This day eight years back, I released my first ever video. It was the happiest and the scariest moment of my life, happiest coz it was my first ‘viral’ experience and scariest coz if I did not build on that, if I did not figure out, learn, deep dive, obsess about why it worked.. then I’d be back to the rat race, nothing but a one hit wonder.
The journey and the obsession since then has resulted in 76 videos which went viral, 470M views and a best-selling book.. which for a college drop out, written off as a failure.. was beyond my wildest imagination. Results are never in our hands, but our action and performance is, and one brick at a time, compound effect works like magic. Life always gives you signs, shows you doors, but what matters is if you run through them.
And when that tiny door opened on Feb 18, eight years back.. I ran through it like my life depended on it.
In this blog post, we will unpack the magic behind viral videos by talking to award-winning viral video marketer Aashish Chopra of Ixigo, India’s leading travel search marketplace. He has made and marketed many viral videos, one of which reached a staggering 46 million views in two weeks. Aashish will explain what makes a video viral and share his tips and tricks.
Q & A with Viral Video Marketer, Aashish Chopra
Why is video marketing becoming more important? What is your take on the state of video marketing in 2017?
If 2016 was about videos getting attention, 2017 would be about the explosion of videos on tiny mobile screens. Look around, videos are dominating mobile traffic everywhere, to the point that all major social platforms are becoming video-focused.
What was your first experiment with viral video content?
Back in 2014, every morning on my way to work, I used to dread passing through the bottleneck at the toll plaza at the Delhi Gurgaon Expressway. Long lineups, chaos, and frustration—they were all part of my everyday routine. Coming back in the evening was worse.
So I did an experiment. For many days, when my car reached the toll plaza, I paid the toll, and also paid for the car behind me. It was a random act of kindness. One day, I found out that the toll plaza was shutting down. On its last day, I thought it would be cool to remember this experience with a happy memory. I took two days to shoot and edit the video. I was in the news in a few hours.
At which point did you realise that viral video was not just a matter of chance?
I decided to study what made viral videos so successful. As I kept going, I recorded the learnings and applied them to my videos. After conducting some experiments, another one went viral. It blew my mind. A video made in August 2014 about the coolest travel hacks clocked seven million views in a few months, was shared by 350,000 people, and reached 25 percent of Facebook users in India.
I knew at the back of my mind that the day I stop making viral videos is the day I head back to the rat race. The learnings and experimenting grew into an obsession. I learnt that the secret for viral video success was to focus on the fundamentals of why we share, and adapt the content to make sharing easier.
I realised that changing the focus from ‘viral’ to ‘shareworthy’ could make all the difference.”
What are the rules that marketers can adopt to increase their odds of viral success?
We have to remember that our target audience is very different from the audience watching films in dark movie halls. Our goal is also different. We don’t just want people to watch. We want them to share our videos authentically. I’ve come up with this set of basic rules for viral video marketing success.
Basic Rules of Viral Video Marketing Success
#1: Is It Shareworthy?
The key metric for viral video marketing is shares—authentic, organic shares. The more people share on their own, the greater your organic reach. Select shareworthy topics, and make the video useful so people will share within their peer groups.
Use your video as a vehicle to share a sentiment about a breaking news, to inspire your audience, to celebrate their life.
Video views can be bought, but shares are earned. When shares start snowballing, that’s when the magic happens.
Case in Point: What Indian Students Pack When They Go Abroad (7.7 million views on Facebook)
#2: Move Fast and Engage.
Our videos have to compete for user attention in social media newsfeeds. We live in a constantly distracted world, and with so many apps and pings screaming for our attention all day long, the video must get straight to the point and keep the user hooked till the end.
As marketers, our dream is for users to stop scrolling through their newsfeeds, start watching our video, watch it till the end, then share it. For me, you only have three to six seconds to make an impact.
Case In Point: Unusual Beaches Around The World (40 million views in a week on Facebook)
#3: Storytelling Beats Production Value.
For viewing on a tiny screen, you don’t need the production quality of a TV show or a movie. Keep the production simple, but the storytelling in top gear. All the videos that hit millions for us were made with near zero budgets but high on ideas.
Keep the video fast-moving and make creativity the differentiator between your videos and your competitors’. It’s not about “how” you will make a video anymore, it’s about “what” you will make. The tools—HD camera, editing apps—are all in your pocket.
Case In Point: Coolest Hotel Room Secrets – Tricks For A Smart Traveller (465,000 views on YouTube)
#4: Make For Mobile.
Vine and Instagram introduced square videos, but Facebook made them huge. Square videos give you more real estate on the screen, and you don’t have to tilt them. Making videos native to mobile screens is, by far, the biggest learning we’ve applied to all videos.
Facebook’s algorithm is favouring more video content on the newsfeed. What’s more, Facebook has sharing in its DNA, unlike YouTube. The number of shares is an integral metric that can make or break a video.
That said, you have to:
Make the videos square in format (no tilting required, more real estate on screen).
Make them sound-proof, so that you can engage the audience even without sound (Facebook auto-plays them with sound off).
Case In Point: How To Speak Hyderabadi In A Minute (2.8 million views on Facebook)
#5: Have a Great Distribution Strategy.
Without planning the distribution, great videos ideas can die in a vault. Apart from sharing the content on all available channels, we need to build loyalty with the seeding core group. This is the group that shares the video in the first 10 minutes.
For video numbers to go snowballing, we need to kick it as hard as we can into the universe and hope it turns into a snowball. What we do in Ixigo is set a benchmark of getting 100 shares in the first 10 minutes. I go ringing bells in the office announcing the new video, and get creative to get those initial shares from within the office.
The launch time is also decided based on when this core group is best available to share. Apart from this, reach out to bloggers and journalists. They may not pick your video up, but they’re always hunting for good stories to write about. After this, distribute to all channels available to you, from mailing lists, mobile notifications, to different native versions for WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram.
#6: Please Don’t Make An Ad.
Content marketing is the exact opposite of advertising. Nobody cares about us, our brand, services, or products. It’s about your target audience, their pain points, and challenges. If, through our content, we can make an impact in their lives, then we have evangelists on our side.
When we have a million people sharing our video, we have a million messengers. Ads target eyeballs. Content marketing, in my opinion, should target hearts and minds— that way, people would be more compelled to share.”
#7: Think Conversations, Not Campaigns.
Thinking of marketing in terms of campaigns is the traditional marketing approach. What we should focus on is driving conversations. Social is built on conversations, and that’s where our videos swim. If our brand can facilitate conversations and people start tagging their friends, that’s the sweetest spot to be in.
To recap, here are Aashish’s actionable rules for video marketing: choose a shareworthy topic, prioritise storytelling, make it mobile-friendly, engage right away, distribute effectively, avoid making an ad, and think conversations.
Apply them all, and you’ll never know—maybe you’re just one video away from your first million views!
So ibis India asked us to make a video about their new hotel in Goa. The challenge was to figure out a way to celebrate an overly celebrated destination. For the video to be share-worthy, it had to be about the users, not about Goa, or the hotel or the brand or us. So we asked ourselves.. What’s the number one problem for youngsters when they plan for Goa? Take a guess.. Parents! After few hours of brainstorming of all the things they say, we flipped it and our idea was born :)
Making it Share-Worthy
Mobile Native: Square videos are mobile native, and don’t need tilting for the full experience. Videos have been rectangle for long, but now we consume them vertically. Vine and Instagram started the vertical ‘square’ video trend, but Facebook is what brought it front and centre (at least in India)
Make It Easy to Understand: After much discussion, we decided to meme-ify the video and add a black strip with title on top, so when Facebook auto-plays it you know the context till the end. Even though meme videos are like the graffiti of video world, but what the hell.. it’s about storytelling and share-worthiness :)
Make it Sound Proof: From our data, 75% of video views are without sound on Facebook, so the video had to be sound proof and since this was a first where we had actual dialogues, subtitles are super important. And subtitles not in a different language but the same as script, so it matches the visuals.
Move Fast: First 3-6 seconds is our target, to make it compelling enough to continue. As marketers our dream is for people to stop in news-feeds, hit play, watch the whole thing, share it and then give us their kidney! lol First 3-6 are most crucial.
Execute, Execute Execute: We were really skeptical of going all in with in-house capabilities. Heck, I played a role too (my first). The only thing I told myself: Let’s follow the plan, however it looks and execute.. if it doesn’t look good. we’ll figure something out. But wallah, team did a kick-ass job.. :)
Results: The video is off to a good start, got about 200k views on first day (On Facebook)
After our success in videos over the last few years, ixigo is taking on limited clients (Travel brands only) for videos, ibis being our first :) Do check out the other video we made for ibis Goa titled ‘How To Fake a Goa Vacation‘
Remember I was writing a book? Yes I’m still on it going strong. Sign-up to get it before anyone else when it comes out :)