Why do most people mistakenly think that VIDEOS are what goes viral?
When people ask me what I do for a living, I typically mention something about viral growth mechanics and growth engineering. Most people smile, nod, and inevitably ask the same question:
So when you say “viral” . . . you mean like a viral video?
YouTube’s imprint on society is ever apparent.
Much like the common misconceptions that every type of facial tissue is a Kleenex, YouTube has created ubiquity with terms they’ve coined describing parts of their viral loop. Before YouTube, nobody would have associated the word “viral” with the term “viral video.”
I Say Viral, You Say Video
In all likelihood, before YouTube, people would have thought of something a bit more obvious in response to hearing that I was a “viral growth engineer.” Like maybe a virus? But now, thanks to YouTube, no one associates what I do with transmitting infectious diseases. (Admittedly, this is a good thing.)
Don’t get me wrong – I love this. It allows me to do my job without my family constantly thinking I work for the CDC. However, it does breed a misconception that can hinder the effectiveness of a company’s viral marketing. Which I do not love.
Let’s get one thing clear: When a video gets spread across the web, the video is NOT what’s going viral.
So what is?
The Incredible Embeddable Product
Embedding describes the ability to take a 3rd party product, and plaster it right into your product as if it were a native part of the user experience. On the web, this often happens when the 3rd party product provides code that users can copy and paste onto their own website. (Such as a video player or an interactive tool.) By doing this, that 3rd party product now lives on the user’s website as a native feature.
Embedding was a key reason why YouTube blew up seemingly overnight. It allowed them to spread virally early on in their lifecycle. However, they didn’t stop at just embedding.
They made one key addition that transformed plain-old embedding into embedded viral marketing.
What YouTube Did
YouTube didn’t start out as a video platform. Originally they tried to be a dating service similar to Hot or Not, which had recently taken off as a massive viral sensation. YouTube wanted in on that viral action, but rather than providing images, they decided to show videos. (Everyone knows it’s easier to judge hotness when it’s moving. That’s just math.)
However, the founders quickly saw that most of their users were using the product for one of its more innovative features – uploading and streaming videos. They wisely made the decision to “listen” to this feedback and embrace the trend.
After that, YouTube went to work. Soon they came up with a platform that provided a quick, easy, and free way to upload your own videos onto the Internet without having to host them yourself. You could then watch the video and share it with others via a link to that video’s hosted page on YouTube’s website.
Alternatively, you could grab the embed code and paste it onto your own website.
As you can see in the image above, three options appeared after a video was done playing:
- Play the video again.
- Copy the link of the video to send it to friends, or link text to it on a web page.
- Copy the embed code to paste in so visitors could stream the video right on your web page.
This simple offering was revolutionary. Not only could users benefit from a ready-made video player, but they didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to host a large file on their site.
Why Embedding Worked for YouTube
First and foremost, the entire platform offered substantial value to YouTube’s market. Their product solved a real problem users were experiencing (namely that it often took hours or days to download a video file and often even longer to send one), and they solved it in a simple, low-friction way.
Sending links to hosted pages was a massive viral hit. However, the true power was in the embedding of the video player on a user’s website. Suddenly, YouTube’s player hijacked the audiences of every single website who decided it wanted to add a video, thereby exposing their product offering to millions upon millions of people practically overnight.
But the embedding itself wasn’t the secret sauce. Remember when I mentioned above how they didn’t stop at just embedding? Nope, like an true viral superstar they took it to the next level:
- YouTube’s player showed their logo on the bottom corner of every embedded video.
- This logo was linked back to the hosted version of the same video on YouTube’s own site. Neither the embedder nor the visitor minded because it was still showcasing the same content when clicked, and the visitor was able to consciously decide to seek more information IF they chose (i.e. it wasn’t forced down their throat).
- After every video – whether embedded or hosted – YouTube’s player provided a shareable link and an embed code. The shareable link would ALWAYS point to the hosted page rather than the page it was embedded on.
Most importantly, everything was always done through the guise of users making conscious decisions. Nowhere in this experience were users shown anything they didn’t want to see, and nowhere were they routed somewhere they didn’t want to go.
A Voluntary Nudge in a Profitable Direction
The path a viewer takes while watching a YouTube video is always voluntary, but it ALWAYS leads back to Youtube’s website. Once there, visitors discover even more videos, as well as learn how to upload their own.
In a nutshell, a video on YouTube functioned as what’s called “viral media.” This is the content shared by a user to a friend in order to effectively demonstrate the value of the product. In Youtube’s case, the viral media was essentially a way to demo the value and function of their video player to millions of people.
So I ask again, if the video is NOT what’s going viral, what is?
With every video that’s uploaded and shared, YouTube are the ones who leverage their own loyal users to proactively expose or infect new users (or reinfect dormant users).
Key Mechanics of Embeddable Viral Marketing
The short and sweet definition of embeddable viral marketing is to embed tools and/or content that adds value to users WHILE serving as a demo of your product. This includes generating a link that allows additional users to add the tool and/or content themselves.
The content is typically the viral media, not the product itself. The viral media serves as a vessel through which to demo the product. This viral media (which we’ll get into more later on) can take a few different shapes:
- It can be internal or curated. Such as the sharing tool from SumoMe.
- It can be user-generated in real time. Such as the conversation in a live chat tool like Olark.
- It can be user-generated prior to being embedded. Such as a video from YouTube or a slide-based presentation from Slideshare.
When new users see embedded viral media, the content (ideally) adds value to them in various ways. This value is independent of the product showcasing it. The product adds extra value by showcasing the media in a specific way. The media itself can be a utility for entertainment, education, or anything in between. But the way it’s consumed is always dictated by the product that allows it to be consumed.
Let Viral Media Show You The Way
Some users who see viral media instantly think of scenarios where they could do something similar for their own purposes. This is where having the logo and link included in an unobtrusive way becomes valuable. This subtle branding provides users a quick and easy roadmap to where they can learn more and potentially use the tool themselves.
The viral loop often looks something like this:
- You add viral media to a product you plan to embed (if applicable).
- You embed the product within your own product.
- Your users gain value from the embedded product through interacting with the media it contains.
- A subset of those users see the value of the product and want to use it as well.
- Those users click the linked logo and proceed to the embedded product’s site.
- Those users embed the same tool on their site with their own context-specific viral media.
- Rinse and repeat.
Can you see how powerful something like this can become? If your product is valuable to users, your linked path back to your site is unobtrusive, and you listen to users and adapt to optimize this process, the sky is the limit.
You are likely starting to see some strong similarities between the various forms of viral marketing. We started with inherent viral marketing and have now just finished going over the fifth type, each one leading into the next.
Likewise, the next method we’ll dive into has quite a few things in common with embeddable viral marketing. But it DOES possess a few key differences that can affect who can implement it and how it can be enacted.
How Did WordPress and Zendesk Grow to Become Market Leaders?
Both WordPress and Zendesk are leaders in their respective fields. But this wasn’t always the case. Early on each one started with a scrappy team, a dream, and a very powerful from of viral marketing.
- Cycle Time: What the Primary Defense Mechanism of Rabbits Can Teach You About Growth - March 15, 2016
- Viral Infection: How the CDC Can Make You a Viral Marketing Savant - March 4, 2016
- Viral Communication Marketing – How Apple, MailChimp and Hootsuite Used Hotmail to Inspire Explosive Growth - June 25, 2015