It\u2019s the question you\u2019ve all asked at one time or another: \u201cHow do I make a viral video?\u201d You might think the answer to this question is usually \u201cDumb luck\u201d. You will obviously have an idea about the type of content that\u2019s popular \u2013 maybe it taps into trending issues, or is particularly controversial or \u2018out there\u2019 \u2013 but there\u2019s a massive difference between, say, popular social posts and viral posts. \u00a0Who would have guessed that a cat playing a keyboard was going to blow up the way it did? In fact, with so much content competing for attention, who can ever say for certain a piece of content will hit that hallowed viral climax?\r\n\r\nBut one Melbourne-based production agency seems to have developed a formula for viral content, which has consistently delivered results. The Woolshed Company has created ten videos for its \u2018Viral Experiment\u2019, and every single one of them has gone viral, which loosely speaking means they all surpassed a million views in a couple of days. Managing Director Dave Christison sat down with State of Digital Publishing to talk about how to go viral, and how his business cracked the formula.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThe viral content experiment\r\nThe Woolshed Company has been quietly seeding these videos since 2014 when it released a fake video of a swimmer and a great white shark. The ten pieces have each been the subject of rampant media and social speculation as to their veracity, but the production company has since claimed them as elaborate viral ruses. (In truth, there is still one video unclaimed, so I\u2019ve been trawling YouTube to try to figure out which one it might be. So far I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. What are your thoughts?) The viral posts have received 205 million online views combined, and the number is rising. \r\n\r\nChristison is quick to point out that \u201cyou can never guarantee success because there are so many moving parts\u201d. But ten in a row seems pretty close to a formula for viral content, and he admits as such. He concedes that an eleventh video reached 700,000 views on Facebook, but he considers it a failure because it didn\u2019t reach a million in four days. \r\n\r\n\u201cWe don\u2019t profess to know the answers to everything,\u201d he says. \u201cBut we have tried to culminate the learning of what we know works, and then evolve a process over time.\u201d Far from having a strategy for all kinds of viral content, they seem to have developed a formula for a particular kind of video, namely short social videos that generate debate as to whether they are real or not. Of course, they\u2019ve all turned out to be fake, but before The Woolshed Company went public with its experiment, there were plenty of heated discussions across social media, news sites, and even television.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nWhat are the agency\u2019s key viral content learnings?\r\n\r\n \t Remember, this is entertainment:\r\n\r\n\u201cCreate short, snackable entert,ainment\u201d says Christison. \u201cAll entertainment has a very basic story, so if you can apply a beginning, a middle and an end, no matter how shallow the story, it\u2019s a good start.\u201d\r\n\r\n \t It\u2019s all about the click bait:\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is click bait entertainment,\u201d he says. \u201cYou must have a compelling hook, and you have to be able to condense that down to a single image. If it\u2019s more complicated, then it\u2019s not right. You need a very simple narrative, something you can describe in a couple of words.\u201d \r\n\r\nThe hook is the central element. You want to look for an idea that is unbelievable enough to create debate, but not so unbelievable that it is obviously a fake. \u201cIt is always healthy to create an element of debate because it gives people a reason to re-watch and comment and argue one side or the other. It also gives the media an excuse to run with the story even if they know it isn\u2019t real, because the debate becomes the story.\u201d\r\n\r\n \t It helps to be timely:\r\n\r\nChristison says that it is not always possible to tap into a trending topic, but it will help. \u201cThe perfect example is the Sydney lightning strike video, that was a spontaneous production because storms were raging in Sydney \u2026 Even the snowboarding bear video, we made the girl hum the lyrics to a song which was trending number one on the week we released it. Trying to tap into something like that can always help.\u201d\r\n\r\n \t Develop a strong seeding strategy:\r\n\r\nThe first 24 hours is key, so you need to have your seeding strategy completely figured out in the planning stage. It\u2019s not only about the social channels you use, says Christison, but about the news media you target. \u201cThe key element to it is you have to get the [news] media to run with the story.\u201d He admits that in this sense it is very much like a PR stunt, and the interest of news media is paramount in generating rapid growth in views.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nCan overt branding impact content to go viral?\r\nIf you look at the viral videos produced by The Woolshed Company, you will notice that none of them have overt branding. In fact, only two of the videos were produced for a client, and the rest were simply created by the agency as proof of concept productions. \r\n\r\nChristison says that overt branding would impede the ability of content to go viral in this way. \u201cThe challenge is how to push the brand message subtly and still get something across. The reason brands want to be involved is that you are able to reach massive audiences with a fraction of the cost you would normally need to spend in media or PR. But you forgo the luxury of being able to communicate a direct message that you would in a TVC or branded campaign.\u201d\r\n\r\nOne of the pieces the agency created for a brand was the video of a hawk dropping a snake on a barbecue, which was produced for the Hawthorn Football Club. It contains no branding whatsoever, but Christison said they were still able to use the content to create awareness for their client. \u201cFirst we created noise with the video itself, then we came out and claimed it as part of a marketing campaign. So it was basically like a PR stunt. We waited for right moment to strike, and when saw a climax in views and media coverage \u2013 it achieved 5 million views in 48 hours \u2013 we followed with a PR release claiming the video. In the next 24 hours, it did another 10 million views.\u201d\r\n\r\nHowever, Christison admits that there are hurdles when brands enter the equation. \u201cThe caveat is that in majority of cases [with our viral videos], we had complete creative freedom. The challenge is where brands want to be a part of it. It\u2019s awesome and we encourage it, but the more you get agencies and clients and levels of hierarchy involved, there is less creative freedom. If someone comes to us and says they want a viral video, we have to set ground rules. We know we have to achieve their goals, but we also need creative freedom to create what we think is going to work.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile many brands might be tempted to put paid spend behind their content to make it go viral, this can in fact hinder its ability to do so. Christison says that a sponsored ad immediately puts doubt into people\u2019s minds about whether the content is authentic. Of course, he also says that this strategy only applies to his company\u2019s particular style of viral video, and that there are obviously several examples where overtly branded content has gone viral. One that immediately comes to mind is Felix Baumgartner\u2019s jump from space. \r\n\r\nThe formula for viral content is far from set in stone, but The Woolshed Company has carved a niche for itself and proven that it can replicate success time and time again. The obvious issue is brand participation, and how much clients can be involved before it begins to limit the ability of the video to go viral. With that in mind, how do you think brands could use this style of viral content to their advantage? In the world of commercial creativity, that\u2019s the only question that really matters.