How to Hit the Spread in Online Video

What I've Learned From Hundreds of Viral Campaigns

By Published on .

Josh Warner
Josh Warner
Spreading a branded video message on the internet isn't alchemy; it's common sense. Trust me, I've seen hundreds -- both good and bad. Here are five things that we're seeing work today to "hit to spread."

Let video do the talking
As a brand creating videos for the web, you have a lot to say -- messages to push, product to sell -- but to quote Hollywood, if it's not in the script, it's not in the picture.

You can package, tag, title and describe your video, but above all else, you must get people to click on it. That means you need to let the video do the talking. When you're pitching humor and entertainment sites, don't use this time to espouse your product's attributes. Leave that for tech and business blogs. Go with what interests your audience. Package and contextualize your video based on your vertical.

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Don't leave users hanging after a campaign is over
Some of our best campaigns beg for a sequel. The brand and agency did their job: They made a great video and let us do what we had to do to market it. But when the video ultimately became a success, there was no follow-up.

That leaves you with an audience that has connected to the video, left a comment and subscribed to a user channel. They've invested in the brand ... and now they're just waiting. Don't leave them in limbo. If you have a strong campaign and know it, run with it before momentum is lost. Many of our most successful campaigns, such as Levi's and "Guitar Hero," followed up great videos with strong sequels to keep the conversation going. And that should be the goal of your brand.

Move beyond the view
"The view" is the defining metric for all video-seeding campaigns. But what's behind the view, and how it is achieved, is just as important. When YouTube and other video-hosting sites record 250,000 views for your particular work, trust that millions more have likely seen it. They've seen it because someone posted it on their blog, tweeted about it or featured it on their site. You have to be willing to reach many to get a few to click through, just as with any other marketing conversion, like e-mail or banners. The more people you reach in more places, the better.

This is what we call the spread. Anyone can buy 250,000 views on a website and achieve their viewership goal simply enough, but you should also be aiming to hit your spread. It's the crucial underlying metric for brands looking to stimulate conversation and achieve maximum reach on the social web.

Let go
Once you've seeded a video online, let go. Inevitably, haters on YouTube will say nasty things, prominent tweeters will ignore you and bloggers you like won't post your embed. People will say exactly what they want to say, because yours is just another video they happened to watch or, worse, were asked to watch. Either they'll like it and do something about it -- make it a favorite, share it, comment -- or hate it and leave a nasty comment. Some just passively watch the video without engaging more deeply.

As a brand, your best defense is to let the conversation take its course. Don't add faux comments -- "this vid really is awesome!" -- and delete only comments that are blatantly offensive. Everyone expects haters to show up -- and like the bully in the schoolyard, they're best ignored.

Tricks are over
The faux viral video -- a professional vid that mimics amateur work -- is getting tired. You know the ones: videos where someone does something no normal person could do and everyone looks all amazed. It's a trick that gets less surprising the more you see it. From "Gatorade Ball Girl" and "Levi's Backflip" -- which are really good -- to the others that are less so, the faux viral appears mercifully to be on its last legs. But however we might miss it, what will replace it is even better.

Now is the time for more thematic work to shine. Examples of this are "Signs" by Publicis Mojo for Schweppes, a beautifully produced 12-minute piece with no dialogue, and the inspired "Bicycles" effort, where Danny MacAskill rides his bicycle about. They take their time, but good things often do. Because storytelling and presentation has become the priority, users are moved, and brands win just by being associated with them.

Here we witness the quiet death of a big lie: Quick and easy is no recipe for success on the web. For brands trying to get an audience on the evolving web, the times demand, more than ever, creative minds, true production savvy and thoughtful marketing.

Josh Warner is president and founder of Feed Co., which promotes and distributes brand videos on the social web. In the three years since the company's founding, it has marketed more than 100 online brand videos, including memorable campaigns such as Levi's "Backflip," Ray-Ban's "Catch" and Activision's "Bike Hero."
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