5 myths about making your videos go viral — and how to avoid them

Don't let these 5 common myths about reaching huge audiences deter you. Here's how our stories reached more than half a million people and how yours can too!

Here’s the thing about myths: They’re made up.

But that doesn’t make them any less real when it comes to our imaginations and how we operate in our day-to-day reality. Time and again impressive organizations with awesome stories to tell fall short of their potential — just because there’s a host of popular misconceptions out there about how to take a story viral.

It’s time to debunk those myths. The simple fact is that you can do this. More importantly, you need to do this. You are on an important mission, and we’re counting on you to accomplish it to make the world a better place for all of us for generations to come. You can’t stop short of getting your story out there to as many people as possible.

Here’s a look at 5 myths about reaching huge audiences with your videos and why they’re patently false:

1) It’s impossible or largely a matter of random chance

It’s true that it’s pretty much impossible to reach huge audiences by posting and praying. You can’t just post a story to YouTube and to your website and hope people will find it and love it. They won’t. It will languish with just a handful of views until it’s altogether forgotten – a very sad fate.

However, with a targeted strategy, focus and determination, you can dramatically increase the audience that watches your online films. Putting this to the test, we recently reached more than half a million views (!!) with our series Let’s Get Street Smart, just by having a sound plan and executing it with diligence and persistence.


Let's Get Street Smart collage


2) It’s too expensive

Executing on a distribution strategy is not free. It does involve an investment, especially as you are starting out to test the channels that make the most sense for you.

This means that you need to prioritize your resources. You are investing in learning – learning how to reach more people. And the more you understand the distribution channels that work for you, the more you will be able to leverage this later. You don’t have to break the bank, but you need to invest in getting the videos out there.  If you’re not ready to invest in distributing the videos you produce, it’s probably best to produce less videos and allocate the difference to distribution.  It doesn’t make sense to produce videos if you are not going to invest it getting them seen.

Prioritize and focus on what you know you can do first. For example, shortlist the press and bloggers who would be most interested in your topic, then reach out to them in a targeted, high-quality way. For us this list included Fast Company Co.Exist, which ultimately published this article on us.

Fast Company_V1One thing that got mixed results for us was trying to engage influencers, so that’s an area that we will likely invest more in later to understand better.


3) The video has to be funny or sexy for it to go viral

Sure, you can go this route. But a better bet to advance your mission is to be relevant, personal, moving, inspiring.

One of the most watched films from the Let’s Get Street Smart Series was the story of Doniece Sandoval and her inspiring founding of Lava Mae. Upon learning that there were just 16 public shower stalls available to the 3,500 homeless men, women and children in San Francisco, Doniece decided to marry the mobile food truck phenomenon with mobile hygiene. She started with an old Muni bus and turned it into a shower and toilet on wheels for the homeless. The idea has taken off, and the video has too, not because it’s hilarious or provocative, but because it’s deeply felt, moving and insightful.

Upworthy Let's get street smart


4) My email list is too small, and I have too few social media subscribers

Your own subscribers are your best champions and that’s the best place to start, but to gain huge audiences you need to go beyond the choir. 

Press, influencers, events, creative partnerships. Think out of the box about who could help vault your films to a place of greater visibility. Trust us, these partnerships are out there. To launch our series Let’s Get Street Smart, we partnered locally with the Super Bowl party at SOMA StrEat Food Park and with the online channel Upworthy.

Soma Street Food Park


5) It takes too much time

Sure, it takes some time to work through this, especially in the beginning. But it’s not unsurmountable and nobody said that moving a mission as important as yours forward was going to be easy. As we suggest in our Tip Sheet, assess the various distribution channels that make sense for you, choose your top 3, and put in the time necessary to execute them.  That will get you on your way.


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