- The Signal
- The Formula for Virality
The Formula for Virality
Why optimizing for Virality is the wrong approach
I’ve made over 26 videos this year that have gotten over 1M views.
Several have hit the 3-4M mark, and one video even hit 34M views on Twitter.
I have discovered that there is a formula for going viral with your content. Of course, it’s not guaranteed – but it dramatically improves your chances.
That formula lies in the 5 common denominators that the 26 viral videos share in common, which I’ll outline below.
I’ll also be discussing, whether going viral is even worth it. In many instances, the answer is no – not really.
Let’s get into it.
Pillar 1: Novelty
Being the first, or one of the first, to share something that people haven’t seen before has been my most successful strategy in 2023.
As an example, my Kanye AI rap video did so well because it was the first time most people were introduced to AI-assisted vocals. The video went viral on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. The novelty of it was the main driver its success.
In fact, it was so unique that it was covered by hundreds of media outlets, famous YouTubers, podcasts, etc.
The same applies to a lot of my other AI content. When I posted videos regarding voice cloning technology, idea-to-design, autonomous AI agents, etc. – it was often the very first time the viewers were exposed to that thing.
If you want to go viral online, lean into novelty. This is one of the key elements of Mr. Beast’s success as well. Almost every idea behind all of his videos, are incredibly unique. Oftentimes, it’s the first time an audience has seen the likes of it.
Pillar 2: Emotional Connection
Triggering specific emotions is certainly a key element to garnering more views. Leaning into controversy, playing into people’s fears, etc. is a sure-fire strategy to increase your views.
The problem is – it can be abused – leading to gimmicky, annoying content that I would argue impacts your brand oftentimes more negatively than it does positively.
Now, I have a strategy where this can be employed effectively. You can hook the viewer in with the emotional trigger – but then over-deliver on the content.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
In this video, I use fear to hook people in. There is a dangerous scam going around the Internet that can hurt you and your loved ones. A gimmicky hook perhaps, but I overdeliver on the value. This scam is indeed a growing, and real threat, and people were happy to receive this information. It was shared over 120,000 times on Instagram alone.
In this video, I declare
To use the Kanye video example again, I leaned into people’s fears. The music industry is forever changed. Jobs may be at risked. You need to understand this paramount shift. Again – the video overdelivered. It wasn’t just an empty gimmick. It detailed a technological breakthrough that has disrupted the industry.
I also triggered an emotional response by writing specifically controversial lyrics, and then saying that it should win a Grammy. This enraged a lot of people, who made sure I knew how terribly horrible and untalented of a human I was. Not saying I am proud of the techniques, but wanted to outline what made that specific video so successful. It encapsulated all 5 of the pillars outlined in this post perfectly.
Pillar 3: Storytelling
I think learning to tell a great story is the most important skill any creator can possess.
If you can pair storytelling with the other pillars, you further increase the chances of a piece of content’s success.
For example, this story I told on Anatoly was also timely – since he is one of the fastest growing and most trending content creators of the moment. The video did over 5 million views on TikTok and almost 3 million on Instagram.
Tell a great story, and your videos will perform well. Because average view duration is KING. Retention is the game.
A good story consists of a hook, set-up, conflict and resolution. The hook being by far and away the most important. You need to get the attention of a viewer within a few seconds.
Pillar 4: Timeliness
Another way to increase your chances of going viral, is speed paired with timeliness.
As an example, when the Vision Pro was announced, I was perhaps the first person to create a quality short-form video covering it in depth. The video was posted to Instagram and TikTok within 45 minutes of the announcement, where it did 1.1M and 1.7M views.
More recently, I was the first person to post a video showing off Threads to TikTok, posted only a minute after Zuck’s announcement. The timeliness led to 1.2 million views.
Covering relevant topics that have captured the attention of a populace and have gone viral is another element to this pillar.
As an example, I made a video covering information on the Titanic Sub as that situation was unfolding, that did close to 4M views. It was an experiment for me – I went away from my normal content covering emerging tech, content and creativity in order to test the algorithm. It worked. It is the formula that Dylan Page uses (combined with entertainment value and a great personality) to drive extreme virality to all of his videos.
Pillar 5: Entertainment Value
This is a large bucket, that can encompass many things. Shock value, humor, leaning into cultural moments and trends – there are endless ways to make a video entertaining.
My content generally focuses on education, so I won’t dive to deep into this bucket since it’s not currently my wheelhouse.
But inspiration is certainly a component of this pillar.
I leaned into this a lot in 2023, with great results. This video animation encourages people to break their mental hurdles.
But many of the most successful creators on the planet lean heavily into entertainment.
Now let’s talk about whether going viral is even worth it.
Views for the sake of views are quite pointless, no? If I wanted to maximize views, I would just lean into as much controversy and fear as possible, or just create a high-volume of content on trending news and stories.
But, what is the point of generating so much attention, without a strategy in place? Views aren’t cash. Where are you leading all of the attention to?
You don’t want to optimize purely for virality. You want to optimize for depth. You want to optimize for substance. Your end-goal should be to strengthen the relationship you have with the viewer by making their life better in some way.
Another thing to consider.
Unless you are making content purely for fun, there is likely a financial motive behind your content. There are really only two ways to make money. You are either selling a digital or physical product or service. Or, you’re helping someone else sell theirs.
In order to drive commerce to your product or service, you want to build yourself as an authority in that industry.
As an example, I am currently driving attention to a generative-AI powered platform for creators, Eluna. So I make content based around AI and content creation, which is effective at driving traffic to that SAAS product.
So an example of a viral video that likely did a disservice to me, was the Titanic Sub video I referenced earlier. 3.6 million views, and thousands of followers from it. The problem is, when I go back to my bread and butter content and publish an AI video, the followers accrued from this video will likely not be interested. So when TikTok pushes the video out to a small subset of them to algorithmically decide whether to continue boosting it – it will work against me.
Hope that makes sense.
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Also, if you’re interested in learning how to create effective and retentive content, developing a personal brand and audience and building leverage for yourself in this new digital economy, check out Unsigned.