4 Essential Data Points for Viral Videos

A viral video is every marketer’s dream. In a spot that takes a matter of minutes, their message can be seen and shared by billions of people in literally seconds. There’s never been a more effective, faster or unstoppable way of advertising to the entire world than a viral video, which is what makes them notoriously hard to dissect. However, there are things we can learn from what makes them click. Here’s a look at some of the important data points for viral videos.

How Long Do People Spend Watching Viral Videos?

When analyzing viral videos, there are a few criteria to consider to measure their effectiveness. The cumulative time spent watching the video is one such tool. For example, the Harlem Shake meme was incredibly popular in the early part of 2013. By one set of calculations, people spent a total of 2,782 years watching various Harlem Shake videos on sites like YouTube. The brevity of the videos – roughly 30 seconds each – undoubtedly helped, as the very nature of viral content is that it appeals to a general public with attention spans that are being pulled in multiple directions. The shorter the video, the higher the likelihood that people will watch it.

Another factor that measures the success of viral videos is how often they are shared. Everyone from private uploaders to record industry executives pays very close attention to the popularity statistics on social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Every single ‘Like’, ‘Share’ or e-mail indicates a new potential customer, a new potential launching pad for a new round of sharing.

Going back to the Harlem Shake example, even other short advertisements, like those shown during the Super Bowl, couldn’t hold a candle to the popularity of the Harlem Shake: only 7.9 million views to the 24.8 million of a number of Harlem Shake videos, and average ‘Likes’ on YouTube of 20,500 against 127,000 for the Harlem Shake.

Choosing The Right Moment To Go Viral

Even when the video is released, and watched, becomes a key data point. Some videos (particularly the shorter ones) might be more popular during the workweek, as employees become bored and look online for distractions. Knowing when an audience is most likely to be on YouTube (or any other sharing platform) is key. It’s comparable to television networks scheduling popular programs for weekday evenings, when people get off work, and moving unpopular or failing programs to Friday night, when people are less likely to watch television.

Know Your Audience

A data point of importance to viral marketers is understanding the kinds of people who are most likely to share the content. Videos featuring cats, for example, are targeted to animal lovers, in the hope that they will share the video with other animal lovers in their social or professional circles.

However, sharing a cat video in a sports category, and assuming that it will go viral anyway, will get you nowhere. In a profile of a company using business intelligence to make viral video predictions, Forbes magazine points out that a large audience is not the same thing as an ideal demographic. Go for quality of audience rather than sheer size of it; you’ll get better website traffic, higher quality leads, and less wasted time and hassle on low-quality ones.


Viral videos are the holy grail of online marketing, but it’s not easy to predict what will go viral. Popular viral videos range from the Harlem Shake to “Charlie Bit My Finger” and there seems to be few connections between each one other than the stars aligning (ie, these four data points aligning). If you’re going for a viral video, keep these points in mind, and good luck! If you get lucky, you just might strike internet gold.