How to make a viral video — Karen X Cheng

Last updated on January 19th, 2024

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Looking to make a viral video or a video that converts? Karen X Cheng shares her top 10 tips for making multi-million viewed videos.


Key Takeaways:

  • Before you do anything, write the news headline first
  • Understand which emotions make people share
  • Make other people look good
  • Fake it till you make it
  • Don’t try to be overly clever. Facebook doesn’t give you that time. You have to be really straightforward and deliver the message immediately. You don’t have time to be clever.
  • Turn your sound off when editing a video
  • Make sure that the first frame of your video is visually eye-catching
  • Make videos that convert
  • Design your videos to look like organic content, so it doesn’t look like a paid ad on Facebook.
Transcription -------------

The first viral video that I made was an accident. I was working for Microsoft and I decided to quit. I thought it would be a good idea to quit, not with a resignation email or letter, but with had resignation song.

I filmed the video of myself singing a song, and playing the guitar, all about all the features that we built, and I uploaded it to YouTube, and sent it to my team. I didn’t expect this video to go viral, but the title, ‘Microsoft employee quits with song,’ makes for a really good news headline….

Tech Crunch wrote an article, and then other tech blogs picked up on it… After one day, it was national news… And after two days it was international news.

What I hadn’t anticipated, was even though my video itself was was not particularly entertaining, the headline ‘Microsoft employee quits with song’ is a really good news headline, and that’s why the video went viral.

I quickly learned that reporters don’t always check their facts or really even read their articles very carefully. I got to see firsthand how news travels on the internet, and how it gets distorted. So then, I started using that to my advantage and started making viral videos on purpose.

I’ve made a bunch more viral videos… So, I’m gonna share with you exactly how I do it with 10 tips to make your video go viral.

1. Before you do anything, write the news headline first. and this is something that I learned from the first viral video that I made totally by accident. Whenever you want a reporter to cover a story, the classic mistake is pitching a reporter. They don’t necessarily have a great news headline to pull out of it, and that’s what they need. Whenever you’re coming up with a concept to spread on the internet, whether it’s a video or a photo series or a blog, think about what makes for a compelling news headline at the start of the project.

2. Understand which emotions make people share. so if you think about things that you like or comment on versus the things that you share. The difference between the things that you share, is they make you feel some emotion pretty intensely. There are certain emotions that get people to share, and some that don’t. The emotions that get people to share are awe, anger and amusement…The emotions that don’t get people to share as much, is sadness or a contentment.

How do you start a trend?

3. Make other people look good. If you think about why you share something, it’s because it makes you look clever, smart or funny. If you think about how you get someone to share your brand’s content, they’re not gonna share it because your brand is the best thing ever, they’re gonna share it because it reflects on something about them. So, whenever you make a piece of content, think about how you can make your viewer/ your consumer look good, not just make yourself look good.

4. Fake it till you make it. About a day or two after my video came out, Cosmo wrote an article about one of my videos. It was titled, ‘Behold the donut selfie, the insane new selfie trend that’s going viral’. Despite this Cosmo article title, only 12 people had ever done the donut selfie…

When I email reporters, I could have said ‘hey here’s this new video, do you want to write about it?’, but this doesn’t really get reporters to write about your video. Instead, I said ‘hey there’s this new type of selfie that people aren’t doing’, and then I linked them my video…. and then I linked them three videos of my friends also doing the donut selfie. It is the reporters job to sensationalize. By saying that people are doing something, the reporter says it’s a new viral trend, so people read the video and the article, believing it, and then they actually start doing it because they think it’s a viral trend, but they are making it a viral trend.

The following tips are for Facebook

5. Don’t try to be overly clever. Clever does really well on YouTube because if you can come up with a clever concept, you come up with a clever news headline. Reporters write about it, they embed your YouTube video in their article, and people click on the article and they watch it. But that’s not how Facebook works… The way Facebook works, is that you’re scrolling through you’re seeing your friends posts, you’re scrolling past a video, maybe you stop and watch it maybe you don’t. You keep scrolling… The problem with trying to be clever is it takes time.** You have to set it up, and then you have to give them a punchline and that takes time. Facebook doesn’t give you that time. You have to be really straightforward and deliver the message immediately**. Here’s a product, here’s what it does, here are some interesting visuals that show you the product. That kind of video performs a whole lot better on Facebook, **which is great for people who have interesting products, **because then you can just share exactly what your product does.

6. Turn your sound off. 80% of people watch Facebook videos with sound off. If you have an amazing narration or epic music, people aren’t gonna experience any of that, so when I edit my videos I actually edit them with the sound off.

**7. You have less than one second to stand out. **On Facebook you have less than one second, because people aren’t going to stop and watch your video. They’re gonna scroll by and so you have to catch them while they’re scrolling, so you got to make sure that the first frame of your video is visually eye-catching.

8. Watch it on a tiny screen. People don’t experience videos on a giant screen on Facebook. They experience them really small, which is why the captions in my videos are huge. They seem ridiculous, but once they’re on a phone screen, they don’t seem so ridiculous.

9. Buy your views. So this is something that I’ve resisted for a really long time, because buying views on YouTube is not a great experience. It’s fairly expensive, and they are really annoying. The great part about Facebook is that their ad experience is so much better. So, on Facebook if you open up the Facebook app and you start playing a video, and it’ll bring you into the special video player, where every fifth video is an advertisement. It’s really subtle and you can scroll past it. So, what you can do, is design your videos to look like organic content, so it doesn’t look like a paid ad. So, what happens is, people like the video, comment on the video and they share the video, as if it wasn’t an advertisement.

10. Make videos that convert. Write a video that moves products, that drives sales, and oftentimes, the kinds of** videos that convert are pretty different than the videos that go viral. **If you want to make videos that convert, you can make them for pretty low production. Quality isn’t an expensive video to make right. You can make 10 different videos, cut them 10 different ways and test out the videos. Once you’ve seen which ones convert, buy ads against those videos.


Related: Storytelling to make content go viral

Also see: the killer headline that got an MIT startup to 70,000+ users

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Natasha Hoke was Upscope's head of marketing.