The secret to winning online fame is viral content, but what key ingredients do Charlie and his bitten finger, Primitive Technology guy and mannequin challenges all share?
He doesn't say anything, there are no cute cats, girls in bikinis, funny babies, or even a pimple to be popped by the legendary Dr Pimple Popper, but more than 20 million people have watched his YouTube channel of just 22 videos.
In anyone's language this is cyber-success, and it's the kind of exposure marketing and media managers can only dream of, and also a lesson from which communications and media students around the world could learn a great deal. The only thing the world knows about Primitive Technology guy is that he is from somewhere in Queensland and is an expert at showing his fans how to make stone axes, various shelters, pottery, fire, a chimney, bed and woodshed with whatever he can find in the bush around him.
So what is it about his relatively slow, painstaking videos that have captured global attention?
At UOW, students studying to become Communications and Media ninjas have an added advantage in being able to access the expertise of a master of the new millennium media, Dr Teodor Mitew, whose passion for posting and researching its effects is world-renowned.
“We live in what we in the media industry call an attention economy, so if something can attract and hold attention it has a viral potential," says Dr Mitew of The University of Wollongong's School of the Arts, English and Media.
“This is an Australian YouTuber with content so original, so profoundly unique, that he has garnered a global audience in the millions, while having only 22 videos. Some of his videos have over 15 million views, while the person making them is still anonymous and hasn't uttered a single word on camera. Why? Because they are original both in terms of the content and the format they are presented in."
Add to that the fact that even without speaking Primitive Technology guy can be understood by anyone, anywhere, making his instructions accessible and ultimately shareable.
Going viral isn't as easy as it used to be. Once all you had to do was film yourself, or a friend, getting hit in the crotch with a ball/bat/bike and it became an instant hit. Laughing at other's misfortune helped early adopters of viral content laugh all the way to the bank. Who can forget when Charlie bit his older brother's finger? More than 800 million viewers tuned in to watch Harry tell his dad about his baby brother's teeth action, and sponsors and advertisers soon came knocking at the door, providing the tiny tots with enough income to pay their own way through college.
But getting something to go viral today is a lot harder, according to Dr Mitew.
“It is true that we are being flooded with content while we can dedicate only so much attention to any given piece of information. However, the flip side to that dynamic is that locally produced content can now spread globally with speeds dramatically faster than ever before in human history," he says.
“The difficulty in making something go viral does not lie in the process of distribution itself (anyone can upload a video to YouTube), but in the production of original content people can relate to. More people than ever before are online and can produce and consume content, but this has not made the process of making original, creative content any easier."
UOW cancer researcher Nat Harris has put his talents as a hip hop artist to good use over the last two years in attempts to try and secure much needed funding for a post-doctoral research projects he wants to pursue. The phat beats he rapped on to garner financial support by funding bodies went around the world in a matter of days.
“I think there was a gap in what was currently out there on social media when I did the science hip hop video," Harris explains.
Harris says science communication video online wasn't used as often as it is now, even just a couple of years ago, and combined with his catchy turn of phrase that made the complicated science of his research more tangible to the average punter, he garnered more than 500,000 views and secured around $10,000 to contribute to his laboratory's cancer research projects.
Dr Mitew says one of the secrets to going viral is to make sure content is something to which audiences can relate.
“We are completely saturated with feel good content so any new content joining the cue will have microscopic chance of breaking through. Don't forget the two main rules - audiences should be captivated, and/or should be able to relate to the content," he says.
And although it may lead to that elusive 15-minutes of fame and a small fortune, both Harris and Dr Mitew warn about asking your intended audience to do anything but watch.
“People are generally sceptical of clickbait now and organisations asking you to do something for them,” Harris says.
Dr Mitew agrees; “If people are surrounded by negative content beamed at them by legacy media (TV, radio, newspapers), then chances are they would want to balance that with positive messages."
“However, the bigger trend here is the death of legacy media and the transition of all content online, where audiences constantly juggle between content in terms of entertainment, news, and socialisation.
“Today, using your phone, you can like a picture of a cute cat, read a headline, and send a message to a friend over the span of a minute. This is the new reality of content production-distribution-consumption and it will naturally lead to a new aesthetic and new formats.”
At UOW, our Communications and Media degree is perfect for those looking to become experts in digital media and new media technologies. Given that the communications sector is as innovative as it is fast-paced, the insights gained through this degree put you in a fantastic position to go viral using emerging trends, engaging online content and ground-breaking ideas.
With these foundations in place, Dr Mitew says there are two options for those looking for the easy way to get their message out to the world: “Option A: Start a YouTube channel, making videos on topics that you are passionate and knowledgeable about. Make sure your content is different from every other video on these topics. Iterate, experiment, be fearless. The worst that can happen is nobody will watch your videos.
"Option B: Substitute YouTube for any other content format that is scalable and easy to share. Repeat."