Sarah Wood is Founder and Operations Director at viral video marketing agency Unruly Media

I’ve been asking Sarah about what makes a social video campaign successful, measurement of campaigns, and how she sees the market developing in future… 

When did Unruly Media launch?

We incorporated the company in January 2006 – myself, Scott Button and Matthew Cooke. Viral Video Chart launched in September 2006, when YouTube was still an indy and Facebook was just about to open its doors to the wider public.

Unruly’s video seeding platform launched in August 2007 and delivered 3m plays for clients within the first three months.

How big is your team?

There are around 40 Unrulies at our Shoreditch HQ, though there can be as many as 50 in the office depending on the type of social video campaigns that are live at any one time, as we like to bring in subject specialists wherever possible. 

There’s a small team of Unrulies in Paris, led by our French MD, Dorota Smaggia, and another team in New York, led by Unruly’s US President, Art Zeidman. We’re currently hiring across all three territories and are always keen to hear from online video addicts who are passionate about social media.

What are the common elements of successful social video campaigns?

Awesome content that makes an emotional connection with its target audience and has the power to turn consumers into brand evangelists. 

Careful planning and clear KPIs are key to ensuring that viral potential is realised and media contributes towards delivering campaign objectives.

When you speak to clients, do they still see social video/viral marketing as experimental?

The first time an advertiser runs a social video campaign, the budget is often experimental, though we often see additional budget allocated to the campaign once it is underway and the effectiveness of the medium becomes apparent. 

We’ve seen an exponential growth in budgets since we launched the viral seeding platform in 2007. In fact, the average campaign size has risen 600% since 2007. Many brands have been quick to recognise social video’s ability to engage new audiences and strengthen brand affinity with existing, loyal consumers. 

2010 in particular saw a large increase in budgets and a shift in advertiser focus, with forward-looking brands placing social video at the centre of flagship campaigns. This has involved not only creating awesome content, but supporting this content with paid media in order to guarantee engaged plays and maximise brand advocacy.

How are your charges structured and how accurately can you predict the potential success of campaigns?

We operate a Cost per Engagement model, so advertisers only pay when people actively choose to watch their content and engage with their brand. 

We guarantee plays across paid media and optimise campaigns for specific social environments depending on the campaign objectives. This could be generating Facebook Likes, building a Twitter following or driving viewers to an online buying point.

It’s fair to say that predicting viral success is more of an art than a science, though recent academic research coming out of Cass Business School suggests that the “signals” surrounding the content (such as its title and the number of views it has received) can be as important as the quality of the content itself when it comes to generating organic video views in the first 48 hours after video upload.

How do you measure the success of campaigns? What kinds of metrics do you use?

Our proprietary reporting tools offer tracking that is tailor-made to measure the social spread of video campaigns. 

As well as both facilitating and tracking video embeds, downloads and links to video content, we also track absolute shares and share rates across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and email, as well as the more conventional metrics such as dwell time and CTR.

We’re constantly developing our tracking capabilities to reflect evolving advertiser KPIs. Measuring ROI is the greatest challenge facing our industry and being an independent company with a great team of developers is an advantage for us. Within the last few weeks, for example, we have developed the functionality to track FB Likes delivered via the Unruly player. 

This is a useful metric for advertisers given that a Facebook Like has been valued at $136.38. Most important, though, is our capacity to benchmark these results against competitor campaigns and industry averages and to provide sentiment analysis that gives advertisers an insight into how the campaign has been received and which brand attributes are being discussed.

How do you encourage people to share and spread video content? What has worked best for you?

Before a campaign launches, we identify and outreach to key influencers and niche ecosystems, making sure that the people most likely to share the content get to see it as soon as it’s available so they can take the credit for discovering cool new content. 

Once a campaign is live, it’s crucial to make the content as portable as possible. The Unruly player makes it easy to download or embed a video file, share a link via email or post a video to social media profiles. 

We also regularly use YouTube and Daily Motion, where advertisers want to focus conversation around a particular sharing hub. Where budget allows, we adopt a big seed approach, placing the content into as many social environments as possible. 

Viral sharing is unpredictable and it’s difficult to predict exactly where a video will gain traction, so where social spread is the key campaign objective, we’d recommend a high reach strategy to maximise the chances of success.

Is there an optimal length for social video content?

This depends on the type of content as well as campaign objectives. Some of the most shared videos are more than two minutes long, but 45 seconds can seem too long to wait for a comic pay off at the end of a humorous clip.

If an advertiser wants to maximise time spent with the brand then a video in excess of 60 seconds can work. 

If a campaign is designed to encourage sharing activity, we’d recommend a shorter piece of content around 30-45 seconds long. If the brand is eager to optimise a campaign for CTR, we’d recommend that the content is 30 seconds max.

Are you doing anything around video content on mobile?

We’ve built an HTML5 player so our videos can be played and tracked inside mobile browsers and on iPhone and iPad apps. Around 5% of Unruly video views are currently delivered on mobile devices, using Bluetooth prompted video downloads and mobile entertainment platforms. 

We’re currently exploring options for integrating more fully with mobile environments. After all, there are 5bn mobile users globally, compared with an online population of “merely” 1.7bn. 

How has viral marketing changed over the past few years?

Five years ago, viral was seen as an underground phenomenon and viral advertising was the wild west of the digital ad landscape. 

We were the first video seeding company to require brand disclosure back in 2007, and we continue to campaign for greater transparency in the industry.

Whereas five years ago it was largely bloggers and webmasters hunting for cool content; in today’s socially-networked cyberworld we are all media owners and there are literally billions of people using video content as a conversation starter and a powerful tool for self-expression and communication. 

High profile social video campaigns such as Evian Roller Babies, T-Mobile Dance and Old Spice Guy have awakened brands to the opportunities that video presents, giving them the chance to entertain, engage and ultimately galvanise an audience.

It goes without saying that the arrival of Facebook and Twitter have fundamentally changed and continue to reshape the social video landscape. In 2006, the blogosphere was driving video sharing activity; in 2011, 90% of video shares that we track are taking place on Facebook.

And then there’s the slippery sands of nomenclature aka buzz words aka industry jargon. A couple of years ago, “viral” was the mot du jour and advertisers were all chasing the holy grail of a “viral hit”. 

As the sector has matured however, advertisers have become less interested in manufacturing a one off viral hit and more interested in creating a long term social video strategy that feeds into a broader social strategy and seeks to engage consumers in meaningful conversations, using a combination of visual spectacle, story telling, soundtrack to build an enduring emotional connection with consumers.

How do you see the future of social video marketing?

We expect to see continued innovation with an even higher bar when it comes to creating content that people want to share. With 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, the competition for eyeballs has never been stronger. 

And with more brands creating video content, the battle for consumers’ hearts and minds has never been tougher. 

The shift towards three screen delivery will accelerate in 2011, with HTML5 gaining traction and mobile finally living up to all the hype!

Social video content will increasingly be positioned at the centre of a brand’s social strategy, part of an integrated on and offline campaign, where users can interact with the brands they love.

Unruly is seeing accelerated growth for the start of 2011 and we are incredibly excited to be part of a transformative digital revolution that is empowering consumers, redefining the very idea of brands and turning the traditional relationship between the two on its head.