What Makes A Video Go Viral (Besides Cats)?

By Michelle Pitcher
The Dallas Morning News.


Everyone wants to have a viral video.

Since you can’t always find a rollerskating cat when you need one, a former Navy SEAL and a marketing expert are working together to make virality easier to predict and replicate.

Jon Iadonisi, a decorated veteran, is the founder of Dallas-based VizSense, a paid service that allows businesses, personal bloggers and everyday users to track how their videos are performing online. Tad Perryman is executive director of the startup, which officially launched in July.

The software, which is available starting at $20 per month, works by using Twitter data to see whose tweets generate the most video views on YouTube. This allows creators to pinpoint who is responsible for a video’s popularity.

Perryman said VizSense is about seeing who and what make content viral so that success can be duplicated.

For companies, a viral video could reach millions of potential customers who have not been reached by traditional advertising methods.

Perryman has been working with content providers for years as an advertising expert and said he often got clients asking for him to make a viral video.

You can’t make viral, he said. But through VizSense, a video maker can improve the odds.

“The key element to viral videos is the people who are talking about it,” Perryman said. “VizSense is looking at who made the connections and who listened to them.”

Individuals’ ability to share content through social media platforms determines the way information spreads. The team believes people are most likely to share something if they are amused by it, angry about it, or inspired by it.

While serving in Iraq, Iadonisi noted the power of viral videos, particularly those used by terrorist organizations for recruitment.

“We know of a lot of bad guys who were killing my friends, and they were really good at making viral videos,” Iadonisi said. “These videos catalyze, and now we can look at data.”

He likens the cultural influence of viral online content to Michelangelo’s influence during the Renaissance.

“The new canvas is a one and zero,” Iadonisi said. “People paint now in computer code. We’re in a digital Renaissance.”

VizSense was incubated by the White Canvas Group, a Virginia-based company that was bootstrapped by Iadonisi and a partner. It has seven employees in its Dallas office.

The company’s software produces visual representations of the online trails that lead to videos, and the results look a lot like fireworks. These “blooms” allow users to see which Twitter users were able to influence the greatest number of people to watch any public video.

And sometimes the users with the greatest reach aren’t celebrities, the software shows. That could greatly affect how companies invest in social media sponsorships and paid tweets.

While the software program works exclusively with video, company executives say they hope to branch out to other online content so it can be used by a wider variety of content providers.

The implications of the software are far-reaching, it may even allow movie studios to predict their films’ box office performance based on the virality of their trailers.

For their corporate clients, VizSense allows them to not only track their own videos, but their competitors’ videos as well. If a company can pinpoint which social media accounts drive the most business to their competition, it can focus its marketing efforts on that influencer.

VizSense would also allow YouTube users to create their own growth based on targeted marketing methods.

“We’re giving the Justin Biebers of the world the power to deconstruct their popularity,” Iadonisi said.

Fundamentally, VizSense aims to put usable data into users’ hands.

“We’re challenging the spreadsheet,” Iadonisi said.

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