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10 ways to go viral

Elena Klein, Aaron Skiba / ad
February 17, 2016

Whether it's American band OK Go, German singer-songwriter Alex Diehl or icon Adele, they all have one thing in common: Their videos have generated millions of views across the internet. What are their secrets?

Screenshot Youtube OK Go - Upside Down & Inside Out
Image: YouTube/OK Go

Facebook killed the video star... Or at least it killed the TV star of the MTV era. Bands like the alternative rock band OK Go from Chicago nowadays publish their short films on social media before making them available anywhere else. Their music video for "Upside Down & Inside Out" premiered on Facebook last week and immediately went through the roof. The four band members have released a number of creative clips in the past, making users eager to share their videos. And that exceptional touch seems to guarantee a lot of clicks. But why? A video can become a viral hit ...

1. ... because it's spread through the right channels

YouTube is one of the first points of contact for newcomers, but also for stars, if they wish to distribute a video. According to the online database statista, up to 400 new videos were uploaded to the video-sharing platform per hour in July 2015. Sharing the clip in social networks like Facebook and Twitter increases the chances of a click hit.

2. ... because it fits with current events

On November 13 last year, German musician Alex Diehl was watching the friendly between Germany and France in Paris. Like millions of other viewers, he noticed loud bangs mixing with the usual sounds of a soccer match. This very evening, Islamist terrorists attacked Paris, killing 130 people. In order to give his rage and bewilderment a voice, the 29-year-old grabbed a guitar and wrote "Just a Song." With his song, Diehl struck a chord with many who shared his sentiments. His video has been watched more than seven million times on Facebook.

3. ... because the connection between music and video works so well

Almost every video in the Top 10 of most-viewed YouTube videos is a music clip. Adele's music video accompanying her single "Hello," for example, ended up on the list of most viewed YouTube videos of all time. So far, it's nearly gotten 1.2 billion clicks. It cracked the billion mark in less than 100 days - a record.

4. ... because the participants have developed cult status

At least since the 1980s, the late Hellmuth Karasek was considered one of the most important German literary critics. Shortly before his death last year, he reviewed the new catalogue of the Swedish furniture company Ikea in a four-minute video. Karasek, without blinking an eye, gives the "most widespread book in the world," as he calls it, a solemn literary review. How does this rather dry critic fit in with Ikea? Well, the furniture giant has about 50 stores in Germany alone. So the idea of combining the cult status of Karasek with the popularity of Ikea was bound to be successful.

5. ... because a lot of work went into producing the clip

Investing a lot of creativity, time and money into the production of a music video - that's what OK Go swear by. Their latest video was viewed more than 36 million times within two days only. An enthusiastic Facebook user commented: "My kids love your work. I have just shown the video to my nine-year-old daughter, and she watched it five times before going to school." For the production, the four musicians went on a plane - where, overriding the laws of nature during their parabolic flight, and accompanied by two stewardesses, they perform some gymnastics and acrobatics.

6. ... because humor spices things up

Whether it's rather dry, as in the case of Karasek, or more outrageous as in the case of OK Go, making the audience smile seems to be an important ingredient in the success formula of viral hits. But to make a wide audience laugh is anything but easy. That's probably why there are so many different categories of funny YouTube videos, from pet mishaps to standup comedy.

7. ... because the viewers recognize themselves

Sometimes you watch a video and just completely reflects a habit of yours or a mood you're just in. Adele attracts so many fans not only because of her voice and her melancholic songs, but also because millions of people can identify with her lyrics. And it's the same story with Alex Diehl: After the attacks in the Bataclan in Paris, the fear of terrorism was spreading fast. Diehl wrote a song about it, giving it a voice.

8. ... because it's about grand feelings

No one can beat Adele at giving others the feels. When she enters the stage, her fans have their handkerchiefs ready. Her latest song "Hello" is all about a young woman who has to come to terms with a painful separation. The British artist hired a Canadian video artist for the production of her music video. He understands how to capture the despair of the young woman, portrayed by Adele herself, in sensual close-ups. In this way, the viewer can feel the pain of separation himself.

9. ... because it goes against clichés

German rapper Drob Dynamic from Berlin-Kreuzberg proves how to play around with clichés with his track "Alles komplett" (Everything complete) that was published a few days ago. The song is part of a rap contest and was promoted on a well-known YouTube channel. Shortly after it was released, the associated music video skyrocketed. The rapper has dedicated a song to "Döner Kebab," a type of Turkish fast food popular in Germany. And that choice has not only hit the culinary taste of many: the song received more than 1,000,000 clicks in just one week.

10. ... because sometimes it's simply about being damn lucky

When a video is shared online, and click numbers explode, part of the game is certainly also a huge amount of luck, too. Good quality and talent do not necessarily guarantee that a video or an artist receives the attention that's due to him. What can you do about it? Simply share the content that you like and which, in your view, deserves success. And who knows? Maybe you will be the one starting the hype around the next viral video hit.

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