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Cashing In on Your Hit YouTube Video

by Claire Cain Miller
Thursday, October 27, 2011

provided by
The New York Times

Katie Clem posted a video on YouTube this month of her daughter Lily's poignant and funny reaction to her sixth birthday present, a trip to Disneyland, for her friends and family. Then it went viral.

In three weeks it has been watched more than five million times, and Lily has become a minor Internet celebrity. Of far more importance, at least to Lily's parents, the video is poised to make enough money from advertisements to send Lily to college.


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Creating a video that attracts millions of viewers and becomes a pop culture phenomenon involves an unpredictable cocktail of luck and timing. A dash of cute babies or people acting like idiots can only help. But once a video goes viral, making some cold cash depends on quick action.

Here is some advice on how to take advantage of your 15 minutes of Internet fame from people who did just that.

Make an outstanding video. There is no recipe for creating a viral video, but there are a few common traits.

Take the time to identify the video by writing a detailed title and description so people and search engines can find it easily, said Kevin Allocca, manager of YouTube Trends. "Surprised Kitty" (55 million viewings and counting) is far better than "Video of Tigger."


"Talking Twin Babies," in which two boys carry on an animated conversation in gibberish


Share it widely on social networks, he said, and let people embed the video on other Web sites. It helps if a celebrity links to it. "Double Rainbow," a sensation last year, had only 200 views between its debut in January and July — when Jimmy Kimmel posted a link on Twitter and it took off. Current count: 31 million viewings.

It's not as easy as it looks, Mr. Allocca said. "Make really good content," he said. "That's the one nobody wants to hear, but it's the truth."

It seems to help if the videos include funny people (especially old people and babies), animals (especially babies) and dancing (again, especially when the dancers are babies). Make a video that is universal yet original to you, recommends Randy McEntee, who posted an iPhone video, "Talking Twin Babies," showing his twin baby boys having an animated conversation in gibberish.

"I think the reason it's caught on around the world is there's no language," Mr. McEntee said.

Another common piece of advice: don't set out to make a viral video. "We didn't try," said Ms. Clem, who shot her video on a Flip camera and had never posted on YouTube. "I don't have any advice because I literally went to bed that night and woke up and our lives were completely different."

Get money from YouTube ads. If your video is on the road to viral success, YouTube, a part of Google, is eager to make money from you. It will send you an e-mail asking if you want to become a partner. If you give your permission, the site will run ads alongside your video and share more than half the revenue with you, sending you a check each month.

Some of the people behind viral videos, like the father of the boy coming down from dental anesthesia in "David After Dentist," have made more than $100,000 from YouTube ads. Ms. Clem has made $3,000 in three weeks and stands to make much more because Disney wants to use her video in a TV ad.

Early on, YouTube would sign people up as partners after videos had been watched more than a million times. But it has since developed an algorithm, which it calls reference rank, to predict whether a video will go viral when it has had as few as 10,000 views.


"David After Dentist," showing a 7-year-old boy talking to his father while recovering from anesthesia.


The most important element is whether influential Web sites post the video. When Reddit posted Mr. McEntee's video, for instance, its views jumped from 1,000 to six million in three days. YouTube also analyzes other data, like the number of viewers, how many times a video is shared on social networking sites and the rate at which people comment on the video.

Protect the video with a YouTube program called Content ID, which gives video owners the right to block others from using their videos or to be paid when they do. That helps to prevent people from creating copies that might be watched instead of yours. Parodies, translations or autotuned song versions, however, tend to add to the original's traffic.

YouTube does not offer live customer service for viral video creators. YouTube said it would be impossible to talk to millions of video creators but it has help forums for people to ask questions.

Appear on television. YouTube may turn us all into TV producers, but one of the best ways to get people to watch your online video is to appear on old-fashioned TV.

Ms. Clem's video spiked after she appeared on Fox News and Mr. McEntee's after he was on "Good Morning America." It rarely helps to try to contact TV shows directly — instead, wait for producers to call you, which they will in spades if your video is popular and touches a nerve, viral video veterans say.

Remember that a dip in views does not mean your 15 minutes are over. The talking twins video had almost five million viewers on its best day, dropped to 50,000 and now gets a couple hundred thousand a day.

Sell merchandise. When the boy in "David After Dentist" asked the camera, "Is this real life?" more than 101 million viewers could relate. David's father took swift advantage of that, opening an online store selling T-shirts and stickers with the tagline.

"All the top creators do that," said Shenaz Zack, product manager for YouTube partnerships.

Tracking who watches your video can suggest markets. At YouTube Insight, video creators can see detailed data about their audience, like where viewers come from and which Web sites have linked to the video.

They can also read YouTube Trends, a blog YouTube started in December to analyze what makes videos popular, whether they are about babies using iPads or scenes from the earthquake in Turkey.

Make a game plan for fame. The celebrity and money that come with viral YouTube videos are not always fun, say people who have lived through it.

The phone rings constantly with TV producers who want to show the video. Do not sign any contracts without consulting a lawyer, said Ms. Clem, because some of the contracts ask you to sign away your rights to the video.

"It's so exciting and you want it out there, but it's dangerous because people want to take advantage," she said.

Set up rules early on, said Mr. McEntee. For his family, that meant no travel to be on TV, no other videos of the children and "to behave in a way that our children would be proud of," including letting them remove the video when they are old enough to understand.

Talk to other people who have become YouTube celebrities about what they went through — the father of David wrote on his blog that at first he had worried that people were watching the video because they were making fun of his son, for instance.

"It's actually a really lonely place because there's no one out there that really has all the answers," Mr. McEntee said. "It's just such a rare thing."


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