column Why videos go viral and yours doesn’t

In particular, the elusive algorithms of the platforms are blamed for this. The fact that the cause of the moderate reach really lies with ourselves and not with the platforms does not even come up as a possible idea for many. The organic reach on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube has been declining for many accounts in recent years. The reasoning for many is simple: the algorithm is elusive, it does me no justice whether the profit pursuit of these American companies means that no one sees my videos anymore. Algorithms change, that’s right. And that Facebook and Google are not philanthropic institutions is also true. But the reason no one sees your videos is really caused by something else.

Why does something go viral?

When I started at RTL as a social media strategist in the summer of 2014, I was commissioned to generate as much coverage as possible for the channels and TV programs on social media. To achieve this I was looking for the ingredients for successful content. Preferably a secret formula that can make content go viral. I had a number of ideas that content had to meet, but what exactly worked or did not work and why I did not know. Frankly, I had no idea. What I did know was that I had access to huge datasets from dozens of channels with millions of followers and subscribers. I was able to compare the reach of thousands of social media posts and YouTube videos. This allowed me to find out exactly what worked and why on the basis of hard data, and not my gut feeling. Almost all my findings from this study are still valid six years later.

Upload time and number of fans doesn’t matter that much

Before I indicate what works, it is also very useful to know what does not work. For example, it emerged that many popular assumptions that circulate have little or no effect. For example, the moment of upload has virtually no influence on the success. Of course it helps that you choose a time when your target group is online, but otherwise the time does not matter. The total number of followers / subscribers has only limited influence on the reach. What is of great influence is the number of active followers. The higher this percentage, the higher the range.

What is the secret then?

There are three qualities that almost all of the most watched videos have in common: emotion, self-expression and / or practical value.


Emotion is obvious, but how many brands are able to achieve a continuous stream of content that does not generate any form of emotion? Admirable. And that year in, year out. My own experience is that the more bureaucratic the company is, the more often this is the case. If your videos don’t surprise people, make them laugh or cry, getting views is a real challenge. The problem is often that many of us are far too cautious about this. Do not go for a smile if you choose this approach, but for nothing less than a laugh. Mediocrity does not work with emotion.

Self expression

In addition to emotion, the second element is self-expression. Much more than we will admit, our behavior on social platforms is driven by the urge to profile ourselves. With the content we want to share, we show what we stand for and what we don’t. Videos that help strengthen our image score massive views. For example, we massively share aftermovies from festivals on our timelines to show that we were there.

Practical value

The last option is extremely effective, but undervalued: Offer as much practical value as possible, help people. Some brands are already successfully using this, but it is less noticeable. What you probably wouldn’t guess, but apart from ads, are the most watched videos on YouTube from Jumbo Supermarkets, Coolblue and De Bijenkorf. All with simple how-to videos. Without any form of storytelling, they reach organically, so without spending a cent, thousands of people every month who want to know how to cut bok choy, what a CI + module is or how to apply foundation. And unlike emotion and self-expression, this success is long-lasting.

So for anyone who wants to get more views: amaze people, help them profile themselves or offer help. Or keep complaining. That doesn’t work, but it can be a relief if you don’t reach anyone again ????.

This article previously appeared in MarketingTribune 7, 2020.

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