How to test if an idea has the makings of a viral video before you produce it

First off, I want to say that the tips shared below were initially aimed at creators who want to produce a whole video series, but I think many of the points apply equally to musicians who want to produce individual music videos.

About those video series, though…

One of the clear ways to establish a large audience on YouTube is to create not just a single hit video, but a whole series that can build upon the success of prior videos. For instance, my friend Mike’s band The Union Gospel recently started shooting a bunch of takeaway-style performances in the NYC subway, and they’re calling it The Subway Series. Every week, I’m psyched to click on the video to hear what cover song they picked to play.

What’s the problem with a one-off music video?

Well, nothing inherently, but you might be squandering the buzz if you only post individual videos every once in a while.

Think about it. If you post an awesome music video that gets shared like crazy when it’s first published, but then take 6 months to post a followup video, your YouTube activity will probably look like a giant, exciting spike on the graph which eventually settles back to a disappointing plateau somewhere around where it was before your big hit video.

In this situation, there’s nothing specific for viewers to look forward to. There’s nothing else for them to click on. There’s little to incentivize them to subscribe.

But if they knew you were creating a new video every week or month, that’s a whole different story. Like singer-songwriter Brett Newski’s “Crusty Adventures,” a funny video series about the gross underbelly of touring abroad. It’s tough not to click on each subsequent episode to see what kind of auto breakdown, disgusting smell, bad gig, or swindle comes his way.

But producing a series of videos is much much much much easier said than done. And since it’s hard work, you’ve really got to think your ideas through beforehand.

In a recent Creator Academy bootcamp, YouTube provided a list of 10 helpful criteria to measure the merits of your ideas before you start shooting anything. It’s a kind of checklist, and it’s meant to guide you as you brainstorm video series concepts, but — as I mentioned above — I think many of these criteria are worth applying to individual video ideas too.

Does your video pass the test in these 10 areas?

Ask yourself the following questions. According to the Creator Academy, you don’t need to answer “yes” to every single one in order to make a quality video. But the more times you hear yourself saying “yes,” the more confident you should feel that you’re onto something good.

    1. Shareability — Is the video relatable, topical, or remarkable? Does it help someone solve a problem? Will the viewer feel cool or knowledgeable when they share the video with friends?
    2. Conversation — Does this video help me communicate with my fans, either directly IN the video, or as a conversation starter for other interactions (in the comments section on YouTube or elsewhere)? Will I appear comfortable and authentic?
    3. Interactivity — Does the video involve the audience in some way? Does it ask a question of them, showcase their participation, or encourage them to contribute to future videos?
    4. Consistency — Is there an element in this video that occurs throughout all my videos? A familiar face, setting, technique, or theme? Is the video “packaged” in a way that seems consistent with my other videos? Am I posting on a schedule?
    5. Targeting — Do I know who this video is FOR? Who is my audience, and is this video going to entertain or inform that audience? Will that audience be interested in only THIS video, or will they enjoy my other videos too?
    6. Sustainability — Do I have what it takes to keep doing this?

Answering this question is crucial. The Creator Academy says:

To set yourself up for long-term success, you need to build a sustainable operation that will maintain viewer interest over time. Think about what it takes to produce your series. If your audience really loves it, are you able to create more considering the location, the equipment, and budget? Is this a topic or type of production that you’ll continue to love well into the future?

Some ways to be sustainable:

Think light and nimble: Try to produce in a way that’s less time- and labor-intensive. Typically, the less involved the production, the longer you can sustain it.

Be realistic: Understand what it will take to produce the series, and how long it will provide content for your channel.

Block shoot: Record several videos in one day to maximize resources.

Know what’s next: Have a plan for what you’ll deliver to your audience after the current series is finished.

  • Discoverability — Will my video show up in YouTube search results and be recommended as a related video? Am I using smart keywords and titles?
  • Accessibility — Can a new viewer watch this video and appreciate it without having seen any of your previous videos? In other words, can this video stand alone?
  • Collaboration — Is there an opportunity to work with another artist with a loyal following on YouTube? Can I feature them in such a way so they’re proud of the results, and will want to share this video with their audience?
  • Inspiration — Do I really want to make this video?

This consideration is perhaps more important than any other because if you’re not motivated by the idea, you won’t actually see it through. Here’s what the Creator Academy says:

Top YouTube creators will often tell you that loving what you do is of the utmost importance. Not only will it give you more stamina as a creator, but viewers can identify true inspiration — or the lack of it. Therefore, you’ll want to be seen on camera as authentic, interested and, most importantly, passionate — and this comes naturally if you’re truly inspired.

If you’re an individual, make videos that will make you happy. It happens to be key to building fans. If you’re part of a company, strive to make content that’s true to brand, and find talented people who are inspired by the channel’s mission.

Some ways to find inspiration:

Pay attention to what you love to watch: Think about what you enjoy from television, movies, news, or blogs and consider making something in the same vein.

Iterate based on what you most enjoy: Try different formats and observe what audiences like best. But also observe what you enjoy doing — hopefully they’ll be the same!

Avoid producing videos just because you think they’ll be popular: In the long run, making videos you don’t want to make will most likely lead to frustration.

For companies: Brainstorm ideas that are true to brand.

Alright, that’s a lot of questions. Hopefully they were helpful in your video brainstorming.

How many times did you say “yes?” Are there other considerations you make before you start producing a video? Let me know in the comments.