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August 02, 2011

How to Become an Internet Video Superstar

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 2.27.38 AM

Just between us, I'm not really sure why some videos go viral and others remain buried in the gray muck of internet oblivion.

According to one scientist, popular videos provoke emotion. Well, duh.

Wikipedia says:

A viral video is one that becomes popular through the process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email. Viral videos often contain humorous content and include televised comedy sketches, such as The Lonely Island's Lazy Sunday and Dick in a Box, amateur video clips like Star Wars Kid, the Numa Numa videos, The Evolution of Dance, Chocolate Rain on YouTube; and web-only productions such as I Got a Crush on Obama...

So emotion + humor = viral video?

I've wasted hours and hours of my life watching countless web videos trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. I even have a job making video content for the web, but am I any closer to the golden formula? Nope, not a bit (don't tell my boss).

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 2.28.25 AM Sure, everyone wants to be famous, but when your "Fried Egg" moment comes and you become the punching bag of the interwebs, do you really want to be Rebecca Black? 

In my opinion, creating a consistently popular web series is a far better goal than making a singular viral video hit. Of course, some one-hit wonders manage to eek out a career (that dude who dances all over the world comes to mind) but personally, I'd rather be a Michael Buckley than a Chris Crocker

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 2.28.58 AM Getting there is all about longevity. You have to continue to produce quality content that's relevant to your viewers. You have to trust your instincts. You can't try to be like everyone else. And you can't get distracted by the ever-changing media landscape, or by negative feedback.

It's like balancing on a rotating, slippery sphere while angry birds launch themselves at your head. In my experience, pulling this off takes guts, lots of them.

I'm not deluded enough to call myself a web video superstar, but I have been getting paid to create lots of web video content for the past four years, so I figure I can spout theories like the best of 'em. Here is my advice for how to become the next Lisa Nova, Shane Dawson, What the Buck or Mary Katherine Gallagher (smell those armpits people).


1. Content and Concept

  • Hone your idea.
  • Find an unrepresented niche and try to corner it.
  • Research what others have done successfully for pointers and ideas.

Some options:
weekly arts and culture vlog - Stuck in VT
celeb entertainment vlog - What the Buck
hard-hitting news stories - New York Times
daily entertainment, science, arts, random - Rocket Boom
oddball, eclectic, entertainment vids - Boing Boing tv
eclectic YouTube Video God - Shane Dawson TV

2. Regularity

  • Come out every day/week/month at the same time so people can expect your fresh new content
  • Even if one episode feels weaker than the others, force yourself to commit to this deadline.
  • The deadlines are what will keep you growing and improving.
  • Create a body of work that others can access.

3. Branding

  • Come up with an image and a visual theme that is consistent in your title sequence and fonts.
  • Promote everywhere possible, hand out business cards, talk to other people who are doing what you do.

4. Network — connect with your viewers

  • Respond to emails and comments.
  • Use twitter and facebook to connect with people who are interested in your content.
  • Reach out to people and orgs that align with your content.
  • Make connections with local musicians and artists and combine your talents to make a better product.

5.  Get good audio

  • You can learn as you go, but the better your audio, the better your video.
  • Invest in some solid mikes and they will take you a long way.
  • Cable access is a great way to get started, try out equipment and learn technical skills!

6. Don't expect PERFECTION

  • Give yourself time to get the right formula.
  • Don't get bogged down in the details.
  • Technical skills are not as important as a good idea and passion for your subject matter!

7. Don't expect SUCCESS

  • It took Michael Buckley 2 years of doing What the Buck before the big bucks started rolling in and he could quit his day job.
  • Do not expect overnight success, find a solid idea and stick with it.

8. Ask yourself some questions

  • What do you hope to accomplish with these videos?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Do you want an on-air personality or a voice over?
  • What length works best for your content?
  • Is there a consistent theme?
  • What should a viewer take away from your video?

9. PASSION goes a long way

  • If you love it, other people will too.
  • And you have to love it to spend as much time on it as you will...


  • 4 hrs of work = 1 minute of video (more for me).
  • Always over-estimate how long it will take to produce video content.
  • Start small and get bigger, pace yourself.

Good luck, video mavens! Keep me posted on your video adventures and when you figure out the secret video formula, be sure to whisper it in my digital ear! Psssst...


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