I saw this post the other day over at Techcrunch called The Secrets Strategies Behind Many "Viral" Videos and like the over 400 or so comments I was appalled. That is appalled until after I took some time over the long weekend and read the post again. Am I pissed off about some of the tactics mentioned in the post? Of course, but I'm not surprised at all that there are companies out there that help advertisers get top rated videos and top blog posts. If there are ways to game a community voting system, there will be companies to help you out smart the system. As Dan Ackerman Greenberg bragged about in the Techcrunch post "How the hell did that video get so many views?” Chances are pretty good that this didn’t happen naturally, but rather that some company worked hard to make it happen – some company like mine."
Is this an indictment of social media and social networks? A little. Personally, I've often wondered how some marketing blogs get a ton of traffic when really their content is completely useless. Some of the things I've noticed about these blogs are that they've been around a long time (3+ years), have a blogroll that features a similar cast of bloggers, and perhaps were someone famous in the marketing community. However, having a large following for a long time is NOTHING compared with what Dan outlined in his post, but what is similar is that it all comes down to building a following, naturally or not. Let's take a look at Dan's tips and translate the good and the bad of them...
- Not all viral videos are the same - Basically nothing Positive here, just a viral slap in the face to let you know that some of those viral videos are not getting natural views.
- Content Is Not King - Good content works, but Dan gives the following Positive tips: make it short (15-30s), design it for remixing (lets others use it and spread it), don't make an outright ad, and make it shocking (make a controversial post that gets people to respond). Those are great tips. However, his last two tips go down the black hat SEO route of using fake headlines (annoying and really just video spam) and appeal to sex (UGH).
- Getting into the Most Viewed Page - This entire section reminds me of the age old argument of getting high search engine rankings (I need links to get listed high, but unless I'm listed high I don't get links). Most of Dan's tips if looked at from a macro level are steps you should follow, but I wouldn't recommend following them exactly because you can start moving down a slippery slope; that is unless you are ok with that.
- Blogs - you should reach out to bloggers with a following or content you crave, Dan pays people to embed their video
- Forums - again it is ok to reach out to forums and post videos and links; that's good outreach to the community. I fall off the wagon when he says that he starts multiple accounts to kick start a conversation. Again I'm not surprised this happens, in fact, coordinated or not by political campaigns, you can see this in action of plenty of political blogs and forums.***UPDATE*** See this link regarding Hillary Clinton supporters paying to have people leave comments; they've announced that they called this off but none the less I told you people do this.
- Facebook, MySpace, and Friends list - the tips here are all good tactics to use, but one has to wonder how much having a large Facebook list is worth on the open market
- Email List - this looks and feels very spam like to me, since he separates out his own friends list. Of course you can buy lists legally of people who agree to accept 3rd party email solicitations, but one has to wonder how much of these emails lists were actually purchased with the right privacy settings.
- Title Optimization - Again these are good strategies to use and reminds me of email subject line optimization, however Dan gives some questionable tips like "so we sometimes have a catchy (and somewhat misleading) title for the first few days, then later switch to something more relevant to the brand. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend towards titling videos with the phrases “exclusive,” “behind the scenes,” and “leaked video.”
- Thumbnail Optimization - For the most part the tips outlined here are all good to go, but unless you have women in your video, you won't be able to follow Dan's main tactic "As we edit our videos, we make sure that the frame at the very middle is interesting. It’s no surprise that videos with thumbnails of half naked women get hundreds of thousands of views."
- Commenting: Having a Conversation With Yourself - I have to be blunt, I can't find any Positive tips to pull out of here other than stay active on your comments. Dan admits to having multiple accounts and stirring up trouble by making negative or inflammatory comments.
- Releasing all videos simultaneously - A great tip to follow, unless of course you are a political campaign and your ads, videos change constantly.
- Strategic Tagging - A great strategy and one that I always tell clients and friends to employ even for their blog (why do you think I tag every post I make with PardonMyFrench). Searches in social networks look for tags first and then make "long tail" type searches so it is important to get your tagging strategy in line. BTW - I doubt Dan invented this technique and besides, I'm not sure it is something that could be invented.
- Metrics - The only tip Dan provides is putting a pass thru value on the end of a URL which is nothing new. In fact, that's how I've been tracking online advertising since about 2000. What this string allows you to do is to write in your database where the original lead came from and then you can track whatever actions you are looking for over time (sales, email signups, site visits, etc).
The original Techcrunch post sure got a lot of people fired up, myself included. At a high level, Dan's tips look like this "use hot women, pay bloggers to make posts, setup fake accounts to make a ton of comments, mislead people with provocative headlines, and then make sure you have hot women on the thumbnails". It certainly casts an ominous shadow on real word of mouth marketing. However, if you sift through the shady tips, there are some useful tactics that you should be using on your own social networking campaigns.