FEATURE: The viral virus

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In a world obsessed with popularity, is viral video the best route for B2B brands – and what does it take to get there? Jessica McGreal investigates

The viral epidemic has hit. Whether it’s likes, follows, shares or views, it’s clear we are a world obsessed with popularity. For brands this trend is even starker, with the need to become the next viral sensation on the majority of marketers’ dream to do lists. 

The viral video phenomenon has intensified over recent months, with every B2C advert containing a cute, furry animal in a bid to become the next online hit. But it’s not only B2C videos that have been making the headlines, Volvo Trucks ‘The epic split’ has been listed as one of the top viral videos of all time, proving B2B isn’t always so behind its consumer counterpart. 

The truth behind viral
However, viral is not just a land of animated animals, super stunts and celebrity. There’s also corruption, with brands ‘cheating’ by buying views rather than organically obtaining them. As a result, YouTube recently launched an audit into the number of views each video on its site receives, in an effort to keep the channel authentic and full of meaningful interaction. This followed concerns some individuals were using tools such as redirects or buying views to mislead people about the popularity of a video. 

So, to become the next Evian dancing baby or GEICO hump day camel do you have to buy your way to fame?

“The first thing to understand is that most branded content – including Volvo/Van Damme – was supported by paid activation (either buying views or paying to have it shared),” says Daniel Fisher, chief operating officer at viral video management company Viral Spiral. “You wouldn’t create an expensive 30-second TV spot and then run it once during a re-run of The Bill at 3am. The same rules apply to social video content.”

Anders Vilhelmsson, PR manager at Volvo Trucks, disputes Fisher’s point, explaining: “We [Volvo Trucks] do not buy fake views since we consider it to be an unacceptable way of working.”

Whether or not Volvo Trucks paid its way to success, buying views has become commonplace in the online video industry. There are a range of ‘view buying’ sites out there with $50 buying you up to 60,000 views in 43 seconds, which is pretty impressive. This, twinned with stiff competition – 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and less than 0.1 per cent of these will receive over one million hits – makes it easy to see why brands dish out to stand out. Simply, paid for activation is one of the only ways to ensure your video is visible. Perhaps it’s not cheating after all and is just another step to viral success.

Simon Baker, head of corporate video at ITN Productions, believes paid for distribution is a must: “In my opinion it is absolutely essential to boost your posts across social media if you want to have any reasonable chance of people seeing and sharing your content. Remember that as a brand, your content is going to be classed as ‘branded content’ rather than genuine home produced content. This means two things: firstly, people will always be slightly more cautious about sharing your content as it will mean they are buying into your brand, which reflects on them among their peers. But secondly, it also means people will expect you to have boosted the video using paid for means, so you should feel free to do so.

 “Many social media platforms are actively suppressing branded content unless it is paid for, and with a little investment you can see a significant uplift in reach. Recently ITN shared two video links on Facebook, one without promotion and one with. The one without promotion had a reach of around 100 people, whereas the one with promotion (worth about £100) had a reach of 30,000.”

It seems buying views or shares are a direct route to viral success. However, if a company chooses to lie or cover up their actions there can be consequences. The overall brand image can be easily damaged if it is seen to lie and cheat in order to achieve viral status. As a result, organisations need to be open and honest with their audience when it comes to online content promotion.

“Cheat viewers at your peril: those that buy views without telling viewers soon get found out,” says Daniel Bausor, MD of Famous4Communications. “The golden rule of the social media age is to be honest and open so it’s okay to go down the paid for route but tell your viewers. This could be a video link via a sponsored YouTube link. However, the power of viral is that the video stands up on its own.”

viral video, video marketing, b2b

How to go viral
With competition fierce, going viral doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a well thought-out content and distribution plan.

Mallory Russell, content editor at Visible Measures, outlines where marketers should start: “Despite what many people believe, ‘going viral’ isn’t as simple as putting a puppy, a baby or a hot woman in a video. Yes, videos that contain those things go viral, but it’s not the reason they have viral success. The most popular branded videos today tell a newsworthy story that is authentic to the brand and connects with viewers on some kind of emotional level.”

It is essential marketers keep audience front-of-mind in the planning stage, after all these are the people who really matter. Successful viral videos communicate an emotional message to its audience, whether it is funny, emotional or risky. Brainstorm the current topics that would get your prospects talking and sharing online. Plus, today’s business buyers expect high-quality footage, not home-style videos. But, this doesn’t mean marketers need a big budget.

Fisher of Viral Spiral reiterates: “You can do a lot with a small budget and a very deep understanding of what makes your online audience tick. Creating video for YouTube is a very different kettle of fish to creating for TV.”

So, once you have filmed and created your viral hit, there are five things to consider when it comes to distribution:

Seed content: sharing a sneak peek of the video with key influencers you have a good relationship with can boost awareness from the word go. However, don’t send out a mass mailer, tailor emails to each industry figure for the best results.

SEO: ensure you upload and optimise your video for search. Title, description and tags should all contain keywords your audience is searching for. You can use Google Analytics and YouTube’s keyword tool to check this.

•Website and online communications: showcase your video on your website homepage and promote it via email broadcasts.

•Social media: get your audience involved via social channels and use hashtags to monitor success.

•Online advertising: in-video ads or paid for social promotions can give your content a push.

The problem with viral
However, going viral doesn’t mean instant celebrity stardom, mass popularity and endless success; and for brands in the B2B industry going viral may result in more hassle than help.

Karel Kumar, senior social media manager at Collider, highlights an important point: “In the context of B2B I would question whether a video going viral really is a dream come true. B2B marketers are often trying to influence a specific audience, not the mainstream. If a video goes viral, then perhaps you might wonder whether or not you are reaching those specific audiences.”

Going viral means B2B marketers could easily lose control of their campaigns. Statistics become diluted and genuine prospects tricky to track.

Dorothy Mead, chief acquisition officer at Blur Group, explains: “To me, shareable isn’t the same as viral, but is the keyword for B2B. For B2B we want our videos to be successful with our customers and instrumental in their buying process – and that may not mean viral at all. It’s simply representing our message in a medium that many find more useable and shareable.”

In B2B marketing video tends to be used as part of a larger campaign, rather than in isolation. For example, a snappy video clip can be used as a visual touchpoint directing the viewer to downloadable content, an event or webinar.

“Rarely do B2B brands undertake campaigns just for brand awareness purposes like their consumer counterparts,” says Kumar. “B2B companies we work with always have a very specific action mind.”

But, B2B may be missing a trick here. Content that focuses purely on brand is a great way of familiarising prospects with their brand story, without a pushy call-to-action being necessary. With the ever evolving world of marketing, B2B organisations need to open their eyes to branded videos that tell stories, rather than focusing on more short-term wins.

Video success
One thing’s clear – video success doesn’t mean views, and might not even mean viral in B2B marketing. In order to measure success B2B marketers need to set out clear objectives of what they want to achieve, outline deadlines, understand who they want to reach and implement a measurable call-to-action.

Success is not views but engagement. This includes click-throughs, likes, discussion and shares. It’s not as simple as monitoring these numbers, marketers need to dig deeper and discover what their audience is saying: do they like the video? Who are they sharing it with? And if they dislike it – why?

Following this route, Vilhelmsson of Volvo Trucks explains the success a viral video can bring: “The [Volvo Trucks] viral films now have over 100 million views on YouTube. We have reached an earned media of 126 million. More importantly, our survey among truck buyers confirms that the films have created great engagement for the Volvo Trucks in the actual target group. Nearly half of those who saw the film say they are more likely to consider buying a Volvo Truck.”

Yet, successful video doesn’t mean masses of views. Glenn Woolaghan, UK SMB director, small & mid-market solutions & partners at Microsoft, explains: “‘Every cloud has a silver lining: the future of cloud computing for SMBs’ campaign that Famous4Communications created for Microsoft and our partner e-know.net , was all about educating SMBs on using cloud computing to grow their businesses. We featured a customer advocate in the recruitment sector, which was a key audience. Then over the last 12 months the video has been seeded with target SMB social media, key online press, opinion formers and bloggers. This has driven over 3000 views on YouTube to relevant decision-makers in professional services. The campaign has resulted in winning two new customers in the legal and recruitment sectors on three year contracts worth over £240,000 per annum.”

Successful video comes in all shapes and sizes. Viral may not be the right route for all B2B brands, but this doesn’t mean organisations shouldn’t be creating effective video content that drives sales. A recent B2B Marketing and ITN Productions study showed 78 per cent of B2B brands plan to use video in their marketing in the next 12 months. Marketers should grab this creative opportunity. This doesn’t mean implementing a rigid call-to-action as part of a larger campaign, but rather showcasing your brand by telling a story that will get your audience talking and sharing online. The future may not be viral, but it certainly is bright.

Want to create a viral video? Read our top tips now>> 

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