DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
First off, if you haven’t watched the video above, do so. It’s of a young dude by the name of Jake Foushee (my apologies to Jake if he listens to this and I mispronounced his last name…or his first name, but I’m pretty sure I got “Jake” right). Anyway, this young guy aspires to become an actual voice actor. As most of my readers and listeners know, it takes much, much more than a great voice to succeed…but hey, he’s got a great voice. To quote one of the people who posted on his YouTube video, “Dude, puberty hit you like a ******* freight train!” That same train has now carried his video to the status of “viral,” which most marketing experts, with college degrees in marketing, can’t figure out how to do. So that got me thinking…just what is it that makes a video go viral?
Hell if I know.
What, were you people expecting a more complex answer? It doesn’t sound like a lot of other people know, either. According to YouTube’s official Trends Manager, a guy whose job is to “professionally” watch YouTube videos (side note: HOW DOES SOMEBODY GET A JOB THAT AWESOME!??), forty-eight hours worth of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, but less than 1% of those will go on to get over a million views. There simply aren’t many ways to predict whether a video will go viral or not. For all the demos and official VO projects that I’ve put up for viewing on my YouTube channel, the video of mine that continues to get the most views is a God-awful parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that I was forced to write and perform for a college class. (It’s here if you want to watch it, but be forewarned, my singing should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention as a method of torture):
Now…having said all that…there do indeed appear to be some common trends among videos that go viral. It would only be fair at this point for me to say that some–okay, all–of my info was gleaned from several sources, so I felt it would be proper of me to list the sources at the bottom of the article. However, in the interest of giving it my own unique spin, I’ve tried to pull out the most interesting bits and apply them to VO where possible.
Trend Number 1: THEY’VE BEEN SHARED BY OTHER PEOPLE
A study conducted by Indiana University created a program that simulated Twitter, and it found that, despite the fact that all simulated Tweets were inherently equal, some Tweets became immensely more popular. When a Tweet was re-Tweeted, it was more likely to be seen by the simulated users, which led to the re-Tweeted Tweets getting even more re-Tweeting and, by extension, more exposure. Simply put, social media entries that are shared end up getting much greater web exposure than those that sort of languish in cyberspace.
This, to me, highlights the need to be social with other voice actors online. Share other people’s stuff, and they’ll be more inclined to share your stuff. There is a sort of invisible code that if someone likes and/or shares your stuff, it’s polite to return the favor when possible. Granted, not everybody follows this code, of course, and some would call that a wise business practice. The way I see it, though, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with contributing to a community and, in doing so, reinforcing the value of our profession through discussion.
Trend Number 2: THEY’VE BEEN SHARED BY OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE COOLER THAN YOU
Often times, things won’t go viral until it’s shared by someone else who’s (really, really) popular. There’s even an official term for them–“tastemakers.” Author Justin Halpern was able to get his best-selling book, “S*** My Dad Says,” published largely because tastemaker and comedian Rob Cordry (of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” fame) found Halpern’s Twitter account and alerted all of his followers to how funny it was. (On a slightly unrelated note, if you don’t like to read, listen to the audiobook, whose narrator, Sean Schemmel, was nominated for an Audie Award for his work there). Ted Williams, the “Man With the Golden Voice” became well known largely because the Columbus Dispatch newspaper released a YouTube video featuring him to all their viewers, and the infamous “KONY 2012” video had a huge surge in views when Justin Bieber Tweeted it.
I’ll admit, listing this is kind of cheating because it’s very similar to Trend Number 1, but if you have any hopes of your social media entries going viral, the key seems to be that they must be shared by other people in the hopes of being seen by other famous people.
Trend Number 3: THEY HAVE AN EMOTIONAL ANGLE
According to one study (cited at the bottom of this entry), the social media entries that are the most popular tend to be the ones that appeal to emotions first and foremost. Whether that emotion be happiness, sadness, positive, or negative, giving your entries an emotional edge does seem to help. This is a risky thing to do since pouring your heart out online doesn’t generally look good to employers, but…honestly, I can attest to this working. If the WordPress dashboard is anything to go by, the audioblog entry of mine that continues to get the most views is #13, in which I (half) jokingly referred to all actors–myself included–as “morons” for actually wanting to pursue an acting career. I considered it one of my weaker efforts, but it continues to be my most viewed and shared entry.
Trend Number 4: THEY QUICKLY GET TO THE POINT
It’s tempting to “set the scene” and have a long build-up to whatever it is you’re trying to say, but resist that temptation, because, according to creative marketing agency Seedwell, unless you can tell somebody in 10-15 seconds why they should care, they won’t. Some of my more frequent readers and listeners know that I loathe Twitter because of how it forces me to condense my thoughts, but the fact that there’s demand for such a social network is proof enough that people like things short and sweet nowadays.
This can certainly be applied to VO. I’m hearing more and more about how fast-paced our clients are. A few quick examples I can think of right off the bat?
-Sure, most of our demos are sixty seconds, but how many clients actually listen past three seconds? Almost none.
-I asked a few trusted ears for some feedback on a video reel I’ve been putting together, and the first thing they said? “That black screen at the beginning with your contact info is way too long–shorten it.”
-On a similar note–in my opinion, of course–don’t slate your demos, ’cause 99% of the time, people know whose demos they’re listening to.
-Way back in the first incarnation of my website (not this, this is my audioblog), I was told to put my demos on the first page. “Let’s be honest Dave, that’s probably all they’re going to listen to,” is what I was told.
Trend Number 5: THE THREE GOLDEN CATEGORIES
One study noted that there seem to be three golden categories for social media content that goes viral: parodies, unbelievably cute stuff, and funny accidents. This is going to be, hands-down, the hardest part for VO talent. Unless you do a parody of a famous voice, have a puppy in the background while you’re recording a spot, or someone randomly charges into your booth and bashes you on the head with your own microphone, it will be difficult for people in VO to do anything that remotely resembles something for the three golden categories. Since none of these three things naturally fit into the context of VO, our social media entries will never be the most viewed things in the world. And I would never be so immature as to include pictures of puppies to boost my SEO rating and entice people to keep reading.
Like everything else in this business, going viral involves a lot of luck. In the end, though, there do appear to be these five common trends that increase your luck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and superimpose images of puppies over all of my demos.
1) Report from YouTube’s Trends Manager: