Unruly “It’s a myth that virality is a ‘black swan’ event”

Sarah Wood,  Co-Founder & COO,  Unruly

Sarah Wood,
Co-Founder & COO,

So when is “how do I ensure my video campaign goes viral?” not a stupid question? When you’re asking Sarah Wood, Co-Founder & COO, Unruly

Sarah – what is the secret to a successful social video campaign?

As with most marketing secrets, there’s no silver bullet to successful social video – there are multiple data points and decisions that impact success. If I was to summarise: Be clear about your campaign goals from the outset; and create contagious content that provokes intense emotional responses in viewers and gives them plenty of social motivations to share. Once you have kick-ass content, optimise the player and related assets for shareability and plan a smart distribution strategy to get your video watched and shared on day one – social sharing is happening faster than ever before, with nearly half of all video shares taking place in the first three days of a campaign.

Ultimately, the goal for brands is “valuable virality” – a term first coined by marketing academics, Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger. By this, they mean virality that delivers a business value to the brand, achieved when advertisers create shareable content where the brand is integral to the storyline. Blendtec’s brilliant “Will It Blend?” series is a classic example of this and Coca-Cola do a great job of placing their vending machines and cans at the heart of their video content.

How predictable is the shareability of a video – and how do you establish this?

More predictable than you might imagine! Social video success is both predictable and repeatable. The myth that virality is a “black swan” event – a “bolt of lightning” that can never be repeated – is a cop-out for three reasons:

1. Big data has given us the technological horsepower to be able to run regression analysis and benchmark social success across multiple campaigns at speed and scale. At Unruly, we are very lucky to have the Unruly Viral Video Chart, which has been collating video sharing data for seven years and now stores data from over 500 billion video streams;

2. Academic research has used robust and defensible methodologies to show that the social success of video content is not ’black magic’, but is based on identifiable and measurable metrics (including social motivation, emotional arousal and content triggers). For Unruly ShareRank (our algorithm that can predict the social success of videos before they are launched), we worked extensively with leading academics in this field, including Karen Nelson-Field, of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, on the key variables that drive video sharing;

3. Advancements in biometric testing make it possible to see deeper than ever before into how people respond psychologically to video content. At Unruly we analysed thousands of consumer panel responses to help us optimise Unruly ShareRank, measuring their emotional and social reactions and motivations to share video content. Facial tracking also helps us to determine levels of emotional arousal.

We’ve been testing the Unruly ShareRank algorithm against video content for the last 18 months and we’ve reached a stage where our predictions are correct 80% of the time. We give videos a ShareRank score out of 10 and we predict a share rate. Extrinsic factors such as media strategy, timing and campaign budgets can all affect the success of a campaign. Getting the content right will only get you half way to success as the media landscape is more cluttered than ever before.

How is technology changing the rules of engagement for Unruly and for social video in general?

The increase in smartphone devices, new video apps such as Vine or Instavideo and increased bandwidth capabilities has made it easier than ever before for people to share video.  Zuckerberg’s law of social sharing states that each individual’s sharing activity is doubling year on year. So if you were sharing one piece of content a week last year, you’ll be sharing two bits a week this year, and four bits a week next year. And with newer platforms such as Vine and Instagram Video becoming more popular, online video continues to evolve.

This also means our newsfeeds and content streams are more cluttered than ever before, so it’s harder for brands to capture attention and get cut-through with their audience. This is where Unruly comes in. Using our programmatic video activation platform, brands can reach and engage 1.27 billion connected consumers with a player that’s optimised for social and first-party data. This ensures they reach the super-sharers who are most likely to spread their content.

The move to mobile has been fast and offers advertisers a great opportunity, as the number of people watching video on their smartphones or tablet has been predicted to increase 25-fold between 2011 and 2016 (Source: Cisco). A recent report from Business Insider forecasts that tablets and smartphones will account for a majority share of video ad views by 2016 and that certainly aligns with what we’re seeing. We’re launching new formats, such as In-Feed, designed to reach a mobile audience and meet this growing demand.

We’re also seeing advancements in tracking and measurement, for example, new  standards around viewability being agreed by the IAB, which is good news for the industry as lack of standardization around metrics and definitions is one of the barriers to brands increasing digital video ad spend.

What is the most exciting development currently occurring in social video?

The high level of creativity we’re seeing from brands and agencies looking to cut through the clutter. There’s so much video content around these days, brands are under increasing pressure to make their content stand out.

The rules of engagement have changed. Brands can no longer just create an ad and blast it out to a captive TV audience. During these days of Video on Demand and video streaming, consumers pick and choose what they watch – and they have a lot to choose from.

It means we’re seeing more innovative collaborations and creative partnerships from advertisers looking to make more shareable content and build affinity with their target audience.

Last year we started to see the rise of ‘prankverts’ – ad campaigns which featured brands playing jokes on supposedly unsuspecting members of the public.

This year, ‘trackverts’ are starting to hog the headlines. Essentially, a trackvert is a music video that’s co-released by a brand and an artist where the collaboration is clearly announced either in the video title, video description or within the video itself. In July, Shakira’s “La La La (Brazil 2014)” released with yoghurt brand Activia and the World Food Programme, became the most shared ad of all time.

Some would question whether this is an ad at all. But this is precisely what’s exciting. The line between what is advertising and what is content has blurred significantly. The criteria for success on social are very different from TV and there’s increased creative cross-pollination between film-makers, ad makers and music video makers which is leading to an increase in high quality, highly shareable ads.

It seems obvious that social video has a massive future, but how do you expect it to change?

The value of a video view will rightly come under further scrutiny as more brands want to see what viewers do next and how the video view is contributing to the consumer decision journey. We anticipate that the main purpose of digital video will change from purely brand awareness (cited by 94.6% of US media agencies as the prime objective of their campaigns) to other metrics further down the funnel.  We’ve already seen markers adopting the “share” as a measure of engagement and advocacy; we expect to see more brands using video to deliver uplifts in brand metrics, including purchase intent.

We’re also seeing a diversification of the media landscape. Only one in four video views takes place on YouTube now and more brands are looking further afield to reach their audience on the Open Web. Plus, Facebook has just launched its premium video ad product, Twitter Amplify is looking to transform TV advertising, and there’s a rapid shift to programmatic targeting and buying underway. There’s never a shortage of technological change in this industry!

Sarah Wood will be appearing at the OTTtv World Summit in November.

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