Lydia Sweatt is a writer who loves balancing her article/blog time indoors with a healthy dose of nature. She bikes, hikes, and identifies edible plants along the way.
Creating Viral YouTube Videos: 10 Tips for Small Channels
Nothing hurts more than spending hours on a YouTube video only to get zero views in return. It’s discouraging for any creator, but the sting of failure hits some people harder than others. Unfortunately, it's the creators running small YouTube channels (and struggling to get noticed) who tend to feel the burn the most.
This raises an important question: How do you go viral on YouTube?
To get the answer, we interviewed three small creators about how they did it and their advice for fellow YouTubers. We spoke with NuHoops, a basketball enthusiast (1.68K subscribers); Esiar, a documentary-style creator (9.8K subscribers); and ImJustJR, a Minecraft gamer who's into storytelling (16.6K subscribers).
Collectively, they earned over 1 million views without the luxury of having anything close to a million subscribers. So, in their own words, here's how to make your YouTube videos go viral!
1. Experiment Until You Have a Clear Passion/Expertise
It’s best to have a clear niche lined up for your YouTube channel, but it’s not a big deal if you’re still searching for the right fit. After all, there’s no rush to grow your channel. You can try different things until a topic resonates with you, your audience, and the goals you've set as a creator.
Esiar, who went viral with a few thousand subscribers, explored many ideas before settling on one. He went from gaming videos to YouTube growth advice to documentaries about online personalities. It was his final idea — documenting the rise of famous YouTubers — that birthed the viral video below. It has over 500,000 views!
2. Choose a Topic You Know Well or Love Deeply
Whether you stumble upon a topic or develop it over time, one thing is true on YouTube. It's easier to go viral when you understand the ins and outs of what you're posting. The more you know, the faster you grow.
And truthfully, you’ll need plenty of time to brainstorm new ideas and test them on your channel. That’s why creators like NuHoops find it easier to film what they know or showcase hobbies they already enjoy. In his case, covering the NBA was the perfect fit.
“During the season, I would already spend a couple of hours each night just watching the games. And so for me, it was a no-brainer. If I’m already invested so heavily in the NBA, why not double down on that and create a channel about it?” he says.
3. Figure Out What’s Not Going Viral Yet
Now that you’ve found your niche, the next step is crafting a video that truly stands out. It sounds impossible in theory, but don’t be discouraged by the sheer size of this challenge. Your competitors are a great resource for spotting viral ideas!
Here’s a strategy you’ll find useful:
1. Go to a channel that explores the same topic you’re interested in.
2. Click the Videos tab, then select Popular.
Now, look at the viral videos on this channel. What do they have in common? Better yet, can you make something in the same genre but with a different angle?
“In the NBA niche, for example, videos about masks have done really well,” NuHoops explains. “There are countless videos on masks, and so I’m thinking to myself, what about another accessory? I searched ‘arm sleeve’, and there were no videos on that.”
Shortly after this realizing this, NuHoops made a video about arm sleeves (below) and went insanely viral with over 300,000 views!
4. Choose a Topic Within a Topic
And that brings us to our next tip: Steer clear of YouTube videos that are “too general” or aimed at a broad swath of viewers. That creates an unfair level of competition, especially for a small channel looking for big opportunities. But, one workaround is to find a topic within a topic.
In NuHoop’s case, he created two levels of separation within his content. He covered sports, but not just any sport: Basketball was his focus. And he didn’t limit himself to the competitive aspect of the game, either. He narrowed his vision again to discover the world of basketball accessories.
So, if you're wondering how to make a YouTube video go viral, start with a popular topic, identify its viral videos, then expose something people are overlooking in the conversation.
5. Don’t Just Film an Idea — Tell a Gripping Story
It’s easy to believe that most videos go viral because the creator decided to chase the perfect idea. There’s some truth to the concept, but it’s missing a vital ingredient, and that’s storytelling. A viral video is just a popular concept that was turned into a story! It has emotion, conflict, and a sweet resolution that leaves viewers feeling inspired.
ImJustJR took this advice to heart. He filmed a 20-minute story about one item players can use in Minecraft, and the video attracted over 600,000 views.
“I went from just highlighting content and funny moments, when you’re recording with friends, to telling more of a story,” he says. “I feel like storytelling on YouTube is taking this huge wave on the platform.”
6. Create a Thumbnail Anyone Can Understand in Seconds
Did you know that visitors can assess a website’s visual appeal within 50 milliseconds? That happens in the blink of an eye! Now, imagine how quickly they'll judge something simple, like a YouTube thumbnail. These quick perceptions are why you need an uncluttered yet appealing image for your video.
“I don’t want to crowd the thumbnail, and I don’t want to put too much copy on the thumbnail,” NuHoops says. “I want to make sure that the packaging — the title and thumbnail — are very clear, and people know what they’re clicking on.”
After all, it sets off a bad chain reaction when people can't find a reason to click. They avoid the video, which ruins any chance of it being watched, shared, or even going viral.
7. Gain Viewers’ Trust in the First 30 Seconds
Getting your first viral video is about more than collecting millions of clicks. Once a person is on the watch page, you have to convince them to stay there! A study posted by Harvard Business Review says that rapid sharing of a video is what makes it go viral; and viewers must watch enough of a video to be moved toward that action.
“I feel like something that’s overlooked is trust,” Esiar says. “A lot of creators don’t make you trust them. But [it’s good] to have someone you can trust to say the right information in the first couple of seconds or minutes.”
So, how do you gain viewers' trust on YouTube? You can start by:
- Jumping right into the topic: Get to point quickly so viewers won’t have a reason to question your videos.
- Stating your expertise early: For example, saying something like, “I'm a car mechanic of 15 years, and this is why I never buy Ford trucks,” is a fascinating way to hook viewers' attention.
8. Get Feedback in Real Time
One piece of advice that’s always floating around is to “keep making videos because you'll slowly get better at it." But how helpful is it to pump out content without knowing how to get better? Or the mistakes you’re making on YouTube?
It’s great to read your viewers’ opinions in the comment section. But Esiar says you have to go deeper to hear specific advice.
“Get feedback circles,” he says. “Get several people who are in and out of your niche to see your videos. That will help you improve a lot.”
9. Know the Real Definition of Consistency
After going viral, ImJustJR says it’s better to make great videos infrequently instead of pumping out lukewarm content. This contradicts a long-held belief that the key to YouTube success is to never stop posting.
“Consistency is important but not a priority,” ImJustJR admits. “Consistency isn’t what makes a YouTuber great. It’s the content you post.”
So, try to make outstanding videos as often as possible. That could look like posting one video a week instead of 20 videos a month!
10. Remember, Failing Is Part of the Journey
While some people do get lucky, creating a viral video doesn’t happen overnight. Most people work hard to research topics, understand their audience, and sharpen their storytelling skills until something, anything, trends in the right direction.
“You might know the perfect idea, but if [the YouTube Studio] says, ‘Hey, this one didn’t didn’t do well,’ just continue to the next one,” ImJustJR says.
Be patient. Be persistent. And most importantly, don’t give up!
More Resources for Your Viral Journey
Want to learn more about the small creators who went viral on YouTube? If so, press play below to hear their journeys. The mistakes and triumphs they faced may guide you toward a strategy that brings more views!