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Viral Videos on YouTube

Updated on April 29, 2013
Viral videos on YouTube
Viral videos on YouTube | Source

What is a Viral Video?

A viral video is a video that has received a lot of views in a short period of time. It's a video that people want to share with another, so it catches on quickly, like a virus. Usually it is shared over social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

A recent example of a viral video that everyone knows about is the video Gangam Style by Psy. A few other popular ones are eharmony Video Bio, Planking and Harlem Shake.

Viral Video Culture

Today, a lot of viral videos inspire and cause entire communities to re-create the video trend. A great example of this is the recent viral video Harlem Shake where everyone on YouTube seems to have created their own take on the trend. This viral video spread all across the world, showing up on newscasts, late night shows, popular webseries and even to a squadron in the Norweign army.

Popular YouTubers try to stay up with the trendy videos, such as Gangam Style and Harlem Shake, while others try to resist the huge demand from their subsrcibers. It seems like everyone wants to create a viral video, even advertisers are paying attention.

Thousands of Harlem Shake Videos
Thousands of Harlem Shake Videos | Source

How Do You Know if a Video is Viral?

Other than the blatantly obvious high view count, you will also notice that viral videos will have bunch of videos that have been created after them. Think parodies, reaction videos (like Kid's React, Elder's React, Teen's React), remixes and variations of the video.

You can also find a lot of these videos popping up in tv shows, cartoons, news casts or other places like weddings (yes, I have heard Gangnam Style at a recent wedding this past January), sports events and stand up comedy shows.

This might actually be a way to find the next video trend early on, is to see what the YouTube Creators are doing. If a lot of people are posting up parodies, this seems to fuel how viral and how fast the views rise.

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Viral Video Ad Campaigns

Recently, advertisers are trying to create viral video campaigns where they artificially attempt to make their videos go viral. Advertisers will post ads for people to create them a "viral video" in hopes of making a video that will catch on and be trendy.

There are even guides online on how to pay for views and subscribers and people who will create fake accounts to leave comments on videos, even going so far as to start arguments in the comment section in hopes of drawing more views to the video.

While this means that advertisers are paying attention to the video trends and wanting to be a part of it, it also means that there are now ways of cheating the system in hopes of creating the next big video on YouTube.

Understanding Viral Videos and Pop Culture

To understand what a viral video is, you'll need to take a quick look at some of the hits over the years. There's a pretty big chance that you'll have seen all, if not many of the ones I've listed below.

A fun little thing I noticed after going back to YouTube for some of these older ones, is that I actually found clips to tv shows, like Spongebob and Family Guy, where they had incorporated some of these viral videos into pop culture.

Old Viral Videos

Evolution of Dance - One of the oldest videos I can remember being a "viral video" is the Evolution of Dance. This video shows how dance has changed over the years.

Rick Rolling - This one may not be considered a viral video in the same sense, but years a go it was funny for people to troll other users on YouTube by "Rick Rolling" them. Basically you would click on a link or video, expecting something else and end up seeing this video, or some snippet of it.

Keyboard Cat - One of many, many cat videos that have received a huge amount of views. Like Ninja Cat, this one features an adorable cat, but he plays the piano.

Numa Numa - I would hope that everyone has seen this one. Who can forget the Numa Numa song where we get to see someone dancing super silly to a Romanian song by Ozone called "Dragostea Din Tei".

Recent Viral Videos

World's Largest Rope Swing - This one is a little bit different in the sense that it depicts greatness as opposed to something silly, or dumb. Instead of comedy, this video focuses on achieving something that has never been done before, captured with beautiful cinematography.

Nyan Cat - The Nyan cat song with the adorable pop-tart cat flying through space. There's so many variations of this one, including a live action cover (with real cats no less), a cartoon explaining how Nyan Cat came to be, and countless dubstep and parodies of this video.

eHarmony Video Bio aka "I love Cats" - Because the internet is obsessed with cat videos, this video was born. It's trolling the internet about how much this person loves cats. So much, that she would die without them.

Kony 2012 (Invisible Children) - Another video that is not of the norm. This one was a call to action, regarding donating and spread the word in order to capture Joseph Kony. There was a lot of political debate, scandal and accusations of scams with this video.

Planking - This one is not so much a viral video, as it's a YouTube trend that stems from the pilates move "plank". People would do crazy pictures with them "planking" in public and creating videos of people's reactions. I'm actually not 100% sure what the original planking video is, it's one of those ones that gets rapidly muddled in a short amount of time.

Gangam Style - Popular for it's ridiculous dance moves and catchy tune, this video and song are going to be around for a long time. It completely took off and is probably the most viewed video of all time. Psy's song has been played on American radio stations, sports events, everything. It's a huge part of pop culture already.

Harlem Shake - This one took off overnight, like wildfire. Basically it's like a dance video at first, but the it just evolves into people doing stupid dance moves or whatever to song created from one line "Harlem Shake" (which is not the actual Harlem Shake dance). Like the Planking videos, I'm unsure of what the original video for this trend is.

What Makes a Viral Video

While each viral video is different, there seems to be some sort ridiculous recipe that could, possibly contribute to a video going viral.

Stupidity and fun - like the Harlem Shake and Numa Numa videos where the object is simply to be stupid and have fun being silly.


Extreme feats and talent - Anything spectacular like Devinsupertramp's World's Largest Rope Swing, where there is an insane amount of talent (and a tad of stupidity) that will have the audience going "ooh, aaah, omg!"

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Music - stupid music and a catchy rhythm seem to have some sort of a role in some music videos. Take for example Numa Numa's Dragostea Din Tei song, Banana Phone and of course Gangnam Style. These songs got stuck in your head and may have become popular because of it.


The "Secret Club" feeling - This is the ability to make people feel like they are a part of something. Take for example Planking, the Harlem Shake and Gangnam Style. People who were a part of this video can do the dance or use the trend in their every day lives and people who are up with the trends will be able to join in and get the joke. It's a great way to feel like you're a part of something when you can go to a hockey game or wedding and dance to Gangnam Style with friends.

People are Crazy!

As a YouTuber myself, it would be cool to create a viral video myself, but I don't believe that your goal should ever be to create the next viral video. Sometimes it's just better to let things happen if they do and not feed into the crazy culture of trying to hack the code for a viral video.

I don't believe there really is a way for a video to be a sure fire viral video. People are just nuts sometimes about what catches on and what doesn't. I can't think of a better way to explain this, except with one of YouTube's best comedians' video.

Nigahiga's Parody of Viral Videos

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    • noellenichols profile image
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      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      @theodoresumrall I actually had to look that one up. Definitely was good for a laugh. Thanks for sharing!

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