare.

We worked extensively with Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, Senior Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, on her latest project. It consists of original research from more than two years of work, five different data sets including Unruly’s own data, around 1000 videos and nine individual studies. The research findings are presented in the 2013 book ‘Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing’, and they support the development of simple formulae for advertisers to follow when they want to increase their social video marketing success.

Here are Unruly’s top tips:

1. Stop Chasing Viral Success – Focus on Social Video Success
It became possible in the early 2000s to track views of online video clips accurately using the video technology itself. These were the days before social media when the only distribution channels were email and a handful of specialist humour websites. Very early brand-created viral video hits include John West’s Grizzly Bear, Budweiser’s Whassup and XBOX’s Champagne – an ad that was banned on TV in the UK and went on to win a Gold Lion at Cannes in 2002.

Slowly more advertisers started releasing branded video content online in the elusive search for consumer-driven, exponentially increasing views. Further boosted by the advent of social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, this practice is now firmly part of mainstream marketing.

However, uploading a branded video that you think is funny, without any paid distribution, in the hope of it attracting cartloads of earned (free) media, is the strategic equivalent of shoving your hand in a haystack and expecting to pull out a needle.

Just as technology and social media have evolved, so too has online video. These days, the word “viral” is simply unhelpful. It suggests something that is random, untargeted and out of control. Videos that go viral are the exception, not the rule, and that’s why seeking viral success is a terrible tactic to focus on for your brand.

Instead, advertisers should focus on a marketing strategy that’s predictable, repeatable and measurable: social video. Open your company wish list and replace “make a viral video” with “create and distribute highly shareable content, repeatedly and at scale”.

What exactly is social video? 
According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, it’s “a non-interruptive, user-initiated video format sold on a cost-per-engagement basis”. In other words, it’s the perfect union of online video and social media – content plus conversation.

There’s no need to force people to sit through a badly edited TV commercial for toilet cleaner before they watch the thing they really want to watch. As we’ve seen with recent campaigns by Dove and Volvo Trucks, the social video ad is the star! People choose to watch it. Viewers have total control of the viewing experience, including the ability to comment, share, re-post, pause and replay. After all, everyone likes to be the one holding the remote.

Social video is fundamentally changing the rules of advertising. Long gone are the Mad Men days when all an advertiser needed to do was buy the airtime, create the spot, blast it out to a captive audience, and raise a glass of Scotch for a job well done. Today consumers pick and choose what they watch with a fickle flick of their DVR remote.

So rather than releasing a video and keeping your fingers crossed that it

2. Make it emotional
Marketers hoping to attract significant earned media should think less about creative appeal and more about emotional appeal. Videos that elicit strong emotions – positive or negative – from an audience are twice as likely to be shared as those that elicit a weak emotional response.

‘Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing’ explains that professional video creators may be aiming to create hilarious, exhilarating and inspiring material, however the vast majority are falling short. In fact, 70% of all commercial videos provoke only “low-arousal” emotional reactions.

3. Be positive
Video content that draws a strong, positive emotional response is 30% more likely to be shared than content that elicits strong negative emotions.

Strong negative emotions, such as anger or shock, can prompt viewers to share your content, but you risk alienating your consumers. Focussing on positive emotions is a much safer bet.

4. Feature personal triumphs
It’s a myth that featuring a cute cat will make your video go viral. Such creative devices are ineffective, unless your content also elicits strong emotions from its audience.

However, there are some underused creative devices that are more likely to attract large amounts of sharing. One is personal triumph, as used for example in P&G’s ‘Best Job’ from the 2012 Olympics.

5. Big up your brand
Using poorly branded advertising is like throwing away your marketing budget.​

According to Dr. Nelson-Field’s research, there’s no relationship between how much sharing across social media a video achieves and the level of branding it uses. Nor does overt branding reduce a video’s emotional impact.

So when you consider that the average social video has one third of the branding of the average TV commercial, there’s a huge opportunity for marketers to promote their brands via social video marketing.

6. Exhilaration can make a lasting impression
Eliciting a strong, positive emotional reaction will not only boost your content’s shareability, but also help your audience to remember you – often for years to come.

Which positive emotion is most likely to cut through the clutter and help viewers recall your message?

At the individual emotion level, exhilaration is the most successful, followed by hilarity. However, exhilaration is an emotion that has been largely ignored as a creative hook by brands over the years, as bemoaned by Dr. Nelson-Field.

In 2013, that started to change. We saw more examples of brands, such as GoPro, Ford, Red Bull and Volvo Trucks, embracing exhilaration and using it as the main focus of their video campaigns.

Eliciting a strong, positive emotional reaction will not only boost your content’s shareability, but also help your audience to remember you – often for years to come.

Which positive emotion is most likely to cut through the clutter and help viewers recall your message?

At the individual emotion level, exhilaration is the most successful, followed by hilarity. However, exhilaration is an emotion that has been largely ignored as a creative hook by brands over the years, as bemoaned by Dr. Nelson-Field.

In 2013, that started to change. We saw more examples of brands, such as GoPro, Ford, Red Bull and Volvo Trucks, embracing exhilaration and using it as the main focus of their video campaigns.

This highlights the importance of brands making shareable content for a reason. It’s not just about racking up a huge number of views among potential customers. It’s about being remembered, favoured and bought in the process.

Throughout 2014, the trend of eliciting top-performing emotional reactions in social video content will only get stronger as the world’s gaze falls upon Brazil for the FIFA World Cup. When we trained Unruly’s algorithmic tool to predict viral success in the Brazilian market, we discovered that exhilaration was the most effective emotional trigger in the Latin American country – more effective than humour which is the most popular emotional sharing trigger in the US and UK.

7. Don’t under-invest in distribution and over-invest in creativity
It’s all very well being the best violinist in the world, but if you’re playing in your bathroom, no one will hear you.

The same goes with creating video content. Even if you have the most shareable video in the world, if you start with a small viewer base, the total shares and views will typically be small.

Investing in seeding your campaign across a variety of platforms will make it easier to deliver good sharing metrics over a shorter period of time.

8. Quality reach is key
Reach is important, but it needs to be quality reach in order to maintain and increase your video views and shares.

There’s no point in simply placing your videos on your company’s Facebook or Twitter profiles – you’re already preaching to the converted. Besides, Facebook and Twitter brand profiles are inefficient at providing vast reach to consumers.

To build the market share of your brand, reach out to light and medium buyers outside of your own social media channels.

Find out all about Unruly and their global social video testing, distribution, sharing and analytics services.

Watch this video of Dr. Karen Nelson-Field discussing key findings from ‘Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing’.”