4 PR Lessons From Viral Videos

By AK Brinson

Viral videos have evolved.
In 2005, it was laughing babies and sneezing pandas. Today’s videos often compel users to create their own versions, so the virulent nature of these pieces is not just about sharing, but participating.
Participative viral videos are more powerful than ever. South Korean rapper PSY’s  Gangnam Style video was imitated and shared to the tune of more than one billion views.

While viral video isn’t a part of every public relations campaign, here are four lessons PR professionals can learn from them.

1. Engage with influencers.

Understand and follow the influencers within your channel and platform. Promoting content via Facebook and Twitter can boost brand goodwill with followers, but interacting with key industry influencers can propel your brand not only within your set of followers, but also with those key influencers’ followers, too.
In January, Call Me Maybe was just another omnipresent, fluffy tune by pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen. But then Harvard baseball players got their hands on it during a road trip and “choreographed” an upload to YouTube. As a result of its popularity, other sports teams and groups, including the Miss USA 2012 contestants, started whipping out their video cameras to create their own versions.
You can bet that Jepsen got exposure with lots of new audience segments and potential fans thanks to the video’s viral spread.

2. Keep it short and simple.

Many of these viral videos come in pretty short. Most Harlem Shake routines were 30 seconds or less. The original 31-second-long video inspired more than 50,000 imitators; obviously, it doesn’t have to be long to attract attention.
Keep pitches to journalists, bloggers, or anyone else you want to reach, the same. Reporters don’t have the time to read through a convoluted email describing your client’s most recent success. Providing more information is appropriate for follow up emails and calls — after the reporter has signaled interest.

3. Encourage journalists to share, but don’t be pushy about it.

The original Harlem Shakers never imagined (or asked for) the thousands of parody videos that followed theirs. But thanks to sharing of videos, plus blog posts and news reports, the Harlem Shake built up its own momentum. At last count, it had gotten coverage on ESPN and CNN, among other major news outlets. It was the viral nature of the video, and its popularity, that helped focus mainstream media attention on it. So, too, making your stories interesting and newsworthy will help them spread.

4. Listen to the industry buzz.

Timing is important, whether pitching a story or trying to get a video to go viral. Listen to key influencers (including reporters) to understand what they’re working on and what’s going on in the industries they cover. Trying to pitch a big story while reporters are already engaged with something big (like a major industry trade conference) your pitch might need to wait.
Other big stories (like super storm Sandy last year), can knock the media out of their usual news cycles and make it tougher to get their attention. Knowing what’s occupying the attention of journalists and other influencers is key to deciding the best time to make your big pitch.
Have other things you’ve seen in viral videos inspired lessons for public relations or marketing? If so, we’d love to hear. Please share your observations in the comments.