Media Maven Dan Greenberg Tells mbStartups How to Make a Video Go Viral

Finding a video on YouTube video that is so compelling that it has to be shared is as rare as seeing a double rainbow, but that doesn’t stop advertisers from trying. We recently spoke to Dan Greenberg, who is the CEO of a video advertising firm in San Francisco called Sharethrough. Greenberg’s ability to turn branded videos for companies like GM and Lego into viral sensations earned him a spot on Advertising Age’s list of Media Mavens for 2010. He shared with us some basic strategies for viral marketing.

Before Sharethrough, Greenberg was a teaching assistant at Stanford University’s first Facebook class in 2007. The assignment was to build a Facebook application and use basic psychology principles in the social space to get it to go viral. Six to seven weeks into the class, one student raised his hand. “We’re making $2,000 a day,” Greenberg recalled him saying. “Can we keep it?” Greenberg’s students had figured out the psychology of social media:

  • Social Proof: seeing a friend’s face in an application increases the time of engagement with the app. “Facebook is a very socially realistic environment,” said Greenberg. “It’s your identity, so when you see your friends, it’s actually your friends.”
  • Power of Suggestion: users were just as likely to share an application with four friends as they were with 20; all the students had to do was ask.

After the class, Greenberg estimates that at least half of the students either continued to run their businesses, sold out to other companies, or were hired to work at a gaming company like Zynga. It was in this class that Greenberg met his future co-founder and CTO, Rob Fan.

They said, “let’s build some of these apps ourselves,” and set to work getting advertisers to pay them for video content. Learning how to help a video “find its way into the nooks and crannies of the web,” Greenberg said, would become the core product of Sharethrough. He had this advice for getting people to share videos:

  • Entertainment Value: the videos don’t have to be spectacular, but people are more likely to share content that “is educational, interesting, fun, inspiring,” Greenberg said. Otherwise it belongs “on television or in an interruptive environment.” One of his favorites was a campaign for Lego, shown above, that targeted a “hipster, thoughtful, nostalgic audience.”
  • Thinking Outside the Banner Ad: one advantage that advertisers have right now is that there aren’t many established forms of advertising on the Web. Greenberg finds that publishers are generally open to new suggestions on how to display advertising on their sites and game makers are also open to integrating brands into their games.
  • Location: “Most social publishers and users have a mindset for sharing,” Greenberg said.  He puts his videos on sites like TwitPic, TweetMeme and Reddit, where people log in specifically to share photos and links.

Sharethrough recently moved to a “cool, new office,” Greenberg said, where his staff of 25 employees, who are like “high-performing sports athletes with family values,” can continue to grow. The company has just raised $5 million in Series A funding from North Bridge Venture Partners and FLOODGATE, which Greenberg plans to use in part to hire more Ruby on Rails engineers and salespeople throughout the country.