Most Marketers Don’t Even Know What ‘Viral’ Means

Most Marketers Don’t Even Know What ‘Viral’ Means

A branded video that goes ‘viral’ will often see the marketer bursting into the CEO’s office, hand raised for a high-five. However, Karen Nelson-Field, director and associate professor at the Centre for Digital Video Intelligence said marketers don’t really understand what the term ‘viral’ means.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

The many highly-viewed videos from big name brands such as Dove’s Beauty Sketches and Old Spice are mistakenly called ‘viral’ videos, Nelson-Field told B&T.

For the professor, ‘viral’ means: “True virality is gaining more shares than expected given the views achieved, it is not simply a title for videos that are highly viewed due to seeding efforts.”

The term ‘seeding’ in the context of viral videos means brands pay agencies that specialise in seeding to make sure people see the video on high traffic sites such as YouTube or Facebook.

For example, a YouTube video might have gained several thousand views which the brand behind the clip would be expecting a certain number of people to share the content on other platforms. However, when these shares go beyond expectations, this is what is deemed ‘viral’.

It’s a ratio of many views to one share. The average ratio, according to Nelson-Field and her research, is 24 views to one share, 24:1. If a brand starts seeing 20 views to one share or 10 views to one share, this is what would be deemed ‘viral’.

Understandably, many assume the term ‘viral’ is similar in meaning to the viral epidemic – one person starting with it and then sharing it among many, but realistically that couldn’t happen online. A brand wouldn’t be able to have one view to 20 shares for example – it physically doesn’t work as those 20 people would have to have viewed the piece of content.

However, when thinking about viral videos, many people land on the big brand videos such as Dove Sketches and Old Spice. Nelson-Field explained how many of them have paid for seeding in order to get the views up and therefore letting it take off.

This is where many marketers become unstuck with trying to make viral videos, said Nelson-Field, adding quite a few “just post and pray that this piece of content will be different and fly beyond all expectations”.

“This is rare,” she said.

It is difficult though to tell whether a big name brand has actually paid for seeding or not, and whether the views achieved legitimately mean the video is ‘viral’. Many big media won’t know unless it’s stated.

Regardless, if it’s good creative and the people like it, share away.