Written by: George Gergi
Brand management has suffered tremendous changes with the rise of social media in which it is expected a certain level of interaction from the consumer and the brands (Gensler et al., 2013). Trends tend to change overtime, and as that happens there is room for new platforms that relate to the consumers’ preferences such as the use of social media which has gathered the attention of consumers and brands. Social media enables users to share content across the web and includes blogs, forums and social platforms such as: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram (Singh and Sonnerburg, 2012). Vernuccio (2014) presents that recent research on Internet branding has described an increase in brand promotion through social media platforms. Organizations and brands have learned to optimize their marketing strategies in accordance to the trends change. Sharing content is part of the everyday life now where people share stories with each other, send pictures, forward news articles, restaurant reviews (Berger and Milkman, 2011) or simply ‘tag’ their friends on social media posts, as the younger generation does.
Facebook (2016) has announced that there are 1.59 billion active users every month on the social media site, 900 million on WhatsApp and 400 million on Instagram. As many of these users are consumers, the brands and the organizations behind it are taking advantage of the power of social media to what could potentially constitute a major spread of a promotional activity such as a viral video. When a company decides to implement a viral video strategy in order to spread a message, promote a product or service, the main thing to consider is the audience, whereas they must have a social media presence with a large number of social media contacts (Malthouse et al., 2013). A viral video is a type of video that becomes popular when it is shared across the Internet, from Twitter mentions to YouTube and Facebook shares and views (PCMag.com, 2016). Some videos can become viral without any intention while others are tweaked and constructed upon the sole purpose of becoming viral, most commonly a humor twist is attached to the video. According to the numbers previously presented, the social media users constitute of a major audience for brand promotion and once there is a big buzz surrounding a topic or a brand, all the shares and electronic word-of-mouth can lead to a video going viral, simulating a domino like effect.
One can argue, why electronic word of mouth and the use of social media as opposed to traditional content sharing? Berger and Milkman (2011) defend that those methods in particular are viewed as cheaper alternatives and can also be more effective. If one of my friends was to share a video with me, without hesitation, I would watch it, and the reason is that, there is already a feeling of trust present between me and the other person who shared the content. Furthermore, this constitutes to a free method of branding whereas the company behind a certain video relied upon electronic word-of-mouth, which in return can have a positive impact upon the brand in question.
One way for organizations that want to take advantage of social media in their promotional campaigns is the use of YouTube to run advertisement videos (Malthouse et al., 2013). With the growth of YouTube as a social media platform, there is a group within the YouTube community who has amassed a large number of followers, and by large, it comprises of millions and millions of subscribers. A common method for brands that want to launch a viral video is to partner with popular YouTubers as their channels have millions of subscribers and constitute of a major audience and exposure. There are several factors that can “make or break” a viral video, the major success factors associated with a viral video are: cute factor, humor, emotional response and music (Edition.cnn.com, 2016). Berger and Milkman (2011) have studied the effect and relationship of emotions and virality, whereas a video with positive content is more likely to go viral than one with negative content. The social media effect is present because when a certain clip or video evokes different feelings and triggers emotions such as happiness or excitement, an individual tends to share the emotion with others, and that occurs by sharing the video through different social media platforms.
Telling stories can be seen as a way to evoke feelings and to provide a theme that enables conversations between the consumers and the brands (Singh and Sonnerburg, 2012). Incorporating a story into a video is essential because not only it helps to trigger emotions but also the viewer can relate to the story being shared, thus creating a personal connection with the brand in question.
The traditional form of brand awareness is measured through tracking studies and surveys but in a different manner when social media is involved (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). Evaluating the success and ROI of viral videos across social media can be challenging, as the view count does not directly reflect in potential sales when it is a product promotion in question. The general rule on YouTube is that the reputation of the videos is based on ‘view counts’ and ‘ratings’, on Twitter it consists of ‘mentions’, while on Facebook is through ‘likes’ and a company’s goal can be to achieve x views, mentions or likes (Kietzmann et al., 2011). There are several methods that can help to measure the ROI of social media marketing that involves brand awareness, engagement and word of mouth and can include the number of clicks, views, followers, tags, reposts, subscribers, comments among other social metrics (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). However, this can be subjective to the content creator as what the ultimate goal is, if the aim is to create enough buzz on the Internet and let the brand name out by per example getting a video trending on Twitter or on YouTube´s homepage, it can already be evidence of success and significant brand awareness.
Vine, a social media video sharing platform mostly used in the United States is an application where users share 6 second long videos. With its widespread use, it has brought about several so-called ‘Vine stars’ which have gathered millions of followers and have been approached by brands to produce viral videos for them. Recognized brands such as GE and Virgin Mobile have partnered with popular Vine content creators to produce these viral videos and end up getting shared, liked and “revined” reaching out to millions of people and as discussed, the sense of positivity is always present and certainly helps a video to go viral (Pathak, 2013). These content creators are seen as the new influencers of social media and brands recognize it and take advantage of partnership opportunities to produce viral videos to the right audience.
Potential issues that can arise from a video being shared across social media platforms is the inability to control negative comments and word-of-mouth, this issue is reflected when a viral video is shared but with a negative intent, affecting the brand in question. An example of how a viral video circulated around the Internet for the wrong reason was when a singer was flying with United Airlines and he witnessed the airline employees throwing his guitar into the airplane cargo and ended up getting it broken without receiving any compensation. In return, he composed a song titled “United Breaks Guitars” and uploaded it on YouTube and became a viral hit, amassing over 15 million views, that is, negative views for United Airlines with its widespread across social media. In the current social media atmosphere, a critical tweet, blog post or image damaging video can literally cause a decline in sales and a decrease in a company’s stock price (Kietzmann et al., 2011). The same video caused a 10% drop in United’s stock and consequent losses of millions of dollars (Sentium.com, 2011; Gensler et al., 2013). Videos gone viral like the one discussed can make or break a brand, and in this case, it severely affected the reputation of the airline.
Moving on to a more positive outlook, taking advantage of the power of social media and the rise of the YouTube generation, when the intention is to launch a viral video, partnering with a popular YouTube content creator is a solid choice of action. Devin Graham, a popular YouTuber has a following of nearly 4 million people and every video he produces will almost guaranteed go viral. Besides his loyal YouTube subscribers, once its video hits off and starts being shared all across social media, he expects tens of millions of views (Weber, 2015). With the almost certainty of the hits a video might receive, popular brands such as Citibank and Mountain Dew have sponsored videos as a way of increasing their brand awareness in a non-traditional way. A setback when partnering with external content creators can involve a loss of complete control over the brand (Singh and Sonnerburg, 2012. It is, therefore of great importance to develop creative partnerships with the right content creator that can relate to the brands vision.
With the fast rise of social media platforms and consumer engagement, a global spread of a viral video is easier than ever. Berger and Milkman (2011) state that a reason why consumers share stories and news is because of the content and the usefulness of information that can range from news to entertainment and commercial purposes. The presented examples in this paper exemplify the effects that a viral video can have whether it is within the sharing consumers or the subject of the video. When scanning through different articles for this paper (Singh and Sonnerburg, 2012; Berger and Milkman, 2011), the main takeaway is that a viral video is a method of relatively low in cost to let a message out and create brand awareness while at the same time, includes the opportunity to reach out to a global audience. The ideal viral video should be bold, creative, have a story behind it and most importantly, include a positive message that will trigger the viewers’ emotions and ultimately be shared amongst millions of people.
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