Serious Content can be Viral Content

Two recent events show that serious content can go viral. First, Youtube celebrated its seventh birthday and second, the Royal Society of Arts in the UK launched its latest animated film.

What’s the link between the two? Youtube provides the platform to enable large-scale creation, viewing and sharing of content and the RSA is an example of an organisation that understands how to make serious content go viral.

With the seventh birthday of Youtube comes some eye-watering numbers – you can see more of these on the Jeff Bulas blog.

  • 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute
  • More than four billion videos are viewed a day
  • More thn 800 million unique users visit YouTube each month
  • More than three billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube

And we know that of these uploads and views, content that makes us laugh or is unusual or unexpected gets shared a lot.

Just take a look at some of the most watched videos on Youtube. If you have a child doing something funny, a cat playing an instrument or someone doing some crazy dance moves then you are on to a winner.

The proof is in some of the most watched videos on Youtube:

But there is also a place for serious content to be shared. Youtube itself has recently launched an education channel and a human rights channel. And Ted Talks – the hugely popular ideas channel – has also launched its education channel – TED Ed – on Youtube. Videos on the best of TED Talks channel on Youtube – TEDtalksDirector – have had more than 115 million views.

So there is an appetite for serious content. The challenge is: how to do it? Which brings me back to the animated films produced by the RSA. The RSA has used animator Andrew Park to turn serious ideas and books into short animated films. It’s most recent film, The Power of Networks, is pushing 100, 000 views but its big success was the animation of Steven Pink’s book Drive which has had more than eight million views.

Here is a formula that works – animating serious ideas. It is simple and the format and style of the films means they are easy to consume. Another great example of this type of content is The story of stuff, again putting a book into an easy-to-consume format.

Creating animated films does not come cheap – it costs thousands of pounds to produce a five-minute film – but films such as Drive demonstrate that serious ideas can be made more accessible and shareable.

The creative challenge for an organistion is to be able to identify themes and ideas in what you do and figure how they could be visualised.

And that’s only the start. Kevin Alloca, trends manager at Youtube, provided some insights on what makes video go viral. The three key elements are:

  1. Tastemakers – influencers who will share your content
  2. Communities of participation – connecting with others who will spread it or doing something new with it.
  3. Unexpectedness – unique and unexpected content

This provides a whole new area of opportunity for creators of serious content  – opening up knowledge expertise to others who want to participate and potentially collaborate to make something new with it.

It is very positive to see the growth in popularity of serious content and this provides a huge opportunity for organisations that have a more serious message to share. The answer is not necessarily to produce an animated film, it is however to have a good look at what you do and how you can emulate some of the more successful approaches to creating serious and engaging content.  

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