Over 2.25 million views in only 4 days.
Exactly 2,265,345 views when I began drafting this blog post on Nov. 4th (and I find myself playing it over and over again as I write.) Just to give you an idea of how fast this video is "going viral", I found a blog dated just yesterday (Nov. 3rd) stating that the video had "been viewed over 1.7m times in three days." And since yesterday, it's received over half a million more views.
Sure, these numbers may not seem that impressive when stacked against the record-breaking stats for Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball music video, but consider this; before the "Royals" Sad Clown cover went viral, Puddles the Clown was not famous.
I'm not trying to discredit his hard-earned moderate success as a performance artist, but he was by no means a household name like Miley Cyrus already was before her viral video; he obviously has a much lower marketing budget than Miley, and he's not even close to being as well-established from an online marketing perspective as she is.
Puddles the Clown only had 2 videos uploaded to his YouTube channel, both of which were uploaded over a year ago. His website doesn't have any content; it's just a single page with:
- one great photo
- two short testimonial quotes
- one of the YouTube videos embedded
- links to his YouTube channel and Facebook page
- and a hyperlink to email him at "firstname.lastname@example.org".
There's no link to his Twitter profile, but he does have one.
So how did this fairly unknown sad clown become a viral video sensation - and what can your business or personal brand learn from Puddles' Pity Party?
One might be quick to call Puddles an "overnight sensation" with the sudden success of the "Royals" cover, however that's just not the case. Even though you and I may have only heard of Puddles the Clown within the last four days, he's been doing his thing for a while - performing and building a reputation and brand for himself slowly over time the best he could; his Facebook profile dates back to April 2010. He's been actively engaging his Facebook and Twitter fan base and promoting his performances via the social networks for 3 years.
The first "big break" I noticed mentioned on Puddles' timeline (really hard-hitting, Rolling Stone-quality music journalism going on right here, eh?) was when he was the opening act for Aqua Teen Hunger Force Live in 2010 - that video has over 17,000 views since 2010. There are actually many other various videos of his performances uploaded to YouTube by random audience members, with view counts ranging from 700 to around 17,000 or so (at least on the videos I found in my quick search).
So clearly, his sad clown cover of "Royals" was what has skyrocketed his fame. But why that video? Why now? I obviously don't have insider knowledge, but here are some ideas based on my observations -
Tips for Making a Viral Video Hit on YouTube from Puddles the Clown:
1. Content Is King
Yup, even on YouTube. When your SEO consultant says you need to create "high-quality, unique, valuable content", we don't mean you need to spend a ton of money on a film crew and a director, a cast of professional actors, and a special effects team to create a video masterpiece. To be deemed "high quality content", your content just needs to be something your audience considers valuable, something they WANT to watch and share.
Think of the success of viral videos like the Harlem Shake or Nyan Cat... entertainment counts as high value! The "Royals" cover featuring Puddles is compelling, interesting and mixes genres to appeal to a wide audience. People like entertainment and helpful information (in that order).
Be creative - what kind of awesome content can you create to use as "link bait" to get the attention of your target audience?
2. Jump on the Bandwagon
Puddles has done lots of other covers in the past. However, the recent hit song "Royals" originally recorded by new-to-the-scene 16 year old female singer, Lorde, is extremely popular, trendy, and "now". Covering a brand new popular song is a great way for musicians to gain exposure and capture a share of another musician's audience.
The 4 month old video for the song "Royals" is so popular, it has already inspired a huge number of YouTube covers (985,000 video results for "Royals cover" when I last checked) that are gaining hundreds of thousands of views, including the acapella version created by Pentatonix (winners of the TV singing competition, "Sing-Off"), which has gained over 11million views since Oct. 2nd. This is obviously a "hot topic" and a band wagon worth jumping on!
Even though the Google Keyword Planner tool does not tell us search volume within YouTube, you can still use the information about keyphrase search volume to help inform your YouTube content optimization (and even creation). When you see the search volumes associated with keyphrases related to this song and the various artists, it becomes clear why covering popular songs from famous artists is so appealing to artists creating their own fame on YouTube:
Est. Monthly Search Volume*
Search results show a lot of info on the sports team the Royals as well, so not a clear indicator of search interest in the song.
Google says there are just as many Lorde fans as there are Royals sports fans.
This singing group won a TV competition, so they also have a high search volume.
Further proof SEO is not dead - the order of the words within this keyphrase impacts the search volume compared to "lorde royals".
A "non-branded" keyphrase for how someone might describe Puddles the Clown.
A "non-branded" keyphrase for how someone might describe Puddles the Clown.
puddles pity party
The Puddles website domain / the slogan on his suitcase.
puddles the clown
Puddles' "branded" name.
Referencing a cover of a song by the artist, Lorde, but not identifying the song.
*US, English Only - Google Keyword Planner
If you're not sure where to find the bandwagon to jump on in your industry, check out industry news and blogs from your competitors and leaders in your industry; browse the trending topics on Twitter, and "popular on YouTube" videos featured in the various YouTube categories for inspiration.
For example, I am not a musician, but I like this song and have decided to jump on this "Royals" bandwagon and write a blog post relating this hot topic to my industry, online marketing.
3. Video Title Optimization
Video titles need to be carefully crafted to blend high search volume keyphrases with compelling copy. Notice that the "Royals" video features some of the keyphrases in my chart above within the title and description. The title features the keyword with the highest search volume "Royals" as the first word of the title, farthest to the left.
Then the title features unique charters and words to catch your attention "("Sad Clown With The Golden Voice" Version)"; readers may think, "Hey this seems really unique! A SAD CLOWN version? And the clown has a Golden Voice? Like that homeless man with a Golden Voice, Ted Williams, from a couple years ago? Cool!"
The title ends with another keyphrase, "Lorde Cover", to ensure inclusion of the original artist's name in the title for search engines and users. This keyphrase will most likely continue to gain in popularity as she release more songs in the future as well.
4. Video Description Optimization
The video description is where you are supposed to provide a summary of what the video is about. Again, this should be interesting and engaging. The video description is also where you should provide links to move people further down your conversion funnels. For these musicians, the priority conversion was sending listeners to iTunes to purchase the single, so this link was featured towards to to of the description.
You should also encourage subscriptions to your channel and provide links to your website, blog, and other social profiles at the end of all your video descriptions. Keep in mind, this video could be your brand's first impression to a viewer who's never heard of you before. Make getting to know more about you as easy as possible from all your video descriptions.
5. Be Unique, Stand Out From The Crowd
Jumping on hot trends has the potential to get you a lot of exposure, but you could also get lost in the crowd. Some of you may have skipped over this stat earlier, so allow me to reiterate, there are over 985,000 video results for "Royals cover" on YouTube. What hadn't already "been done"?
If you look at the video thumbnails for most of these cover videos, they feature a close-up a young female or (group of females), or maybe some emo or hipster boys.... and then there's the image showing a jazz band fronted by a 7-foot tall sad-looking clown.
Which one stand out to you most?
The image makes you curious, especially when compared to the sea of pretty, happy people in the search results. You want to check that video out because it looks so unique!
Not only does it look different upon first impression - it delivers a very unique listening / viewing experience! There are lots of pretty acoustic guitar covers by youngsters, but this cover of "Royals" is a very different take on the song. It's melancholy with a sophisticated arrangement. The lyrics take on a new meaning when they are passionately crooned by a seasoned, seven foot tall singing sad clown.
"Timing" not only relates to jumping on the bandwagon of hot trends, but also can related to seasonal trends (like the holiday shopping season, summer, or back to school), or major events (weather events, pop culture events, news events, industry-specific updates or trends, etc.)
I couldn't help but notice the date the "Royals" cover was posted, October 31st. You can't tell me that wearing a clown costume in a video that you post to YouTube on Halloween day with the words "Happy Halloween" in the description doesn't give you a little boost!
Plus, Halloween was on a week day this year, meaning most people still had to go to the office to work, but didn't want to be there, and were probably surfing YouTube.
As I mentioned earlier, Puddles has only ever uploaded two videos to his YouTube channel (although I'm sure that will change now!) This viral video isn't even hosted on Puddles' channel. It was a collaboration with Scott Bradlee of Postmodern Jukebox, a musician who's been building a reputation and online presence and is known for his unusual covers. Scott's videos have varied in view count / popularity, but have always been far higher than the view count of Puddles' own videos. Not necessarily because one artist is more talented than the other, but because Scott knows how to market himself and his music online!
Not so coincidentally, the most-viewed video on Scott Bradlee's channel currently is a vintage style cover of Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball, with over 5.5 million views since September 3rd.
By collaborating on your videos with others you get exposure for your brand through their audience and vice-versa. Getting a large number of video views, likes, or comments on a video within the first 24 hours of uploading the video
You can also save on production costs if there are more parties to split the bills with. You may both decide to post copies of the video to your channel, or you may just select one channel to feature the video on. Whichever you choose, make sure you include hyperlinks in the video descriptions to the websites and social profiles of all contributing parties.
8. Distribution / Getting the Word Out
That whole "if you build it, they will come" theory is bullshit. Yes, you have to build it, and build it well, but you also have to market the hell out of it to make it a success! This can be the hardest part of the process; luckily both Puddles the Clown and Scott Bradlee had previously received press from bloggers and new sites, and Scott's recent momentum from his renditions of "Wrecking Ball" and "Blurred Lines" sure helped!
I can't say how many bloggers they reached out to directly, or how many content sharing sites they submitted the video or blogs about the video to, or how many friends and family they called and asked to watch the video, etc. However, you can clearly see Puddles responding to comments and questions on his social profiles and actively engaging his audience since before the video went live. And if you do a search for "Royals Sad Clown Cover" you will see a large number of blog posts, news articles, and "top covers" lists mentioning the video. They most likely proactively reached out to some of those people requesting a feature.
Getting as many views as you possibly can within the first 24 hours of uploading your video to YouTube is a crucial social signal indicating the potential "viral" value of the video to YouTube and other search engines. If you get enough relative views, likes, comments, shares, and inbound links within the first 24 hours, your video could be selected to be featured within the featured "Most Viewed" gallery, which will drive views exponentially as well.
The better the content, the easier it will be for it to "go viral" from viewers sharing it across their social networks, and the more exposure your video gets, the more potential exposure it gets.
9. Do Something With Your New-Found Fame Before Your 15 Minutes Are Up
Many artists that create covers for YouTube exposure actually write their own music, too, but they can't generate enough buzz to "get found" performing their unknown songs. However, as a result of creating a popular cover, the artist is able to grow their audience through YouTube subscriptions and gain more exposure for past and future videos, sell CDs and downloads, merchandise, concert tickets, etc.
Make sure you've got a plan to cash in on your viral success! Puddles the Clown is now scrambling to book concert and speaking gigs and taking full advantage of his new-found fame. (Yah!)
Another great viral video on YouTube that I'm a big fan of is the WildaBeast dance routine for the Beyonce' Song "Upgrade You". Originally, this video was just another routine a dance teacher uploaded to his YouTube channel. Once it became a viral hit, he figured out how to capitalize on its popularity, eventually creating and selling a downloadable tutorial to learn the routine online. However, because he didn't plan ahead, he had to leave his new-found fan base hanging for a few months before the tutorial was available, and he lost a bit of the momentum the viral video had given his brand. He's since added better calls-to-action in the video description and retitled his viral video to better promote his tutorial for sale, but it would have been better if he could have produced it faster to capitalize on his fame more.
Ready to create something amazing?
Here are a couple of blog posts written by viral video creators with more helpful tips:
Have you ever tried to create a "viral video"? Did it work? What would you do differently next time?