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How to Create Online Viral Videos

  • Pick Your Battles--You can't please everyone, as the saying goes, or create much noise in a crowded room, for that matter. So before filming the first frame, make certain you've got a clear idea of the topic you'd like to cover, and determine the angle you'll take to differentiate your viewpoint from the thousands already cluttering up cyberspace. (As a simple litmus test, just ask yourself: "If I'm an everyday viewer browsing for information on social networking, cloud computing or web hosting services, what's to make my idea stand out among countless others cluttering virtual shelves?") Also consider what form the video should take: news byte, expert interview, testimonials reel, making-of clip, behind-the-scenes documentary, comedic skit, etc. The options here are literally infinite, offering little excuse to skimp on originality. To succeed with video programming (or any content, really, these days), never forget: You need to take a singular, unique approach that instantly makes your program pop off the screen and be memorable in viewers' minds as a result.

  • Take a Stance--Video's greatest strength is arguably the sense of empathy and familiarity it creates between viewers and on-screen individuals. So don't be coy--get out there and make your opinion heard. Mind you, this doesn't mean you have to be rude, obnoxious or controversial--just engaging enough to catch someone's ear and convey your own unique sense of personality. It isn't just about connecting with an audience, or more effectively getting a point across. It also comes down to establishing a point of view that others can discuss, debate and/or galvanize behind. If all you're saying is what's on the teleprompter, or something audiences can get from dozens of other media outlets, what's to make you intriguing or noteworthy? Positive, negative, completely off the wall pick a perspective, and run with it. After all, why should anyone bother tuning in and listening if you're not speaking up and saying something of interest?

  • Grab Viewers' Attention--Between constant interruptions from social networks, buzzing BlackBerrys and everyday work and life happenings, audiences' spare time is shorter and attention span more divided than ever. So if you don't excite or engage them in the first 5 to 15 seconds, maybe it's time to rethink your approach. The opening seconds of any video should be brisk, arresting and straight to the point, delivering both the program's key message upfront as well as a taste of what's to come. To this extent, exciting teaser shots, tempting hooks and energetic personalities can all work wonders, as can the promise of must-see testimonials, lessons and viewpoints. Translation: Go big upfront or go home, and don't slack off on the back end either, as failure to maintain a sense of pacing or excitement quickly leads to viewer fatigue and attrition. If this means making clips shorter (we've found 90 seconds to three minutes to be an ideal length for short-form Web content), so be it. The key is always to say more with less, be it pictures or cutting insights.

  • Don't Overdo It--You don't need glossy production values, high-concept setups or fancy editing tricks to engage audiences on the web, where a more raw, more organic form of dialogue is encouraged. That doesn't mean you should skimp on quality--nothing shatters suspension of disbelief or takes a viewer out of the experience quicker than poor audio, worse lightning or a bevy of other technical hiccups. Scenarios and subjects should seem naturally compelling. Likewise, dialogue should feel normal and off-the-cuff--the same way it would when talking to friends, colleagues or associates in real life. Not only are today's audiences smarter, better informed and more empowered than ever--they're also more likely to not identify with quips which come off as too canned, or spray-tanned hosts who hope to substitute slick talk for substance. Ultimately, what you're simply trying to do is package and present an intriguing product that speaks to others in a language they can understand. And--especially for more informal items like brief hands-on product demos, event-based coverage, video blogs and office tours--that doesn't mean having to dress everything up with fancy scripts, snazzy animations or mind-blowing 3-D special effects.

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