wikipedia defines viral video as: "...a video that becomes popular through the process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email."
It is. Just like winning the lottery is simple, you just have to buy a winning ticket. The hows and whys of what makes a video go viral are the points for much discussion. Did it just come out at the right time? Was it signal boosted (more on this later) by some celebrity or other topical event? Was the content just so compelling everyone had to check it out? Or was it none of the above, just a random (somewhat) entertaining video that for unknown reasons became irresistible. Many people find it hard to believe why some videos suddenly develop into pop-culture gold, or become tickets to instant (internet) stardom - and this is because they are focusing on the actual video content only.
It is a mix of things beyond the images and sound of the video, which can include being topical, surprising, funny, or so unique people aren't even sure what to make of it at first (What does the fox say?). It also can be a combination of all videos on a certain topic – which are often covers or parodies of the original – that become parts of a whole that viewers feel the need to watch all of.
A long time ago, in a viral video galaxy far, far away a young man filmed himself practising martial arts moves with a piece of lighting equipment in his school drama room and inadvertently became one of the first viral videos. But it wasn't his video so much as it was the subsequent edits to his original that became viral and then dragged his initial video into the spotlight along with the rest. So, viewers checking out ‘Star Wars Kid’ would end up watching 3-4 videos to get the whole experience. No matter that the first one was a bit too long and had no special effects – because of the ‘sequels’ it also became a viral hit.
Another video that certainly qualifies as viral is ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black. A bland pop song that became a phenomenon – with the original garnering more than 167 million views, but over 3.1 million "dislikes" (87% of total ratings) from YouTube users. The song was not intended to be a parody, and both the song and Black herself were "savaged" on social networks across the Internet.
Going viral by accident is not always a bad thing, but there are definitely two sides to internet fame. This isn't to say that a video’s ‘virability’ is impossible to predict, just that there are many factors beyond the actual video content that come into play.
What if your video does go viral (in the way you wanted it to), what goal are you achieving? Popularity doesn't always equal profit. Yes, you can make money from advertising on youtube, or enjoy the benefit of a larger target market being aware of you or your services, but without a specifically defined objective to measure against you cannot really understand if your video is a success. If you’re a marketing/advertising agency then perhaps exposure is enough to sell people on your creative juices, or if you’re seeking better positioning or to change perceptions in some way – but lots of views aren't the same as people deciding to buy from you, hire your band or eat at your restaurant. A video that has far less total views, but is viewed (really watched) by potential or current customers who actually derive some value from watching, beats a massive viral hit any day.
It all comes back to why you’re making a video in the first place. What is it you want people to do when they see your video and what is it you want them to do after they see it - laugh hysterically and hand you money? Using a video to achieve smaller more measurable goals is key. A video that demonstrates how a product works (or just shows off how cool it is) or helps direct more customer calls to the right place can benefit you in ways that have real financial meaning. Consider the solutions to your common problems first (e.g. people getting confused about your return policies) and if these could be handled by explaining them quickly and clearly in a short video. If not, then don’t make a video.
Once you do have a good reason to make a video, you had better spend the resources to make sure it looks and sounds how it should. With the GoPro camera there are countless high definition, compelling videos that really show the ‘action’ and drama of certain products, but that doesn't mean you should strap one to your CEO’s head and have him run through the office. The same rules about tone, language and branding should apply no matter what you do – and it should all be the right fit for your subject matter and your audience, both of which you should clearly understand before beginning.
So, setting out to make a viral video is not the way to go – try to make a good video for a good reason, and if that becomes popular then so be it. The best viral vids of 2014 have some things in common (lots of GoPro work for starters) but really are about compelling human experiences from strangers kissing for the first time to clever pranks to near-death experiences. Things that actually get people talking and make people want to share them. Measure the success of your video work by those last two factors no matter how many views you get.