How to make a video go viral

The most viewed video The Sun has ever put out on its social channels shows the reunion of a man and his mother, who he hasn’t seen for ten years.

It’s a lovely video, shot by his girlfriend on a phone. It shows the man, Jeffrey, coming home and being surprised by his younger brother, who he hasn’t seen for four years. Hugs and laughter ensue. But the real surprise is yet to come. He turns around and sees his mum hiding in the kitchen. He says “Maman” and collapses to his knees in tears. He hasn’t seen his mum, from Gabon, for a decade since he moved to America.

The video captures human emotions most of us feel – love for our mother, sadness at being far away from our loved ones and happiness at seeing them again.

It has been viewed more than 55 million times through our Facebook page, and shared 850,000 times.

It’s a video bought from a licensed dealer, edited and subtitled. It would have been nigh on impossible to recreate in a studio.

But there is a lesson to be learnt when approaching branded content.

If you want your branded content to be shared organically, or virally, across social platforms, then you’ve got to learn a bit from the real successes, otherwise you can end up creating an expensive video that no one wants to watch or share.

Emotion is a good motivator. Make someone cry, or laugh, and you’ve got a good chance of success. For sadness or hope, use real people, because social consumers aren’t mugs – they can spot actors a mile off.

Making people laugh is another matter. Unless you have hilarious user-generated content licensed from a provider such as Storyful, use good comedy talent. Making people laugh is harder than making people cry.

If you can, try to embrace identity. There’s an old adage in social media – write an article about left-handers and every left-handed person who comes across it will share it.

One of The Sun’s most successful video news stories we made was about a day celebrating redheads called Ginger Fest. Every viewer who knew a ‘ginger’ was linking them in the comments. It was watched four million times.

Make your content viewable with no sound, always use subtitles and make it ready for mobile, which means thinking about the size of the text.

Nine out of ten of The Sun’s videos are watched with no volume, 89 per cent are watched on a mobile.

Also, make sure you grab readers in the first two seconds. You are competing with a million other videos and the shrinking attention spans of time-starved millennials.

Quickly give them a reason to watch, whether it’s an intriguing question, an amazing opening shot or a two-second ultimatum. If you don’t get them early, you’ve lost them.

But the most important rule for social video is a really simple one – ask yourself “Would I watch this if it wasn’t an ad?”

So many pieces of branded content are shoehorned into brand mission statements, key messaging and horrible product placement. In all that fuzz of trying to create something that hits home the brand, what you end up with is a video that no one really wants to watch because, well, it looks like an advert.

Make a great piece of content first, and figure out the branding afterwards.