- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Do you want to be a viral video star?

Now that Web sites like YouTube have created a democratized platform for celebrity, anyone who uploads a video has a chance to become a sensation — and we have seen deals follow with TV networks and record labels.

Sounds easy, right? Well, consider that more than 70 million videos are watched on YouTube daily. Yet within that enormous digital wilderness, most videos fall without a sound.

To reach the pinnacle of YouTube celebrity, your video generally must rank among either the most-viewed or most-subscribed lists — which each include just 100 videos, arranged daily, weekly, monthly and by all-time.

A look at how to rise up the charts:

The video

Nobody knows what will become a hit. The most popular videos ever posted on YouTube include a balding man dancing (39 million views), an impression of a computer bug (6 million) and a dog that seems to hate his left hind foot (7 million).

“It’s really about finding out what you do best and putting it out there,” says Ben Going, a 21-year-old Alabama waiter who as “boh3m3” is one of the best-known members of the YouTube community.

Then there’s the consistent popularity of cute girls. YouTube’s biggest star — lonelygirl15 — probably wouldn’t have succeeded as a middle-aged man. In recent months, many have sought to exploit the male impulse to click on anything that has the slightest chance of showing some skin.

One of the week’s most-viewed clips has a thumbnail photo of a buxom blonde and calls itself “Chicks Gone Wild!!! 2”— which has prompted more than a million people to click on a video of baby chickens.

Last month, dot-com entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who frequently blogs critically on YouTube, wrote: “That’s what YouTube has become. Fake porn and commercials.”

One good way to make a name for yourself is to parody something that’s already popular on YouTube. For example, Richard Stern — known as “Lazydork” — became well known after making a rap video titled “LonelyGirl: Lazydork Is Better Than You.”

Actor Jamie Kennedy’s recent parody “How to Blow Up on YouTube” recommended mixing Mentos with Diet Coke, playing with cats, singing into the camera or pairing yourself with a teenage girl.

Capturing eyeballs

Once you’ve uploaded your video and tagged it with relevant subjects, your work has just begun. Some people may stumble on your video, and maybe your friends will share it with others, but you have to create your audience just as you created your video.

“One of the things that we always recommend is to build a YouTube channel and be an active part of the community,” says Aaron Ferstman, a spokesman for YouTube. “It’s really about producing creative content, contributing it, getting comments and just participating with other people.”

Francis Stokes, a 34-year-old independent filmmaker, spent years at film festivals with his movie “Harold Buttleman, Daredevil Stuntman.” Now his “God, Inc.” series on YouTube has brought fame and industry notice in a matter of weeks.

The first episode of “God, Inc.,” which presents heaven as an office, has received nearly 1 million views since being added in early December — but it didn’t happen overnight.

“I uploaded the video thinking, ‘Oh, people will find it.’ And then after a while, I started getting to know YouTube and getting to know who was popular, so I sent out some e-mails and made some comments,” Mr. Stokes says.

To infuse yourself into the community, you can post video responses and comments to the videos of popular YouTubers.

Damien Estreich has become a unique presence in online video with his channel, YourTube News. His videos — sometimes hosted by a professional broadcaster — report what’s happening on YouTube and profile notable contributors. He also had to fight to become relevant.

“I just marketed my heart out on people’s pages and got social networking going,” says Mr. Estreich, who lives in Australia. “I got popular members doing video responses — got the name in there.”

Mr. Going, however, is reluctant to lend his spotlight to those who approach him: “That’s not what it’s all about.”

Suspicion occasionally arises that a video has become inflated artificially by someone “gaming” the system — repeatedly posting comments on his or her own video to make it become one of the “most discussed” videos, or by using multiple user names to increase subscription numbers.

YouTube spokeswoman Jennifer Nielsen notes that to make a YouTube profile, you need to have a unique e-mail address, which would make dummy accounts time-consuming to create. For security reasons, she won’t discuss YouTube’s anti-gaming software, which prevents repeated refreshing of pages to falsely drum up view counts.

Viral infection

Some viral videos spread of their own magical volition, but many get help. One of the best boosts is to become featured on the home page of YouTube.

A video picked by the site’s home page editors is virtually guaranteed at least to break 100,000 views. The YouTube blog (www.youtube.com/blog) recently profiled one of its editors with his thought process behind choosing a week’s worth of videos. He showed a taste for the cute (“The Cuppycake Song”), the unusual (“World Freehand Circle Drawing Champion”) and videos that interact with others in the community.

It’s possible to e-mail your video to these editors and hope it catches their fancy. Mr. Going first gained a large number of subscribers after his video appeared on the front of YouTube, and it was the key to Mr. Stokes’ jump in popularity.

“I woke up the next morning, and we were up to 300,000, and my e-mail in-box had 50 e-mails — people all over the world,” Mr. Stokes says. “Somebody was translating it into Spanish.”

Inward-looking blogs such as Mr. Estreich’s YourTube News and a similar channel called UTubeUrTube also can bring attention to your video. Mr. Estreich was one of the early YouTubers to promote a singer named Mia Rose. That got the ball rolling for the 18-year-old songstress, who over the past month has become the most-subscribed musician ever on YouTube. Mr. Estreich is now working as one of Miss Rose’s representatives, and the young singer says she has offers from several music labels.

On YouTube, popularity breeds more popularity. Once you have made it to the most-viewed list, more and more people will click on it; growth can become exponential. The most popular YouTube clip of all time, Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance,” has been seen by more than 39 million people.

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