What is a viral video?

After realizing today that I had not listened to the Midd Kid rap video in far too long (it’s been at least a month), I also realized it was time to update my blog readers on the status of Midd Kid vs. Yale.

In a blog post from November 2010, I recapped my HighEd Web conference session “Using YouTube for Recruitment.”  I ended my presentation with the question, “What makes a video viral?”  I showed screenshots from the videos “That’s Why I Chose Yale” (YouTube musical from the Yale admission office) and “Midd Kid” (student produced rap video at Middlebury College) and asked the audience to raise their hand if they could recognize what video the screenshot was from.

While many of the attendees had heard of the “Yale” video, only one attendee had ever seen “Midd Kid,”  and he was from Vermont so he didn’t count.   Now, this was despite the fact that the videos were released roughly one month apart and “Midd Kid” had over 11,000 more views than “Yale.”   My point was that a video can not be considered viral solely based on the number of views it has received.   One needs to ask “Who is my target market?” and “Did the video reach them?”  According to YouTube’s Insights, at the time of the presentation, the top 3 audiences for “Yale” was Females 13-17 and Females and Males 45-54.  The top 3 audiences for “Midd Kid” was Females 13-17, Males 18-24, and Males 25-34.

Today “Midd Kid” is outpacing “Yale” by almost 58,000 views and the top 3 audiences for each video haven’t changed.  It’s important to note that “Midd Kid” did not have the extraordinary amount of press coverage that “Yale” received when it was released.

Yale disabled the ability to add comments on their video. (Side note: I’m not a fan of that.)  But, here’s a screenshot of the top two comments for “Midd Kid.”  I think the 2nd one is particularly striking.

midd kid comments

“This has probably made more people want to go to Middlebury than all the college’s recruiting efforts combined.”  Walee227, you are one insightful dude.

What do you think?  Is “Midd Kid” a viral video?… even though you may never have heard of it until today. Is “Yale” a viral video?… even though it isn’t fully reaching it’s target market?

Or are neither of them viral because they don’t have over 65 million like “Bed Intruder?”

Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

Update: For your viewing pleasure…


Update 5/24/11

“Midd Kid” surpassed 1 million views while “Yale” continues to lag behind with roughly 925,000 views.

Recent audience view for “Midd Kid”

audience view for midd kid rap video

Recent audience view for “Yale”

audience view for that's why i chose yale video


About Mallory Wood

Mallory Wood is a Vermont-based higher ed marketing professional with a passion for social media, web video, and event production. View all posts by Mallory Wood

10 responses to “What is a viral video?

  • Eric Page

    Mallory, great post. I’ve had many debates with folks in higher ed regarding the whole viral video concept. The biggest problem I have is when I hear, “Let’s make a viral video,” and that is the only goal. Your metrics on the Yale video support my theory that it went viral mainly with the audience of higher ed administrators who have since tried to duplicate the project. I would say the MIDD KID video did a better job of reaching its audience, so it’s easier for me to call that a viral video. Have you seen the University of Wisconsin’s “Teach me how to Bucky”? That has gotten a ton of hits on YouTube, but the phrase also has expanded to Tshirts and become somewhat of a battle cry for the school’s sports fans.

  • ashleyshannon

    I dropped in on a meeting this week about ‘viral’ and left more confused that ever. I think many people use the words viral and social or shared interchangeably without understanding the concepts. In my opinion, a successful viral campaign reaches its intended market (whether niche or national) by an organic exponential exchange.

    • Mallory Wood

      Key words here being “organic exponential exchange.” This concept is one I use when speaking about the Midd Kid video – it did not receive the press that Yale’s video received. The spread of the video was truly organic and the number of hits far exceeded what anyone expected.

  • sethodell

    Personally, I think a viral video is any video that for an undefined amount of time has a rate of sharing that exceeds the number of viewers. Ex – for every 1 viewer the video is shared and brings in 1.5 additional viewers/views. This gives the video natural, progressive growth that will ultimately garner it large-scale attention within a community or micro-community. It really just means that the video can feed off itself and continue to grow, within a specific window of time.

    To better understand what truly is “viral” I suggest eliminating the number one source of sharing. So, if a website shared the video once and had a return of 10,000 views, eliminate them from the equation and recalculate what the ratio of views to shares/new views is. If it is still higher than 1 new viewer for every initial viewer, the video is viral.

    But this is just how I look at it 🙂

  • Eric Page

    But if the video doesn’t go viral with the intended audience, do we care?

    • Mallory Wood

      And if the video never reaches the intended audience, has the video failed?

      I found the Bucky video. Very catchy! I loved all the cameos.

    • sethodell

      Depends on the audience it DOES go viral with. But you bring up a good point, ‘going viral’ isn’t always a good thing. Many times bad PR can go viral, like the video of a UCLA student being tassered in a library in 2006. This again, brings up a LARGER issue that when most folks say they want “a video to go viral” they really don’t know what they are talking about. If they did, they’d be saying “We really want to create a video about ____ that will be good enough that _____ will actively share it with ______.”

  • Mike Bell

    A viral video is a targeted video for a targeted audience an then spreading viz word of mouth. Its cyberspace’s version of network marketing. Some kid buys a video camera and some Stage Lighting equipment an fires out a video across his facebook, and before you know it his youtube channel is flooded with friends of friends of friends of friends an you sir have a viral video!

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