The Three Things This Viral Video Gets Exactly Right

image of staffordshire terrier

If you’ve been on Facebook for more than ten minutes, you’ve seen a friend share an interesting video.

Today I want to talk about one that was shared with me — about why it worked, what you can learn from it, and how you can break a complex piece of content down to get insights for your own material.

After I took a few minutes to watch the video, I immediately shared it. And then my friends shared it. And their friends shared it.

When I see that happening in my social media streams, I stop and pay attention.

So let’s take a look at a powerful story. The story of a good dog named Rosie, the kind people who helped her, and how they can help you create the kind of content that gets shared, that touches your audience, and that motivates them to take action.

The video is below. It would be a great idea to watch it through before we start the analysis part. You may want to have a hanky handy.

Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

There are a lot of things these guys are doing right, but I want to call your attention to three in particular that I think you can learn from.

The part where they’re doing something remarkable

I watched what kind of language people were using when they shared the video. It was usually some version of, “This is amazing” or, “You need to watch this.”

Hope for Paws, the organization who published the content, does amazing work. Now lots of us have taken in stray animals. There have been probably a dozen cats in my life who have wandered in from the street and taken up residence.

But very few of us have the knowledge, patience, and wisdom of the man in the video. He’s a superhero of animal rescue. The device with the iPhone is interesting and clever, but it’s just one detail in a larger story of someone engaged in remarkable work.

Remember, remarkable just means people are talking about you. In other words, they feel compelled to share your content with words like, You have to see this.

There are a million ways to be remarkable. Most of them rest on a foundation of being (really) damned good at what you do.

The part where it grabs you emotionally

This story doesn’t pull any punches.

First, rescue stories are always touching. The strong protecting the weak, the frightened finding sanctuary. That’s a powerful archetype.

And then the story gets kicked up a notch when we find out that this lovely abandoned dog isn’t the only one in need of rescue — she has puppies to protect. Any parent (or anyone who’s ever had a parent, for that matter) will be able to resonate with this story of a mama struggling to keep her little ones safe.

They throw a little emotional music in, too. These guys don’t play fair. And that’s what makes it effective. (All of the Hope for Paws videos are good if you’d like to just sit at your desk and have a good cry.)

The story follows a good, proven template: Peril, Complications, Resolution. In copywriting, it’s called Problem, Agitate, Solve.

  • The story is compelling because something we care about is at stake. (Peril — will we find the puppies? Will they be okay?)
  • It holds our attention because interesting twists and turns develop along the way. (Complications — the mama is reluctant to reveal her pups, the trick with the iPhone)
  • And it’s satisfying because at the end, we get our happily ever after. The world of the story is restored to order and goodness. (Resolution — that whole part at the end where you cried)

You may not have the benefit of adorable puppies for your business story. But there’s some version of this story structure in your business. You need to dig it out.

Hint: your customers know where you can find it, and they will show you if you ask.

The part where they let you know what to do next

Note that there’s a nice, clear call to action right at the beginning of the video. It isn’t lost. They don’t worry about being too “pitchy.”

If you want to help (and many people who watch the video will want to help), they make it easy. (Did I donate? Yes.)

The process after you click Donate is clear and simple as well. No hangups, no broken order pages. An optimization expert could probably come in and improve things even more, but 90% of the game is won by simply clearly asking for what you want.

We can sometimes get caught up in not wanting to “sell” too soon. And it’s a great idea to make your case before you start reaching into anyone’s pocket.

But be mindful — at the moment you’ve created a strong emotional impact, your audience wants to know how to take the next step. To book a consultation or buy a product or make a donation. Don’t make them wait too long, or their attention will drift to the next compelling story.

There’s a difference between decent content and great content

You don’t have to get everything right to create a great piece of content. Your grammar may not be perfect (although you’ll hear about it if it isn’t), your site might not be exactly the way you want it, you may have some details you want to fix.

But if you’re creating content:

  • About someone (ideally you or your company) doing something remarkable,
  • That engages your audience’s emotion and tells a compelling story, and
  • Ends with a clear, simple call to action

Then you’re going to win the content game. Everything you do on top of that will just make it better.

And if you want to watch some more moving but happy stories and maybe even make a donation, here’s the link for the Hope for Paws website. By the way, we have no affiliation with them, other than finding their video on Facebook and being moved to write about it.

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Reader Comments (47)

  1. says

    Wow – now I’m crying… :)

    What a beautiful video and a great lesson on creating compelling, emotionally engaging content. I’m not sure how to bring stories that are as emotionally charged as puppy rescues into my own business, but you can be sure I’ll be trying harder from here on out!

    • says

      I feel the same way. I understand the lesson, I feel the lesson but acting on the lesson will be the hardest part (obviously). I guess just being aware of these key points will make my content just a little bit better :) Thanks

  2. says

    This is all great, BUT…how do you actually get people to see and share?

    I can say with only a little bias that my company is producing some of the most compelling stories on the Web — we’re former television news people who got sick of the crime and grime and now we run a business that we’re all passionate about. We tell stories about 94-year-old barefoot water skiiers and skydivers over 60 and cancer survivors and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. We have a national TV show, a radio show, a website and more. We constantly hear from people that watch and listen to the shows that we’re the best programming they’ve seen in a while.

    So why aren’t people doing more sharing? We’ve had a couple of viral hits, with nearly 12M and 1M videos, respectively, but we have a huge archive of content that just doesn’t get the love it deserves.

    Venting…brainstorming…who knows what this comment is, but thank you for making me think a little harder about our approach!

    • says

      I’m not a PR pro nor a news & TV expert, just a writer. But the stories of mine that have gone viral were not only all the things in this article (mostly by mistake), they also hit during a related news cycle – where sources were clamming up and I dropped in as Miss Congeniality. You are lucky to have a pulse on that valuable information – those stories shall see the light of day! I know it!

    • Dave says

      You didn’t give us your website or TV show info? I’d love to see your stories if you’ll tell me how and where I can find them.

      • says

        Hi Dave (and thanks, Sonia!),

        Our TV show is called Growing Bolder and it airs on PBS stations (we’re in the third season). Our website is, and that’s where we keep all of our stories…we’re a small but passionate team and we’re always looking for ways to get the word out about what we’re doing. We offer embed codes, sharing tools and more, but I am disappointed that some of our better stories have gotten lost in the shuffle.

        • says

          Looks like quality stuff, Katy. One thing I noticed is that the only social sharing option you offer is a Facebook Like (which doesn’t always result in a share). While FB is likely your best platform, you might want to add Twitter and others that are pure distribution.

          Also, building your direct audience prompts sharing. I see you have an email opt-in, which is smart. Maybe experiment with options that make that more prominent, especially at the end of a video view.

        • says

          Hi Katy,
          I love what you are doing and I hope you don’t mind some feedback about your site. I’m no expert but I can offer an potential reason why the social sharing aspect may be suffering, then you can do some A/B testing to find out if there’s anything to it.

          There were a few things I noticed that may make it much less likely for a user to read and share your content.

          One is that placement of your sharing buttons is unexpected (see below). Another is that in both places where you have sharing buttons you miss the chance for a call to action i.e. specifically stating “share this”. On the right hand side widget you even use the term “bookmark” which could be compounding the problem. I never think of sharing something on Twitter as bookmarking.

          Regarding proximity: I used to develop all-Flash websites once – sorry about that – and what I learned is that usability is improved massively by ensuring your layout is as intuitive as possible. In Flash we could do all kinds of cool stuff, but most of it was at the expense of creating an easy-to-navigate site.
          Thanks to the proliferation of popular widgets, users have come to expect sharing buttons to be in a number of predictable places (usually at the top and bottom of the posts). You have your main sharing widget in a box on the right, half way down the page, which is not where I’d expect to look at all. You have a couple of sharing buttons at the bottom of your posts too, but only a subset (constancy issue).

          Going hand in hand with the above is possibly even more important: your site is very busy. Take the front page as an example – rather than hit me straight up with your good content, you start with what looks like a banner ad, followed by a row of buttons, followed by a fairly big and busy logo with more stuff to the right, followed by more buttons, followed by even more buttons, and finally the content.

          Then the first bit of content is presented using a slider widget. Its good but you have a huge gap between the focal point of the images and the related text (it feels like you hate my eyes and really want to make them work hard to punish them for something!)

          I bet if you did the following 3 things you’d see a massive improvement

          1) Use standard placement of sharing buttons on your articles
          2) Have a call to action above your sharing buttons (and use the term ‘share’ not ‘bookmark’)
          3) Have your main content slider at the top of your page (and overlay the text directly on top of the image rather than have it to the side).

          As I mentioned, you can use Google Analytics to test your front page and compare the results for yourself. A couple of the above changes would hardly take any time at all :)

  3. says

    Always enjoy your content. Guess what you are doing is working as I clicked over to watch the full video. This piece “Problem, Agitate, Solve.” is what I needed to hear in addition to making sure to have call to action.

    • says

      It works like crazy for all kinds of marketing stories. :) I think people shy away from the emotionally powerful story, it feels very intense, but when you do them well it can do amazing things for your audience.

  4. says

    They do great work, and tell the story so well, don’t they? I knew exactly who you were referring to when you mentioned the word “dog”.
    He was in South Carolina this past weekend to rescue a dog that had been living on the street for 5 years. I went over to help volunteer. It was a great experience to know that he, along with lots of volunteers, were able to rescue this shaggy little dog.

  5. says

    It’s the oldest rule in advertising: puppies and babies. That’s what sells.

    I also liked how throughout the video they gave mulitple calls to action and multiple choices. For example, when the guy does the iPhone trick, there’s a pop-up that says if you like the trick to like the video. There is also a call to action later in the video to like the video so they can get featured on YouTube’s home page.

    They’re not just asking for donations, which doesn’t make them feel so pushy because they give you options.

    I’m seeing this type of technique more and more with really good content marketers. In free whitepapers, they’ll have links to post a quote from the paper to your twitter feed. They’ll ask you to share that you’ve read it on Facebook, etc.

    They’re not just asking you to share it, but giving you the exact talking points.

    Most people who view your content will not open their wallet for you. These action increase your audience by encouraging viewers and readers to share what you’re offering and giving them a specific action to discuss.

    You make it really easy for your audience to participate, which is key to going viral.

  6. says

    Loved the lessons you drew out for us here from this video. Emotion is so key. I believe this is permeated with confidence too – confidence in what we are offering is impactful to lives! Thanks, Amy

  7. amki says

    Thank you, Sonia, for opening an entirely new route for helping animals to me.

    I work with a cat TNR (trap, neuter, release) group, and, while money is always somewhat of a problem, finding homes for the rescued kittens is the biggest problem. The ‘release’ part mostly applies to the breeding adults. Homes for the kittens, which are still young enough to be socialized and have been spayed/neutered, is the overwhelming shortage.

    Because of that, many of the rescuers end up keeping some kittens and providing their care and neutering surgery at their own expense. I know more stories than I could ever write about people and events related to TNR, and still I had never thought to use your methods.

    In fact, you and your post make a fine story, and perhaps I can give some payback by way of additional Copyblogger readers. :)

  8. says

    Yeah, I think the most intense part was when he started to play the puppy video. She didn’t respond at first, but when she did you were like, “Oh yeah!” Nice eye on pulling out PAS on this. It is universal and often not intentional, as it was in this case.

  9. says

    What is amazing to me is that those elements work so well for a company that is merely asking for donations. It’s mindblowing to think how well they could work for a business that would offer me something in return for giving them money.

  10. says

    Yeah, that’s it huh? Brilliant. You forgot the part where they send the video out to thousands of people at a time who already have a nose for this stuff, and give a shi*. No Joe or Josephine Blow is going to get traction with a video they do in their basement, no matter how “viral” it appears to be, and no matter how closely it matches the 3 points above.

    The key to success is already having success. It’s like Shoemoney telling us how he made $50,000 by tweeting on Twitter. Yeah, no kidding… when you have the followers – it’s easy as pie. The problem is – GETTING THE FOLLOWERS to begin with. Getting the connections to share your video with the masses. That’s the key to viral videos – you have a big jumpstart and you’re not starting at zero.

  11. says

    I can really appreciate you taking this simple video, but can break it down and offer some awesome tips! I think just taking away your three points that you shared at the end a great take away for me!

    Share -> Engage -> Call to Action

    That’s enough right there!

  12. says

    While anything with animals and babies do well, I think you hit the mark on video presentation. There was conflict, a little drama, the solution being offered and the resolution. All warm and fuzzy for a dog story, but marketing gold. But, I think the biggest reason is the authentic relationship the person was developing with the dog to earn her trust. That is no different from what we need to do for our customers. If you are authentic on video (and you can see it), and truly show the desire to help, then you will do fine. You have to reach through the lens to connect with the viewer and be real. Coming off too sales-y or distant will lose them every time.

  13. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Watching the video solidified for me that I made the right decision to volunteer with animal shelters such as The Arizona Humane Society. I now volunteer with the Parma Animal Shelter since I now live in NEO. I’m passionate (I know it’s an overused word) about helping animals and educating the public about animal welfare and preventing overpopulation. The animals are the ones that suffer. If I could adopt Rosie and one of the puppies, I would.

    I just covered a story for PAS that’s supposed to be published in one of our local newspapers. I’ll see what I can do to create viral video based off of my article; I have pictures and we can get the video from the news story. We have a grant meeting next week, and I’ll bring up this blog post. I’m officially on PAS’ communications and fundraising committees and will use the tips in this post to the help organization, which will help the animals.

    Thanks again.

  14. says

    This video was fantastic. There weren’t any special effects or perfect videography, just an amazing story that captures the hearts of the viewers. I have to say, I might actually want to get a dog some day after watching this video. It pretty much convinced me to make it happen.

  15. says

    Hi everyone,

    I’m curious to know if anyone has any information on what the copyright law states in regards to using ‘copyrighted’ songs from artists like the ones featured in the video. It was my understanding that you had to buy the license to the song. I could be wrong.

    Many thanks. :)

    • says

      You do, or you have to get their permission to use it for free.

      There are sites where you can get royalty-free music for a very reasonable license fee, and there’s always the option of roping in a talented musician friend.

  16. says

    Thanks! You just gave me an idea about ‘roping in a talented musician friend.’ My niece taught herself to play guitar and writes songs. I’ll ask her to write and record something. :)

  17. says

    Reading this post and then watching the video reminded me of something Maya Angelou once said. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Interestingly, after watching the video about Rosie, I watched one about Billy.

    Same thing, though Billy (character) was in a cage so long (conflict), the door had rusted shut. Billy was adopted by his rescuer (resolution). Very moving.

  18. says

    I agree, with Charlene, you have to be real, when you come off too sales-y its a huge deal breaker for most people, because they feel like they cant connect with you. All you want is a sale, and its easy for them to pick up on that. Earning trust is essential.

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