How do you create a viral video?
I am asked this quite a lot. I’ve been asked by authors, TV producers, and first-time Kickstarter entrepreneurs. In my experience, the answers are the same for all of them.
In this post, I’ll deconstruct one example: The 4-Hour Chef (4HC) book trailer, which is now the most-viewed non-fiction book trailer of all time. Roughly 1.5 million views and counting.
Before we dig in…
First, let’s make a distinction: creating a “viral” video is not the same a creating a “popular” video, but both can be valuable.
If you use ads to drive 1,000,000+ views, a video is not viral; it is popular. If your views come from organic sharing (or incentivized sharing like DropBox), it can be considered viral.
This post is also intended as a companion to my post, Behind the Scenes: How to Make a Movie Trailer for Your Product (or Book), which goes into equipment, planning, and (tons of) other details that I’ve omitted here.
For later — below are resources that will save you a TON of time and tail-chasing…
Feel free to skip the box for now if you like:
Good blog posts on the topic, probably in this order:
Now, without further ado, here’s how we got ~1.5 million views for my latest book trailer…
Step 1: Storyboarding
This is like creating a comic book for the trailer, scene by scene. It’s the same process used by Pixar, among many others (video example here).
Here was my first stab for 4HC:
Optional Step 2: If Budget Allows, Assemble a Team
For the 4HC trailer, I brought in several specialists to help with production and promotion.
Please note that a team is nice-to-have and not must-have insurance. To date, my most viral video had zero budget. Here’s what gets you 4-5 million views:
That said, I like to tilt the odds in my favor whenever possible. Here’s my A-Team for doing so when funds allow:
– Directing and post-production – Adam Patch
– PR strategy and implementation – Ryan Holiday and BrassCheck
– Marketing, YouTube influencers, and experimental campaigns – Mekanism (Thanks, Jason and team!)
But how do you choose someone like Adam, if it’s not Adam? You ask for proposals, of course.
Typically, before you hire a production lead like Adam (who also acts as a general contractor for the production team), they will put together a proposal or “treatment”, which includes an itemized budget.
For 4HC, since I’d worked with Adam before, things started with my storyboarding and an in-person lunch with Adam.
Below is the 4HC “treatment,” cobbled together from our subsequent emails and conversations. It gives you a good idea of what you might expect you see:
Step 3: Shot List and Logistics
Once you agree on look and feel, you have to roll up your sleeves: it’s time to scout locations, find talent (if needed), and choose specific shots for a to-do list (the “shot list”) that you check off as you film.
Special thanks to Chris Young and the amazing ChefSteps team for letting us use their Mr. Wizard-like food lab in Seattle. We shot the entire trailer in Seattle as a result. Here’s the kind of fun we had (see first 15 secs):
Our full shot list is below. Note that “CU” stands for “close-up”, and “TT” stands for “tabletop”.
Step 4: Shooting Principal Footage
Not much to say here, other than shoot a TON of material when you have the chance. It’s easier to edit down than to add extra shooting days.
Below an example of original footage that will be magically changed in the next step. Here we used one of my favorite books as a stand in:
Step 5 – Editing
The first step is to cut down hours of footage into 120 or fewer seconds. This is tough but important work.
If you make the finished product look polished enough for broadcast, you might have opportunities (or make opportunities) to get it on major TV. Here’s the process I used to get bookings.
The 4-Hour Chef trailer was featured as my introduction on everything from Dr. Oz to The Hallmark Channel. It’s the perfect adrenaline rush and sales pitch wrapped into one. Especially for short-form TV interviews — typically 3-4 minutes total, with multiple hosts — you’ll be strained to get a word in edgewise. It’s fantastic to let your video hit the talking points, doing the sales job for you.
Now you have a “rough cut” of the trailer. This is first draft, without graphics or special effects.
Once the footage, cuts, and order of scenes is agreed upon, you arrive at “picture lock,” which means that the footage and length can’t be changed. Only at this point does it make sense for anyone to create time-consuming graphics, animation, or sync’d music. Something like this, for instance:
Here’s the complete progression from first “draft” to finished product. Can you tell what changes in each version?
Now that you’ve taken a shot, here’s the full commentary from Adam, taking you though it step-by-step:
And how exactly does Adam work his magic?
Let’s watch how Adam edits the opening atrium scene in The 4-Hour Body trailer, which also has roughly 1,000,000 views. But first, take a look at the finished trailer and notice the opening shot of me at my desk:
Now, we go behind the scenes:
Step 6 – Music
For The 4-Hour Body trailer, I chose music first (Splinter by Sevendust), which I then set visuals to. This turned out to be a licensing headache marathon, and I explain the whole how-to process here. And that was with the band offering it for free! For this new 4HC video, we had custom music produced after the video was complete. The talented Luis Dubuc provided a sync’d jam, and we were ready to roll. No fuss, no muss.
Step 7 – Launch and Promote
First, a super basic note on uploading. ENSURE YOUR VIDEO CAN BE VIEWED ON MOBILE DEVICES!
25% of global YouTube views come from mobile devices. I screwed this up for The 4-Hour Body trailer, and I’ve been unable to reverse the mistake and make it viewable on mobile; as a result, I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of views.
So, avoid being a dumb-ass like me and get it right the first time. Back to launching once you’ve uploaded…
The 4-Hour Chef trailer premiered on HuffPo, then it was reposted to my blog here. When I announced the post my Facebook fan page, we promoted it through FB’s paid mechanism. Notice that this was all done on 11/7/12 and 11/8/12 — roughly two weeks before official book launch on 11/20/12.
One of the most effective promotions I did was a unique BitTorrent bundle of 680MB+ of free content. For the super-low labor involved, it drove fantastic numbers:
Watched the trailer on YouTube: 293K people
Visited the author’s website: 325K people
Visited the book’s Amazon page: 852K people
But that was just one piece of the YT traffic puzzle.
When it comes to YouTube, you need to realize what you’re up against in terms of noise: 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute. To capitalize on the opportunity (it’s the second largest search engine in the world), you need to plan. Spray and pray almost never works — your competition is too good.
So, what to do?
First off, do not split your ammo. If you’re considering ads to help drive traffic, do it when it counts: the first 24 hours, when you can combine it with all PR for a synergistic effect. Momentum begets momentum, and early success begets later success. I often pile nearly all book launch media/interviews into a 5-7 day period (Check out this madness).
Team Mekanism was responsible for 99% of all my YT-related PR and directly and indirectly 50%+ of traffic. BitTorrent and my PR that week make up the rest. Mekanism combined extensive PR outreach with early judicious use of TrueView ads and StumbleUpon traffic (Disclosure: I advise StumbleUpon).
Here’s Mekanism’s explanation of what they did, first as PDF with screenshots, then as text:
Bolded emphasis below is mine:
To help support Tim’s book launch, Mekanism took a three tiered approach: connecting him to relevant online influencers, hosting a contest on Pinterest (to expand his exposure among the female demographic), and promoted content within Slideshare.
[TIM: Slideshare is hugely underused for product launches. We used it for The 4-Hour Body as well.]
To drive widespread awareness of The 4-Hour Chef, Mekanism reached out to credible online influencers to help drive word-of-mouth. Mekanism reached out to bloggers and YouTubers across a variety of verticals relevant to each of the different chapters within the book. For example:
• Food Enthusiasts
• Male Lifestyle
• Science + Tech Bloggers
• Mom Bloggers
In researching outlets and people, Mekanism took an approach very similar to that outlined by Mike Del Ponte in his Hacking Kickstarter post. The key is establishing relationships, and ensuring your content/message is tailored to each individual blogger’s audience. To accomplish this, Mekanism not only crafted custom pitches, but also provided a wealth of assets that could be freely used: exclusive excerpts, interviews with Tim (live or recorded), his video book trailers, images, etc.
Without a doubt, the most engaged audiences were those of several YouTube stars/channels, specifically SourceFed & WheezyWaiter. These appearances led to thousands of comments and likes and contributed to YouTube being the second largest traffic drive to Tim’s target landing pages.
We wanted to see if it was possible to get a deck outlining the benefits of the 4-Hour Chef on the homepage of Slideshare, vis a vis having it rank on Slideshare’s ‘Top Presentation’s of the Day’ section. Slideshare was chosen because it has a well-educated and affluent user base that matches the target consumer of The 4-Hour Chef (69% college grads, 37% have $100k+ HHI).
First, a Slideshare deck was created to outline the benefits/chapters of 4HC. Next, we did the math to determine how many views, and in what period of time, were needed to drive the into the ‘Top Presentation’s of the Day’ section. Based on our observations, it seemed as though 15,000 views within a 24-hour period was likely enough.
Having this understanding of required viewing density, we uploaded our deck and promoted it via paid StumbleUpon ads and drove the content to the homepage of Slideshare via “stumbles,” ensuring everyone visiting the site the day of launch saw the presentation.
Keep in mind that the sum is greater than the parts. Here are more of the parts, written in a report to Tim:
– Made the ‘Hot on Facebook’ and ‘Hot on Twitter’ section (on homepage)
– Was ‘Featured’ (also on homepage)
– Peaked as 2nd most popular presentation last night
-#3 most liked & top favorited ‘How To & Style’ video of the day
-#5 most viewed ‘How To & Style’ video of the day
-#65 top favorited & most liked video on YouTube today (of all videos across all categories)”
The goal of all of this, of course, is to build a rapid view count number that pushes the trailer above the noise. This then propagates into additional organic sharing, all of which sells books.
So, those are the basics of stacking the deck in your favor for online video. Most posts on “virality” are vague generalities, so I wanted to dig into the weeds. Hopefully you like this.
Are there any other details you’d like to see, or questions you’d like answered? Please let me know in the comments.
Posted on: April 10, 2013.
The Tim Ferriss Show is generally the #1 business podcast on iTunes, and it was selected for iTunes' "Best of 2015." Each episode deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. If you want to 10x your productivity, click here.