One of the easiest ways to create a successful video and get press and attention is by jumping on the bandwagon with something going viral.
Maybe you’re not the creative type but have a brand that you want promoted with a video. Maybe you have great video production skills and want some easy views. Maybe you actually are the creative type, but just can’t think of a good enough idea. Whatever the case is, putting a spin on something in the limelight is one of the most reliable strategies there is for getting views online.
Though a viral trend can take any medium (video, song, image, article, gif, etc.), this article is going to focus primarily on video.
You start by identifying a trend that’s going viral: something that people of various niches are talking about or everybody in a single niche is talking about– something that you see on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, etc. The bigger the trend, the better.
Next you change the trend and make it your own. It’s blowing up and people can’t get enough of it. You’re in a sweet spot that won’t last for very long. You have to act fast.
What kind of things can you do to change the viral trend in an interesting way that people will want to see? This is your guide.
Increase the People
On the night that the Harlem Shake first started blowing up, my co-producer e-mailed me, saying this:
“If you wanna cash in on a viral trend…” We immediately began brainstorming. We wanted to create what we thought could turn into the biggest Harlem Shake because we knew that would be a change on a popular trend that people would want to watch.
Using both Facebook invites and the NYC board of Reddit, we put out an invite for people to gather in Times Square only a few days after the trend started getting attention. We had around 300 people show up to shake, branded the video with our channel’s main character, and posted the video on the channel we were hoping to promote. The video received over four million views.
Add Some Pop Culture References
Everybody knows “Gangnam Style.” It’s literally the most viewed video in the world. “Gangnam Style” was so popular that it continues to grow in popularity just because it was so popular. More importantly, it was so popular that it became a meme.
“Gangnam Style” was so popular that the dance became something people began doing everywhere. The song was playing in the most exclusive nightclubs. Psy, the artist, was going on the most mainstream TV shows.
People took “Gangnam Style” and changed it. I like this example because it demonstrates how pop culture references can make a take on a viral trend notable.
That video was created while the Walking Dead TV show was being highly talked about, while also riding the coattails of “Gangnam Style.” It took one viral trend and combined it with another. People ate it up.
Adding some pop culture references is simply a way of making a hyper relevant trend even more relevant. Sure, you can go overboard, but unless you’re not smart about it, that would be hard.
Throw in a popular TV, film, or music reference that people are talking about and you’re sure to generate some traffic.
Change the Place
One of the most popular videos in the Harlem Shake line was this video shot underwater.
Making changes to a viral trend is basically just finding a good gimmick and adding it to something that everybody is talking about. Nobody had done a good Harlem Shake underwater (probably nobody had done one underwater at all) so ‘GeorgiaMens SwimmingDiving’ did just that. Their video was so successful that even with no other videos on the channel they got 15,300 subscribers.
With my Harlem Shake video, I wanted to use one of the most iconic spots in NYC. I picked Times Square, as the spectacle of it creates added interest in the video. Similarly, shooting underwater for the swim team created added interest.
Shooting somewhere else is one of the easiest ways that a creator can change up a trend. Add the place that you’re shooting in to the title and then the variation you’ve created becomes intentional and more interesting.
Add Some Puppies
Everybody loves puppies. Or kittens. Or babies of any nature.
The cute animals subreddit of Reddit has 8.6mm subscribers. Puppy, kitten, and baby videos are super popular on the Internet. Add some to a viral trend and place your logo somewhere and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Don’t believe that it’s that easy?
Here’s some puppies doing the Harlem Shake. Bam. Views.
Pay a Star
Suppose you have a major budget. Pay a star and then mention that star’s name in the title of the video so users know the big name to expect. Using the Ice Bucket Challenge (despite it being a philanthropic cause) as an example…
Chris Pratt: 3.4mm views
Taylor Swift: 1.5mm views
Conan O’Brian: 2.9mm views
Macklemore: 2mm views
Check out this article for some more examples.
Here’s a video of Psy teaching Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres the “Gangnam Style” dance. It has 57mm views.
Improve the Production Quality
What do I mean by this? Make it look good. Make it look so good and so beautiful that it’s fun to watch.
Got some production skills? Use a drone. Use a crane. Do some crazy audio mixing. Make it fun to listen to.
Throw in the most ambitious shots you can think of. Put in bullet time from The Matrix. Add the gimmick into the title so people understand that that’s what’s special about this version of the trend.
Make It Themed
This can be seen as being similar to throwing in pop culture references.
Use a theme that everybody knows. Do a “Harlem Shake 70s Edition” or a “Puppets Do Gangnam Style” or a “Hotline Bling Fireman Edition.”
All these changes to a theme are in one way or another a gimmick. If you think about it, everything is a gimmick of everything. Little changes lead to interesting new versions. Making a themed version of a viral trend is no different.
Change the Medium
Take the video and turn into a gif.
Or turn it into a series of images and lay them out on your site. Do an artistic painting of the trend at hand.
If you’re a musician, try turning it into a song or if the trend is a song, like “Gangnam Style,” do a cover!
Here’s a timely cover of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” It has 12.4mm views:
In fact, cover videos are so popular they should be their own category on here.
Do a Cover
If a song is blowing up, one of the easiest ways to get views on YouTube or Facebook video is to make a cover of that song. Take your favorite pop song – off the top of my head, I’m thinking, “Uptown Funk,” since it was recently performed at the Super Bowl – add the word, “Cover,” to the end of it on a YouTube search and see what happens.
Do a search like this with any popular song of the past five years and you will be shocked at the view counts you see.
Make a Compilation Video
Compilation videos are hugely popular on YouTube. Take the most popular videos from the trend at hand, edit them together, and throw the video up on your channel with the title “X Trend Compilation” and people will watch.
It may not be inventive, but it’s easy and will result in views and possible subscribers to your channel. The best part about this is that it doesn’t just have to be a mainstream trend. You don’t only need to make Harlem Shake Compilations or Ice Bucket Challenge Compilations.
You can do compilations of anything cool/funny that you see. You can even do songs and then make that long video into a psuedo-playlist. What’s important is that you’re giving audiences more of what they want and that what they want has been validated by preexisting views.
If a trend has enough traction, you can even make a funny/fail/other adjective compilation of that trend. Here’s a funny and fail compilation with 4.8mm views of the Whip/Nae Nae trend that was popular in 2015.
Shoot a React Video
The recent controversy died down. The Fine Brothers, who were trying to trademark their React series, stopped taking down videos and apologized for the madness.
This means that if you see a trend blowing up, or a song getting a lot of plays, all you have to do is find some niche of the population and then record them reacting to that trend. Niches like elderly people, children, teens, puppies, businesspeople, parents, priests, mechanics, school teachers, aerospace engineers… the list goes on and on.
These videos are great because they have super low overhead, are incredibly easy to produce, and yield a lot of views.
Talk/Write About It
Similar to changing the medium, but still different. If you’re a vlogger or have a YouTube Channel where you post constantly, simply talk about the trend and give your unique commentary. Go on a rant, ramble, observe how you see the trend changing, talk about your favorite variations of the trend.
If you’re just a writer and don’t feel like making video, write about it. Use it to get visitors to your blog or website. Post your article on social media. Include pictures and example videos. Write about it in a timely fashion so people will still care.
During the recent Snowboarding with the NYPD video, blogger, marketer, and GoDaddy employee, Christopher Carfi, wrote this article about why the video went viral. He published the article literally the same day that the video was released and received lots of traffic for it.
The logic here is the same for all the other possible changes a content creator can make. If people like watching the viral trend and it’s so popular that they can’t get enough of it, then they’ll like reading about it or hearing other people talk about it. Remember, you’re jumping on the bandwagon while the trend is still popular and people want as much of it as they can get. You have a closing window, that, when it’s wide open, is very easy to fit through.
Add computer generated imagery. If you’re talented in this area (or even starting out!) add in some funny CG figures to the trend that everybody’s doing.
Imagine having this figure in the Harlem Shake. Make it ridiculous. Make it stand out. Make it goofy. People will take notice.
Use Different Ingredients
How did BlendTec’s Will It Blend? series stay interesting? They used many different items.
Regardless of what the trend is, use different props and/or different ingredients. You can even use the same item and try different brands.
Check out this very popular series on YouTube. HowToBasic: the channel has different “how to” videos, in which the POV protagonist constantly makes a mess and never actually sets out what the video description and title says will happen. Here’s an example:
The channel has an aggregate of 951.7mm views over 431 videos, but does the same thing in each video. However, the wealth of ingredients and topics at hand has kept the videos fun to watch.
Apply this concept to a viral trend- throw in anything different or unique that you can think of and then the video will become different and unique in itself. Doing the same trend with a different prop is a change in the trend and something people will find interesting. The trend has already been proven to be viable- all you’re doing is getting a piece of the very large pie.
I’ll take this a step further and compare it with the L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp. Everybody wants to see the Mona Lisa, so Marcel changed it a bit and the work became a smash hit in itself.
Artists have been doing recreations of other artists’ work throughout history. This is nothing new. Some great mind makes something so unique and fascinating that people can’t stop talking about it and then somebody else comes along and defines the work as being a trend by recreating it in a different way. This happens over and over again and the snowball becomes an avalanche.
Even better is that this benefits everybody. The more people recreating the trend, the more popular it, and all the works in it, become. Everybody wins!
Take It up a Level
Finally, in general, the best thing you can do with an online trend is recreate it with even more intensity.
I’ll compare this to Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique, in which, you take somebody else’s listicle and recreate it with even more depth, length, and research. My pal, Joe Goldstein, has a really good description of this: “[Take] ‘6 lazy ways to drain your dog with a drone’ and develop a version that absolutely tower[s] over it [like], ‘The definitive list of 101 ways to drain your dog with a drone.’”
Apply this concept to video production (with the exception of length) and you’ve got yourself a video that people will want to watch.
Here’s a great example: in 2011, my co-producer and I drove around Manhattan faster than anybody else. We documented the drive with a video, and through some press releases, had the video featured on the front page of Jalopnik for two days! The video received 264K views and a lot of NYC and automobile enthusiast press, which, at the time, was very exciting for us.
Years later, in 2013, a new driver beat our record, made a video about the drive, and put a pop song to it that he knew everybody would like. That video, below, received 1.1mm views.
The new driver’s video was more in your face and more over the top. Not only did the video receive more views, but the press and resulting police investigation and trial that the producer received was so intense that he had to flee the country.
In fact, most of the ways for changing a viral trend that I give here are all ways of one-upping the original trend and its followers. One-upping in trend recreation is the most sure-fire way to get recognized and to get views. If people like seeing a single firework exploding, maybe they’ll like seeing an entire barge of fireworks accidentally exploding at once…
Overall Tip: Include It in the Title
Make your title searchable and descriptive. Always put your overall variation in the title to show that what you’re releasing is an intentional variation on the trend at hand.
When my co-producer and I released our Harlem Shake video, we titled it- “Harlem Shake Times Square NYC feat. NYPD.” When our “Fake Celebrity Pranks NYC” prank was recreated, the recreator at the helm retitled it, “Fake Celebrity Pranks New Jersey.”
When you make a change to a trend, take the most noticeable change you’re making and throw it in the title.
Overall Tip: Utilize Sharing Methods
Ignite the spark that gets viewers sharing your content.
Share your video on social media and #hashtag the trend you’re copying. Get everyone involved with the video to share it as well. With our Harlem Shake video, almost everyone who was a part of it spread the word to their networks and that drove traffic fast.
Also try sharing your video on Reddit and other content curation sites. If people don’t immediately respond well to the video, consider taking the funniest or most interesting part, turning it into a gif, and posting it to the gifs subreddit or the funny subreddit. I did this with a random YouTube video and got it 510k views.
Overall Tip: Engage with Commenters and Social Media
Comments (and other forms of engagement) on videos are used by the YouTube search algorithm in helping to decide which videos are recommended to users and placed higher in the search results. Hearing back from the creator of the video increases commenter investment and gives them more of a reason to share.
Encourage viewer engagement by responding to some of the comments. This shows your viewers that you read what they write and that you care. It encourages a discussion, which benefits your video.
The same principle applies on social media. When you see people talking about you or your video, join in in the discussion! Give your video lots of reasons to be talked about as this creates awareness.
When responding to comments of any nature, remember to always stay positive.
The Most Important Thing: Stay Relevant, Stay Timely
You can have the best followup video in the world and it won’t mean anything if it’s not timely. It’s four years past the Harlem Shake- would now be a good time to try making a Harlem Shake Yacht Edition to advertise your boating company? No.
When you see a trend taking the world or nation or whatever community by storm, knowing what you now know from reading this, it’s your job to act as fast as possible and contribute to the swelling cloud of content growing around that trend. Miss the window and your video will only leave a ripple in the pond, but create an amazing video in a short amount of time and you could have a video with literally tens of millions of views. Then throw in some product placement and a link in the description of your video (if you’re trying to advertise something) and people will take notice.
The last special ingredient that I’ve yet to mention is to have fun. Enjoy what you’re creating. Joke around with your co-producers. Laugh during the shoot. Feel the excitement as the video comes together in post. The fun and excitement you feel is contagious and your viewers will appreciate it.
Wrapping up, I hope I’ve demonstrated that one of the easiest and most consistent ways to get attention with a video (or a photo/article/other form of art) is to find a trending meme and to recreate it in a way that’s different from the origin. What I’ve outlined here, and the examples I’ve given, should give you inspiration and a roadmap for how to do that.
Want to help me make this big guide viral? Share it on social media! Or maybe you have some questions or things you’d like to see added to the article? Write your thoughts in the comments and we can start an awesome discussion.