I have no magic formula for getting a video to go viral. But I can share the methods I used to get the first episode of my webisode "The Guild" up to 1,000,000 hits on YouTube, with no professional advertising or marketing help.
In my opinion, a lot of the work comes AFTER you shoot, and BEFORE you upload. The more homework you can do in advance, the better. And it all hinges on the “Who, What, Where” of your video.
Define Your Audience
List the groups who will love your video. For “The Guild” I knew that gamers, especially MMORPG players, would be a target, but I also listed fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” (which I acted on) and women filmmakers/gamers too. The more targeted points of entry into the Webisphere the better.
List the top 5-10 most popular sites for each of your audience categories. These are who you will e-mail on upload day: The more personal the e-mail, the better. I included a few wish list places like “Wired” on my list, but generally I stuck with smaller blogs to increase the chance of a link. If a site had multiple contributors, I picked the person who I thought would like my video the most based on their posts.
Prepare two mailing lists of personal and professional contacts to e-mail on upload day and draft the emails in advance. My personal email asks more of my recipients, like favoriting/subscribing etc, and the professional one is more of a press release. On the day, you just have to cut and paste links into the body of the email and hit “send.”
The Video Thumbnail
A video thumbnail is like a department-store window display: The more it catches the eye, the more traffic you get. Have a few screenshots or stills ready that best feature your video, because some sites allow uploading of a .jpeg format thumbnail. YouTube gives you three thumbnails choices now, but mid-frame is always an option. Depending on the flexibility of the edit, you may be able to finesse a magical picture into that frame before locking picture.
Title, Tags and Description
Put time into naming and describing your video before upload. I read Ebay selling tips to help make mine catchy. For tags, put yourself in the shoes of a targeted audience member. If they were searching for a video on YouTube, what would they enter? I wanted my video to be on the top of that search result. And it was.
Choose Your Portal
Pick the video site that matches your audience. A video that makes the front page of “Funny or Die” is vastly different from one that is featured by “Yahoo Video.” With "The Guild", we initially chose to direct all traffic to our YouTube channel. For a webisode, I think this is the best way to go. But for a one-off short, it may be smarter to spread it across the Internet, using TubeMogul.com or another multi-upload site. Different video sites have different viewer sensibilities, and editors feature content they know their viewers want to see. Ultimately, you want a feature to get the big numbers, so be smart when choosing.
Claim Your Real-Estate
Having a dedicated Web site, however bare-bones, is important if you want to build a fan base. The best way to get contact info for fans is through RSS. If the webpage is literally just your embedded video and a RSS button, that's enough. Then you have the option of including a Web site on the corner of your video, or at least put it at the top of the description, to maximize the odds of making a further connection with viewers.
MySpace and Facebook both have Group/Fan pages that are important to set up, because some viewers may use those sites as primary windows to their Net life. You want to give them the option to be able to express their fandom in their ‘hood. It’s up to you to decide which social networking sites are important portals for your product. Don’t spread yourself too thin, because you need to keep them up to date.
Doing your homework takes a lot of stress out of upload day. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but knowing your “Who, What, Where” beforehand will help start the viral ball rolling. Happy uploading!
Felicia Day attended University of Texas at Austin, graduating with a double major in mathematics and violin performance. As an actor, Felicia has worked on television shows such as "Windfall", "Strong Medicine" and "Monk", and most notably the last season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She has been in over 40 national commercials, and acted in such films as "Bring it on Again", "June," the Emmy award-winning "Warm Springs", with Kenneth Branagh, and most recently "Prairie Fever" with Kevin Sorbo. She produces, writes and stars in the YouTube hit "The Guild" , a Web sitcom about a group of online gamers, and is currently developing another series for the Web.