Going Viral

I went to a speaker a while back on viral videos and nonprofits that explained this content and its benefits really well.  The speaker, Arik Abel (@Arikabel) was from French/West/Vaughan, an independent PR and communications firm based primarily in the Southeast, so he knew what he was talking about.  He pointed out 3 kinds of content that we usually lump together as “viral content”:

  1. Viral: sharing on a one-many scale
  2. Memes: sharing on a many-many scale
  3. Evergreen content: Content that is perennially being searched for i.e. “How to tie a tie”

Knowing the difference between these three types of content is the first step in understanding what makes a viral video so powerful.  These are videos posted by one person that overnight grow to a substantial amount of views.  To be viral doesn’t always necessarily mean a video is getting 1 million views or a profile on the evening news.  Videos can go viral within a specific community or niche of any size, and have a substantial impact on the people who see the video.

But how do you get something to go viral? There are a few key things to remember:

  • The number one aspect is the content, or as CitizenTube says, “Content is still king.” The video itself has to be seen as compelling for the user by employing storytelling, community involvement in the video-making process, an interactive feature, or  a pop culture phenomenon like a mash-up or flash mob.
  • Timing is the other important aspect.  Hitting on a topic that is hot right now (i.e. March Madness) and tying a video in to this topic will make it infinitely more likely to go viral because it is relevant.
  • As with any online marketing, success comes with knowing which audience this video will resonate most with, and targeting that audience.  Those in the ‘biz call this seeding.  Spread word of the video in relevant social media so that the word gets out and spreads where it is most likely to catch.  Right now, this might be Pinterest or Twitter, depending on the audience.

Viral marketing can be especially powerful for nonprofits, who don’t have the budgets that traditional marketing firms have.  Here are some examples of viral videos in the nonprofit world and why they work:

“It All Comes Back to You”

This was a campaign by the World Wildlife Federation to show that all our actions have an impact on the environment.  It reached thousands of viewers overnight when it was first posted in 2008 via Youtube and other sharing sites.  The reason this video works so well is that it doesn’t resort to normal environmental imagery or content.  The video is a funny string of events that ends with a poignant message and information about the organization, prompting discussion and further research into the organization.

“Pink Glove Dance”

This viral video has reached over a million views on Youtube since it was posted in 2009.  The staff of a hospital in Portland, Oregon made this video to raise awareness for breast cancer throughout their system of hospitals.  The pink glove and messages at the front and back-end of the video were the only references to breast cancer awareness.  The video succeeds because they chose a catchy song that was popular at the time and featured a lot of people who were just having fun dancing.  The message wasn’t preachy or overly-emotional, and it managed to reach a giant audience.


No current look at nonprofit videos would be complete without the video that has caused such a stir over the past few weeks.  Invisible Children released this 29 minute-long video to raise awareness for the violence being perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.  The video is well-produced, uses current popular music, and has a strong message, thus catching viewers who would otherwise be put off by the long run time.  But the scandal surrounding the video and its misrepresentation of the situation in Uganda and the DRC as well as criticism of the lack of action by the organization have just added fuel to the Kony2012 fire, proving that bad press is still press in the viral age.


Here is my video, perhaps not a viral one:

Filming Ultimate Frisbee


A Day In Spanish- Still Photo project

Every day, people in the United States live their lives in a language other than English. More and more that language is Spanish.
Put yourself in their shoes, and see what a day in Spanish would be like.

Creating Iconic Photos

When I think of iconic photos, I automatically think of this article and the cover photo from National Geographic in 1985:

It’s a hauntingly beautiful photograph, but it is iconic for more reasons than just the beauty of the colors and composition.  This photo moved people to become aid workers in Afghanistan and stuck with people like me (even though I hadn’t even been born when the photo was published), who wondered about this girl, her story, and whether she lived through the war. (She did, and was found by National geographic nearly 20 years later: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text)

Iconic photos, then, are images that affect a viewer because of their aesthetic qualities as well as inspire something in the viewer, whether it is an emotion or a need for action. These images are overwhelmingly human: our experiences, our triumphs, our failures.

One event that inspired all sorts of iconic images and stories was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  TIME photography Anthony Suau took some of the most widely published photos of the event and explains the stories behind the photos in this video.

His photos all capture moments during the week the wall fell.  They show the joy people felt as they crossed back into the west after decades of isolation and repression, they show the determination on both sides to demolish the wall that had separated but not divided Germans.

Capturing emotion is often a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  But  through looking at some of the most emotional and iconic photos, viewers can understand the balance between aesthetics and inspiration to create their own iconic photos.

Capturing Attention through Audio

Audio is a powerful storytelling tool because it focuses in on just one of our senses.  Using sound correctly can recreate an experience for listeners, making them feel like a part of the story.  In advertising,  sound captures the listener’s attention and draws them into the ad, instead of our default feeling to be annoyed by advertising.  This can be done through using audio to create a recognizable mood that listeners associate with a brand, as in my first example.  Audio can also be done through a clever voice-over, as in my second example.  But stand-alone audio must always drive home a clear message since there are no other cues for listeners, and I also give an example of what happens when audio doesn’t drive home a clear message.

Natural sound can be a great way to pull viewers and listeners into an ad.  Whenever I think of natural sound in advertising, I always think of the Corona commercials.  They always begin with the same sound- waves crashing on a beach.  Throughout their commercials they include other beach-y sounds like a beach ball being hit, a beer being cracked open, ice hitting a bucket, etc.  By using these beach sounds to create a relaxed feeling in their commercials, they have associated their brand with these organic beach sounds which is a great marketing technique. Here is an example of one of their ads:

Another audio technique is voice over.  This technique is not something that is necessary for every commercial or story, but can be a useful device to further along a plot line.  My favorite example, and a Radio Mercury Award-winning one to boot, are the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials.  The voice over is very cleverly written, you want to listen to it and are excited when one of those commercials pops up because it is so funny.  Here is an example of one of their TV commercials:

Finally, I wanted to do an example of audio that does not quite fully convey the message that an advertiser wanted to send.  The new Star Wars-themed Volkswagon commercials,  as fun and irreverent as they may be, would not be effective as standalone audio.  Here is an example:

Seeing this commercial, I would be amused, sure! Dogs barking are cute, and Star Wars is always awesome, so the combination is enough to get the video spreading virally.  But if this audio played as a pop-under ad featuring a new Volkswagen car, I would be confused as to what the audio was trying to convey.  Are the new VW cars Star Wars-themed? Does Star Wars endorse them? What about the dogs? Are they just cute or are Volkswagons especially dog-friendly? As a listener, I don’t quite know the answers to these questions from the barking audio alone, so this commercial is best left to its video form.

So there you have it, some insights into using audio to capture attention: create a mood, be clever, but always stay on message!

Here is my pop-under audio advertisement for ultimate frisbee:

Ultimate- The Best Sport You’ve Never Heard of.


Here at iMedia, we have a culminating project called the Capstone.  This project is an opportunity to work with a client or stretch some creative muscles by creating something using all of the skills we have covered in the program.  It is a lot like a thesis project, except instead of a paper, the outcome is a cool interactive “thing.”

In my case, I am working with the nonprofit The Tomorrow Fund for Hispanic Students, who raise money for scholarships to North Carolina schools for Latino college students as well as set up mentoring for Latina college students.  I will be redesigning their website to include a more streamlined way to donate and more interactive content.  I will also be developing a social media strategy to integrate their Facebook page, Twitter, etc. into a great means of communication with donors and scholarship recipients as well as a way to bring in new donors and supporters.

Right now, I am at the reorganization and research phase of my project.  I am currently reading Likeable Media’s book on how to use social media to engage audiences and gain awareness for brands.   While the book focuses mainly on businesses, a lot of the strategies are easily transferable to nonprofits. It is definitely a great resource to check out for learning more about social media!  I am also looking at a lot of different nonprofit websites for layout ideas, and how they incorporate storytelling elements to create empathy with visitors.  I love Vandelay Designs’ blog for website design inspiration! Their list of 40 Great Nonprofit Websites gave me a lot of great ideas, the best by far being Vittana, an organization that raises money for student loans around the world in a way really similar to Kiva loans. Vittana includes a lot of short bio/profiles of students that I think would be great for The Tomorrow Fund.

This week I hope to include all of my ideas and inspiration in some wireframes/mock-ups for my client based on my cardsorting reorganization of the website’s content, check it out:

Card Sorting page 1Card Sorting Page 2

(Almost) Workin’ Girl

I’m not a workin’ girl yet, but I’ve been doing a lot recently to try to change that! I have been creating a lot of different versions of my resume to fine-tune my skills and experience for potential employers and have one I think I’m happy with.  At the Elon Career Center, they recommend using the website Wordle to see which words are going to pop out to employers.  Here’s the Wordle for my most recent resume:
Wordle: Resume!

It’s not quite perfect, but I’ve been able to include a lot more than in previous versions!

The other step I’ve been taking towards post-graduation employment is to conduct informational interviews with nonprofits in the Triangle.  I get to learn a lot about what working for a nonprofit is like, and network along the way.  Most recently I met with Ricky Leung, the new media director at NC Policy Watch.  He told me how he found his current and previous jobs in new media, and shared some of the tools and tasks he deals with on a daily basis.  It was great to know what the skills I’m learning here at iMedia will be applicable for in a real job.

In the next month I’ve got another informational interview, this time with the communications director at the Center for International Understanding.  Should be another enlightening talk!  Until then I’ll be scouring LinkedIn, Idealist.org, and my other regular sites for job listings and trying to start getting some freelance projects over on Elance.  I’m also starting a Pinterest board with all of my job-seeking information- links, resume, Wordles.  It’s a tip I have seen floating around Twitter and LinkedIn for social media-inclined job seekers to show off to potential employers.  Let’s hope that, and the rest of my work, pays off in the next few months!

Creating Empathy through Interactive Content

Of all the possible uses for interactive content, the one I am most interested in is for getting people to care about a cause, getting them involved, and inspiring change.  This is done most easily through the creation of empathy in an audience.  The first time I felt really passionate about a cause was when I saw the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” I was so shocked and outraged at the West’s inaction toward African violence, that I helped create a group at my high school to raise awareness about the genocide in Sudan.  Clearly, the creative team behind “Hotel Rwanda” knew something about empathy, though I’m sure inspiring high school students to write letters to their Senators was not their primary goal with the movie.  But for the organizations and creative projects that DO want to inspire this kind of action, there are a lot of ways to create empathy.

One of the best ways is to put the audience in someone else’s shoes.  Having an idea of what someone is going through is the core idea of empathy and there are a lot of interactive projects that use this tool.

Spent is a game where you attempt to make it through the month as a person severely under the poverty line. You have to find a job, buy groceries, pay bills, and make hard decisions about family and health.  After each decision or task, the game gives feedback about why the decision has such an impact for people with very little means.  This kind of information makes players really think about what they would do in this situation, and consider the grim reality of poverty.  It creates very strong empathy because  players would understood more about need and survival for people with very little.

This next example is empathy on a rather larger scale.  In the United States we don’t know what it is like to not have access to water and food on demand.  Oxfam’s GROW campaign seeks to educate people about the realities of food shortage around the world through an interactive map feature.  Clicking on different countries will explain what are the specific problems that country faces, what causes them, and their widespread impact.  Then users can see graphically displayed statistics on hunger, photos from each country, and finally ways to help.  This feature not only makes the global food crisis understandable, but also shows users what it would be like in each of those countries through pictures and statistics.

My goal once I graduate is to work in nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, which need donors and volunteers to survive.  Empathy is at the very core of their operations, and interactive features like these would be powerful tools for any nonprofit.   My first project for Interactive Storytelling will be an interactive feature showing the refugee resettlement process.  The potential client is the Center for New North Carolinians, so I am aiming to make something they can use to help educate people about what it means to be a refugee, how they get to North Carolina, and why.  I’m excited to get some practice for the ‘real world’ with this project and because it is a cause so close to my heart and my studies.

To see my interactive project for the Center for New North Carolinians, go to my personal website, here.