A look at Time Magazine’s Top Ten Viral Videos of 2011 quickly reveals a variety of topics covered in viral videos including: honey badger, spastic dancing, drunk cooking, seniors struggling with technology, a father-daughter duet, Michael Bolton as a pirate, a kid using The Force, a homeless man’s voice and of course, teenager Rebecca Black singing about her favorite day of the week.

What do all of these videos have in common? Beyond receiving Time Magazine’s recognition as the top viral videos of the year, all received record views on YouTube and managed to invade our computer screens, minds and hearts. And while all can agree on their popularity, the science behind what makes them successful is still a hot bed for debate and a goal for marketers to strive for. Scholars, professionals and anyone with a YouTube account all have a theory on what is required for viral success.

Social Times’ Megan O’Neill details a few key factors required to deem a video “viral” in her article “What makes a video ‘viral’? They are the following:

  • Significant Viewership
  • Substantial Buzz
  • Incites Parody (of your video)
  • Maintains Longevity

A SXSW presentation by Ogilvy’s Robert John Davis and Jeremy Sanchez detailed on MDG Advertising’s Blog offered these four steps:

  1. Prepare a plan
  2. Deliver style with substance
  3. Promote and distribute
  4. Measure success by business NOT buzz

Beyond these four key takeaways, the two also suggest targeting and researching a specific audience, establishing a call-to-action early, balancing success with your brand, keeping SEO, tagging and content in mind to ensure increased views and results.

Scientific American has detailed one educator’s theory on viral videos. According to Brent Coker, a marketing professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, four ingredients are required for a successful viral video.  They are: congruency, emotional appeal, relevancy and a combination of 16 memes he identified.

Honey badger – quirky, offbeat, combines different media, takes a swipe at something familiar in nature videos we’ve all seen, incited parodies

Spastic dancing – tugs at stereo types, has pop-culture tie in, features something comedic, incited parodies

Father-daughter-duet/webcam seniors – relatable, sweet, familiar, incited parodies

Homeless man’s voice – unique, surprising, tugs at stereotypes, incited parodies

Rebecca Black – annoying, catchy, quirky, funny, incited parodies

Looking at the group of viral videos, several themes emerge: quirkiness, all evoke an emotional response, tug at stereotypes, surprise, touch on relatable subject. All have had significant viewership, substantial buzz, incited parodies, had moderate longevity, had relevancy and emotional appeal. All touch on the key ingredients mentioned by a variety of experts. But home-grown videos aren’t the only ones that have the potential to go viral.

The Chevy Sonic commercial immediately caught my attention during the Super Bowl because of it’s catchy music and insane stunts. I remember my fiancé asking, “Why would you throw a car out of a plane?” Immediately, two others and myself responded in unison, “Why wouldn’t you?” It showed unique footage, surprising stunts, catchy music and a relatable feeling (one of youth and exuberance) targeted to their young, fun target customers. This was the inspiration for my project.


Charged with creating a social media strategy for ShapeUp NC as a class project, I tried to focus on content and best practices while allowing room for growth and recognizing the limited time and budget most non-profits face.

Complete Campaign Strategy



The law related to social media space and privacy is a tough one and is changing daily. As we’ve discussed extensively in class, and as mentioned repeatedly in this panel titled, Intellectual Property Issues in Social Media, and others, the technology is simply evolving too fast for the law. Yet, as discussed and encouraged throughout this week, it almost defaults to the coders to allow for and encourage responsible use; giving users clear cut options on security and privacy.

One panelist mentioned that 25 pages for policy changes is fine for lawyers, but users really want and need a bulleted recap and a link to the full text if its something they are super into or have tons of time for. Another thing to consider for responsible development is default settings. Many times these settings are bent to what works best for the corporation, not the user. Consider the most widely accepted settings and make those the defaults was one panelist’s advice to the crowd. 


Privacy should always be considered, especially in the law. The speed at which technology is outpacing the law continues to exponentially increase. For example, NetFlix can’t share movies you rent because of a law from the 80s, protecting privacy. So even if you opted into something like that, it becomes illegal for them to create social sharing of what you’re renting. 

While it was joked about all week, that anything you did would be on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, it was funny because its true. In fact, one panelist gave the example of a privacy hack friends did even in college, because of the rise of cell phone cameras. His friends would have a massive house party, but would only drink in a single room, in the dark, so nobody could take pictures. Seems a little extreme, right? But the point is, we’ll always find ways around the system. 


How is it social without sharing information? Privacy issues have to be balanced. Currently, user data equals currency, and that tends to swing companies to the side for less privacy protections, so the burden gets placed on the user. But as one panelist said, “there are other ways money can be made.” We just have to be more creative. Instead of forcing users to exchange personal data for experience, the challenge for the future becomes, finding a way to profit that’s not tied to exploiting the user’s personal privacy. 

For users, the advice is this, know what your privacy rights are, know when you’re signing them away in a terms of service agreement and make a point to assert your privacy rights and demand more from digital services. It all comes back to one point discussed in class, without continually challenging the encroachment on your rights, we risk steadily losing them because companies will continue to push the envelope. 

Is aggregation theft? This is the not so simple question asked as the title for one of the SXSW panels I attended. The panel included Simon Dumenco of Ad Age, Julia Turner of Slate Magazine, Bill Faulk of The Week and Felix Salmon of Reuters Counterparties.

It’s important to understand, for the purposes of this panel, the conversation focused more on reworked stories instead of straight aggregation of headline and link. The discussion was more on the kind of sites link MediaGazer, Huffington Post, Drudge, The Daily Mail and others.

While the conversation mainly focused on the ethics of aggregation, many references to the law were made, primarily the transformative nature and supplementing the need for the original, both included in the fair use test. Interestingly, it was noted that the concept of fair use is an entirely American legal notion and not understood or recognized in the rest of the world.

Theses issues of fair use came up time and again while discussing rehashed content across different sites. What became most apparent in the majority of cases was this: if they gave credit, drove traffic to your site, did it differently for their audience or created something entirely new, aggregation was seen as acceptable. In fact as one panelist explained, sometimes looking at how others rework a story can be a learning experience, for example if your story is made “shorter, funnier and better,” you should look at the way it was done for future stories.

One example, given by Julia Turner, was where Slate had done a story and both Media Gazer and Huffington Post picked it up. Media Gazer did just a headline and a short summary and linked back to the original story, while Huffington Post did a complete rewrite of the story and linked to the original story at the bottom of the article. Media Gazer, the much smaller site, drove tons more traffic because many still wanted to read the entire article, while HP readers didn’t really need to read the original because the HP story was so complete.

It’s cases like these that make you consider not just copyright law but also ethics. So consider the four parts of the fair use analysis, especially transformative and desire for original, but also consider if it feels underhanded or lazy. Just because you might be able to get away with it legally, doesn’t mean you should do it; because what doesn’t get you fined, could still make you slimy.


Check out the point-counter-point between David Carr’s article, A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators and Gawker’s article, We Don’t Need No Stinking Seal of Approval from the Blog Police.

One panelist made the point that Pinterest and Tumblr have massive intellectual property issues that will likely end up in court.

One audience member pitched his product Free Range Content as an answer to aggressive aggregation and a way to share your content, while still getting credit, but he didn’t seem able to answer the question of what happens when someone doesn’t use your syndication tools and just rips you off? Guess fair use is for the courts to decide, if jurisdiction is in the U.S.

There was a time when advertisers told American consumers what would make them whole. During the mid 20th century, consumers were bombarded with the idea that a new vacuum, shiny appliance or classy cigarette would make their lives perfect. Every woman saw images of the perfect homemaker and every man saw that “keeping the wife happy” required the newest consumer goods, regardless of need. Keeping up with the Joneses was deadly important and advertisers made sure to reinforce the concept. Yet, things have changed in the market and social media has lifted the mask on many advertising claims.

Professional communicators must now listen more, hard sell less and meet consumers in this new, even ground know at the social space. No more do Mad Men create the want. Instead, effective advertisers gauge consumers’ wants via social media and look to supply the answer to those needs.

What makes social media unique and appealing is that it frees us from unilateral communication. It challenges the traditional power dynamic. Delivering a message to the masses is no longer reserved solely for those with economic clout. Gone are the days of advertising messages being unchallenged in the marketplace. Gone are the days of a consuming-without-care public. Gone are the days of a single, company-crafted ‘message’ moving through the masses.

While social media has spiraled into a wave of epic proportions during the last decade, the swell appears to be far from over. Consider for a moment, the numerous roles social media fills within our lives – companion, news source, city guide, party planner, scrapbook, dating service and the list goes on. In the corporate world it serves as customer service and support, lead generation, PR, HR, collaboration tool, opinion pollster, competition spy and, of course, advertising.

This seismic shift has already occurred and for many the rebuilding process has begun. While the shape the of the current landscape is taking two different forms, the future skyline seems primed for residence by only those willing to take risks and increasingly include the public as willing partners in the brand building process. While a number of standouts presently rise higher than the majority, the ones worth examining are those with truly unique approaches that encourage genuine interaction.

My Starbucks Idea is a great example of engaging consumers and asking for feedback. In addition to crowdsourcing great ideas, the site also encourages lateral communication between users through voting and commenting. What makes this site work well is that the community has two dedicated moderators called “idea partners” who post on every idea that gets submitted, in an effort to further communication.

Tweet Pie, The World’s Shortest Recipe Book was a campaign started by European kitchen appliance company Belling which asked users to tweet recipes using the hashtag #tweetpie or submit 140 character recipes via the company’s website. Fifty recipes were selected from the campaign and put in the resulting book, which was sold, with profits going to FoodCycle, a charity feeding the hungry in the UK.


L’Oreal learn the lesson in 2005 that creating a blog out of thin air was destined for failure. One of the company’s French laboratories allowed an advertising agency to post blogs under the guise of “Clair,” a real woman who used the Peel Microabrasion. Only problem was, Clair wasn’t a real woman, she was invented by the advertising agency and the backlash forced the company to revamp the blog.

Anthony Wiener, need I say more?

The American Red Cross and Chrysler are both examples of how staffers can confuse work and private accounts to the detriment of the brand.

The Durfur Is Dying game represents a trend in understanding the plight of others. Like the Spent game for Urban Ministries in Durham, this interactive component gives players bits and pieces of the story as they play. Players quickly realize through playing the game, just how difficult it is to forage for water and avoid dangers such as rape, kidnapping, capture, abuse and death. Players have to help fellow villagers survive by building shelter, getting food and medical supplies and avoiding militia attack.

By forcing players to faces the demands those living in Darfur face every day, the game creates empathy by increasing awareness and understanding. Throughout the game, prompts are issued for players to take real-life action to help those involved in the crisis.

While games can be an effective way of creating empathy for others, the subject matter is important and it isn’t always the best way to present information, as evidenced by the “Playing the News” project. The project found that while the game tested well, facts and links organized by topic tested higher in terms of news content. This project emphasizes the fact that content is still king and should drive interactive approaches.

In terms of creating empathy, forcing an audience to understand the demands facing others is crucial and most easily accomplished by games. As Jane McGonigal points out in her book, “Reality is Broken,” and her numerous public appearances, games have rules, consequences and rewards, just like life. By establishing rules that relate to the circumstances many people in need find themselves in, players get a glimpse of just how difficult life is for some.

While the “walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes” approach is often successful in an interactive context, it is by no means the only way to create empathy. Photos and videos also do this incredibly well. This can be evidence by the numerous broadcast campaigns that tug at the heart strings. Consider the SPCA video with abused animal images and an emotional song or the countless pleas to feed hungry children in impoverished countries – those ads wouldn’t be as convincing without the images of those in need.

The most successful projects turn the empathy created within games or campaigns into real-world action. Such projects must have a clear call to action contained within them, so that once users care about the cause, they know what to do and have been empowered to do it easily, with little time to change their mind. By making it easy for users to donate or volunteer, interactive components bridge the gap between education and action.

The Darfur interactive even gives users multiple ways to “Take Action.”  Allowing users to choose ways in which they would like to help gives them a feeling of empowerment and more of a connection to the cause. Sometimes people want to connect with more than just donating cash, options like this allow that exchange easily and effectively.