Youtube Success: The Art of the Share

June 19, 2013
posted by sheric

A guest post from Zeke Iddon with the New York Film Academy

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the job of a marketer to make things go viral. In fact, we can’t make content go viral no matter how much we’d like to…

… only your intended audience has that power.

A misunderstanding of this concept gives rise to scores of marketers and filmmakers spinning their wheels trying to get people to share their project. Most conventional advice on marketing centers around this, and usually comes with the caveat of ‘this is hard work; expect it to take a lot of time and energy.’

In reality, there’s a much easier technique that, at its core, is so simple it sounds like there’s something wrong with it:
A) Make sure you’ve got content people will naturally want to share
B) Remove any obstacles which might prevent them doing so

YouTube really allows for this, especially for filmmakers. But before we get into how easy it is to raise your own YouTube fan base that will propagate your film naturally, let’s look at what might be the finest example of this with a non-movie example.

The Little Guy Becomes the Big Guy

Very recently, video game giants Nintendo decided to muscle in on the ad revenue generated by people playing their games with commentary online (a very popular video genre on YouTube usually dubbed ‘Let’s Play’s). This irked many video creators – while the copyright legality sits squarely in favor of the software company, it’s an unspoken agreement that Let’s Players are entitled to the video ad revenue since the game creator often has their work introduced to a large viewership (sometimes millions) in the process.

Some developers forego the awareness and sales such videos bring by blocking them on copyright grounds, as is their right. However, as you can imagine, Nintendo’s attempt to have their cake and eat it too resulted in a near unanimous boycott of their games amongst video content creators (as well as a lot of rabid fans of these online personalities).

But rewind back to 2009. A bearded Swedish gentleman is working alone on a rather peculiar indie game that doesn’t have much of an objective; it’s a good game but isn’t polished by any stretch of the imagination. He also doesn’t have a single cent for marketing, which makes the game’s chances of commercial success virtually zero.

Four years later, and Minecraft has sold over 20 million copies and personally made its creator, Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, over $100 million dollars.

The reason? Because fans themselves ran amok. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people upload Minecraft gameplay videos regularly and some make a living from it. As the game exploded in popularity purely through word of mouth, competitors by their droves began releasing carbon copies of the game.


What did Notch and his new company do? Well, what he didn’t do was sue or attempt to stop anyone who spread the word of Minecraft, even if they made money off the back of it.

The Take-Away Message

Without wanting to get embroiled in the whole piracy debate, you’ve got to admit that it’s a little bizarre for film companies to spend millions in trying to raise awareness of a movie to as many people as possible, but then spend a similar amount to quash anyone who re-uploads trailers and clips from movies, even in parody form.

copyright block
But let’s assume you’re one of the many who don’t have millions to burn on marketing. Perhaps you’re an amateur indie filmmaker, or a student at the New York Film Academy. As such, you’ll want to nurture an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing your work with others.

Here’s how to go about it.

Put It Out There and Allow Sharing

Make sure you upload plenty of supplementary film material to YouTube – it could be an interview with key crew, a theatrical trailer or five-minute clips from the film itself. It’s vitally important to make it clear that they’ve been released on a Creative Commons license (a great piece on CC for filmmakers can be read here).

CC Oscar

Explicitly state this either in the video description box or with an annotation on the video itself – if doing the latter, use YouTube’s own annotation tool because it can then be easily removed by potential sharers.

A Universal Allure

When it comes to inspiring people to share in the first place, there are three sure-fire ways of increasing the odds. Video content tends to do well if it features one or more of these factors:

1) It’s perceived as being ‘random’, puzzling or intriguing
2) It’s universal (that is, it does not depend on language)
3) It is easy to replicate and parody

There are numerous ways to go about it and only you’ll be able to decide what’s appropriate for your project, but for a good example of a video which tapped all three to great effect look no further than the Harlem Shake meme (and, to a certain extent, Gangnam Style).

Courtesy Speaks Volumes

If someone is invested enough in your work to take the time out to make a video relating to it, hearing from the original creator can totally make his or her day. Set up some Google Notifications to let you know whenever someone posts something related, and be sure to drop by and leave an appreciative message. Not only does this signal to other content creators that you approve of such fan works, but it’s very likely to become a top comment and will lead a lot of viewers back to your profile.

If You Don’t Ask…

It’s hard to quantify the exact figures, but it’s simply a fact that asking people to share has a noticeable impact on viral metrics. Sound obvious? That’s because it is. Why are we offering such seemingly basic advice? Because the amount of people who fail to act on such an intuitive principle is simply staggering.

Why this is the case is a mystery, but it might be something to do with the fear of appearing desperate. This is, in fact, a very real pitfall but it’s one that can easily be avoided – as long as your content is genuinely good, you’ll never need to beg for people to share it. All that’s required is a ‘reminder’ to your audience that they might like to share it with their peers. And be honest about it, too; some of the best calls to action have just been the content creator saying something like “I really hope you enjoyed this – if you did and you think your friends will too, consider sharing it. It really helps me out and lets me know you want to see more.”

And to close off on the point about desperation, nobody drives the point home as well as Matthew Inman does in this Oatmeal comic.

What If Someone Rips Me Off?

The fear of having your work stolen is understandable when you’re putting it out there on a Creative Commons license, but you’ll be pleased to hear it really doesn’t happen very often. If it does, just take it as a sign you’ve done something right and don’t sweat it too much – it’s a small price to pay for viral marketing success.

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