Think virality is a fluke? Think again. Every single video that goes viral, goes viral for a reason. And that can be repeated over and over again. That’s why I created the HERO system for predictable viral video. In this podcast I reveal each step of the HERO system, how it works, and how you can leverage it to give every video you produce to the opportunity to go viral.
You’re listening to the video marketing podcast, helping you go a little more viral every day. Here’s your host, Matt Johnston.
Matt Johnston: (00:15)
Welcome to the video marketing podcast. I am Matt Johnston. Thank you so much for being here with me today. I’m going to be speaking at an event, uh, lucky enough to have been doing by just speaking at an event, the digital crush event in uh, the Tri-Cities area, which is a few hours outside Seattle next week. As I’m recording this podcast and probably when you’ll hear it, uh, and I’m doing a talk called the secrets social video method. I used to get 100 million views on videos and this is a topic very close to my heart. This is, and this is what I wanted to talk to you about today. What I’m going to discuss today as I’m going to tell you the system, the secret method I use to get millions and millions of views on video. And I developed this system after years of running these video programs. Like when I was running in New York magazines, video and running all those content channels that now this, I always had to train new staff to sort of get a sense of how to act in the right way on every piece of content that they created optimally.
Matt Johnston: (01:34)
Uh, and sometimes that was hard to train because what I, what I learned over the years is that a lot of it had to do with intuition. It was, it was things that I just sort of picked up and figure it out along the way. And my gut would tell me to go in certain directions and then that those directions would lead me to, to, to, to the decisions that I would make about what video content to create. But what video content I felt like would go viral, would get picked up, would get attention, uh, would get massive amounts of video views, but also lead people down the sales funnel. A lot of it was intuition and I wasn’t happy with that. I wanted to find a way to show people exactly how I work and act when I’m making decisions about video. In a way that was scientific, it was so that it was a methodology that other people felt like they can follow.
Matt Johnston: (02:31)
And so that’s when I came up with the hero system. The hero system is, is, is, is what I’m going to talk about today. The hero system is this social video method. I use to get hundreds of millions of views on video. And I have, I mean I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had a, I’ve had multiple videos get over a hundred million views teams that I’ve worked, uh, that I’ve managed. Um, and in that sort of 50 to 100 million range, there have been tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and certainly, um, there have been hundreds, hundreds that haven’t been a million plus. Right. And really, I’m not saying that to brag when I’m saying that it, what I’m, what I’m telling you that for is just to show that there is a methodology here, like this is something that is repeatable, that can be, that can be repeated and, and leveraged by pretty much anybody if they have the framework in place.
Matt Johnston: (03:27)
So I want to share that with you today and a given that we’re in this sort of uh, audio space, uh, it’s hard for me to show you video examples, uh, but also I have a book coming out soon called producing empathy and uh, it will also go into this stuff as well. There’ll be links associated with that and everything that you can go to. But, but the one example that I always go to and I could start the book with this example is this video that we made that uh, I say 135 million views, I think it might be up to 138 million views. Something like that was the most successful video that I was ever a part of. And it was this body paid animal art video in New York magazine and that video took an hour to make and it is still the most popular video in my career, probably ever.
Matt Johnston: (04:16)
This is when I was at New York magazine running the running video in New York magazine probably. I mean it’s definitely the most successful in New York magazine’s history. It’s probably up lit up there with, with at least the top 20, if not sooner, most successful videos of all time in the world of news media, what we would say, news media type content. So basically the video starts and it’s, it’s these, it’s these artists that are, that this artist with body pain, he’s a body paint artist and he has these models that are experts in this type of stuff. And he painted them to work together so that you had them, uh, so that you had them in a way that made them look like certain animals. And it was so realistic that when you saw it, you thought you were looking at it. So actually there, the three of them were in a shape of a frog at the beginning.
Matt Johnston: (05:12)
And then I’ll put a link in the show notes so that you can check this out. But the three of them are, they, they look like a frog. And when you first see this video, remember like these videos, autoplay in newsfeeds on, on, on, on the platforms where I went viral, Instagram and Facebook. And so the first time you see it, you’re like, that’s a frog. Wow, okay, that’s a frog. But maybe there’s something going on here. Subconsciously your mind is noodling that there’s something going on here. And the first text that we chose to put on was, this is not a frog, right? It means these texts on screen type videos, uh, that, that do so well because it’s the story that sells. It’s the story, right? So what we, uh, that, that video and the, because of the opening, I’m sure it kept people around because they wanted to continue to see the next thing.
Matt Johnston: (06:02)
We were able to rely on amazing footage. But don’t get me wrong, it is not the footage that made the video go viral because a lot of folks made this video and it did not go viral everywhere. We are the only video that went viral with this story, and I believe it’s because of the editorial direction following the hero system, which I’m going to teach to you today, here. Um, and of course it’s a, it’s, it’s something that you can do even if you’ve never made video before. Because again, it focuses on the story and not the content. People get really intimidated about making video because they feel like they need a very specific skillset. Oh, I can’t touch video. Video is not something that I can be a part of because I never learned to do it and I wasn’t born with the ability to do video.
Matt Johnston: (06:48)
I mean, first of all, I would challenge all of these limiting beliefs. Anybody can do anything. But uh, well I don’t want to say anybody can do anything, but you know what I mean? If you, they’re there, there are so many self limiting beliefs that we have on ourselves. Let’s say, Oh, I’m not a video person. I can’t do video when in actuality if you just learn these steps to connect with people and you use the technology we have available today, anybody can do this stuff, right? So the hero system is, is based on this core question, right? How do I create consistent video for social media platforms that I know will always have the opportunity to go viral? Because this is the big thing that we always have with video. We have a, we have very big ambitions when it comes to video and then things start to fall flat because we run out of resources and we, we don’t see the ROI on it, you know, I mean we’ll, we’ll make six videos, we’ll put them up, we’ll be like, ah, nobody watched them and we’ll be sad and then it’ll go away.
Matt Johnston: (07:51)
Now I’m not saying that every single video that you make is going to go viral, especially if you don’t have any influence already. Obviously you need to start building some influence, but even if you don’t have a lot of influence following, this is going to get you way more awareness than you would get before. So you prepare every piece of video to go viral and when you can get some pickup on this, it can exponentially increase. And also if you’re creating evergreen type content, it can have a shelf life, which is extremely long. So the goal here with the heroes system is to have a system, a checklist that you can have for every single piece of video that you are thinking about making or that you do make. And then you compare it to this system and say, okay, is this worth doing? Does this have an opportunity to go viral?
Matt Johnston: (08:41)
Or is this not worth doing at all because it doesn’t follow this system, it’s not going to hit these things well enough. So that is, that’s the core, the core decision. Because as I’ve consulted over the years, many different video organizations, this is the question that comes up all the time. I don’t know what to do. Uh, because you know, I consult a lot of folks who are running video programs and they don’t have a video background and it’s not that they’re running video programs may, may, maybe they’re running a larger team that also has video as a piece of it. And they say, okay, well I don’t know what to look for when it comes to video. I don’t know what stories to do. And so the hero system solves this for you, right? And it actually gets you quite good at understanding what makes successful video content.
Matt Johnston: (09:29)
So you’re even, you can even be quite good at making edits to that video content. So the hero system, uh, it’s an acronym, surprise, surprise it, Stan. It’s it’s hook, empathy, response and over deliver. And I’ll go into these, but it’s vitality optimized video that intensely that is intensely value aligned, which is very important and it’s also masterfully sharable, extremely important. Okay, so let’s start with hook. Hook is the first five seconds of your video. Now let me be clear here. This is not a Facebook video strategy. It is very specifically a designed for social video. I will admit that however, the hero system also applies to any YouTube video you do as well and all of your deeper, more heavily produced content. So I call this a social video methodology because I originally developed it to build Facebook and Instagram teams and it works extremely well on those platforms.
Matt Johnston: (10:31)
But the hero system needs to be your checklist for all video content that you create. So just keep that in mind. I don’t want anybody to just sort of tune out and think it doesn’t apply to them because of specific types of video content that they want to make. Do not get me wrong. The hero system applies to any piece of video that you put online. Okay, so hook, it’s the first five seconds of your video. So on Facebook and Instagram, um, and other algorithmic platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, you have to create content that is going to really blow people away in feed because in all of these platforms, video is auto-playing as you scroll through, you know, you don’t have the opportunity to press play if, if, if the user behavior was that they had to push play on it as you do on YouTube, sort of click on it.
Matt Johnston: (11:22)
But you, we, we, we would, we would have a different sort of optimization and of course you still need the hook and YouTube videos, but you have to really think about the hook and a platform specific type of way. So let’s just assume we’re talking about videos that auto play in the feed. You have to make sure that you’re using either footage or a very strong headline hook in the first five seconds to get people in. And if it’s YouTube, very often you’re looking for a direct tease because the big thing with YouTube is increasing watch time. You want to make sure that you’re kicking people down the road. It’s a lot of what we used to do in the TV news world. When I used to produce television news, we would call it a deep tease. We would tease in the a block to get people to the end of the show so that they would watch this thing all the way through, stick around, watch more ads, and you want to do something very similar in YouTube videos in Facebook and Instagram videos.
Matt Johnston: (12:14)
You can do that, but you also want to make sure that you’re blowing people away with your best stuff right off the bat. So you don’t want to make them wait for your best content. You want to front load your best content, and I’ll go into this in a, uh, in a further episode. I also have a whole scripting methodology and a system for scripting your specifically social video content that that that is, that is optimized, that you can fit into any piece of video that you want to do on those algorithm-based platforms. But for these purposes, I’m, I’m just talking about three to five seconds where you blow people away with amazing footage. So if you have great footage, amazing footage that you have, use that first, you have to use that video footage right off the top. Do not wait. The drop off rates on Facebook and Instagram are insanely high almost no matter what you do, which is not true, but to a large extent, drop off rates have a tendency to be extremely high.
Matt Johnston: (13:16)
So if you’re not putting your best stuff first, they’re just not seeing it. So you get the opportunity to do two things. When you put it first, you’re delivering massive value and you’re making them want to watch more and you’re making them stop in the feed, which is so important. You only have three to five seconds to hook people maximum maximum, right? I mean the drop off rates of the five second Mark are extremely sharp, so you only have three to five seconds. So the first thing is strong visuals. They’re the best option. Obviously just like the frog video that I was talking about earlier. Uh, and you know, if you have the opportunity to have footage that’s really going to stop people and make them go Whoa, then you know, it’s a very good opportunity and you don’t want to pass that up front, load your best step.
Matt Johnston: (13:59)
I can not drill that home enough headlines or the other thing, I would say that in 70 to 80% of cases, maybe, uh, when we’re, when we’re trying to shoot for volume on these platforms and shooting for volume is a very good strategy. You’re often trying to, uh, try to make this content work with stories that are sort of more, I don’t know what the word is, benign. Um, and you know, maybe it’s a listicle that you’re turning into a video or whatever, which is totally fine. By the way. No shame. I am firm believer that anything can be a video. What you want to do here is a headline. So you have a headline right at the top that is very specific and I have a system system for everything, but I, I do have a system for, for writing amazing headlines that also helps you decide whether content ideas work.
Matt Johnston: (14:47)
It’s called the seed system. And I’ll have a future episode on that. Uh, but the first step in seed is specificity. So if you have a very, if you have a very specific headline that makes people know exactly what you’re going to be delivering specifically in an emotionally driven way, and again, a listicle on life packs can still be emotional. It just needs to pull on people and we’ll get to that in the second step of the hero system, but headlines or the other way to do it. So that’s like text on screen right off the bat, right at the beginning. If you have great visuals, you might delay that headline a little bit because the visuals are the hook in that case. But very often your headline is going to be the hook. So in practice, um, what that looks like, uh, is, uh, you know, again, if you have visuals like the frog video, you have that right off the bat, you’re stopping people in feed.
Matt Johnston: (15:36)
And if it’s a headline, then you are talking about, you know, four ways to, four, four easy tweaks you can make to your resume to get a job in the next 30 days. Uh, very specific, very specific promise. And you can get people right in there. They’re going to want to watch if they connect with it. So, which brings me to the E and the hero system, which is empathy and empathy is my favorite word. Empathy is the heartbeat of the internet. And empathy means emotional identification, feeling in yourself, what you have seen or felt in others. Right? So how does this apply to content? I am a firm believer that the internet at its best is a mirror. People click on content because they see themselves in that content. That’s what makes them want to click. So they want to see themselves in it.
Matt Johnston: (16:27)
And that’s an identification, but it’s deeper than that. It’s an emotional identification. And I think of that as empathy. I mean that’s empathy to me, a feeling and others that you felt yourself and vice versa. So if you do not have an empathetic core in this, in your video content, you’re going to lose. But here’s the secret. Most content can have that. You just often have to dig for it and it’s gotta be the right angle, right? So sometimes you just need to twist things just a little to the left or a little to the right to get them to the place where they’re going to like connect with people in that very specific way. Uh, so that’s empathy. So let’s go back to the headline. The hook in the headline. You are, uh, you’re doing that specific headline that’s connecting with people. You’re connecting with people through empathy.
Matt Johnston: (17:14)
You want to make them feel something. There’s a promise. So if it’s a life hack, it’s like I felt, let’s say this resume idea. You felt like you are having trouble getting a job. You identify with the struggle of not knowing what to do on your, on your resume, and you’re going to basically connect with them empathetically with that idea that they can get a job in 30 days. And how would that feel? Right? And the visuals and the way that we present this is going to have that empathetic core a, but really it’s the language that you use. So empathy is the second, second piece here. In some ways it’s the most important. You can’t, and it connects to all the other pieces. You can’t do any of this without empathy because again, people click mirrors online. Very, very important. So, uh, let’s talk about our, the ares response.
Matt Johnston: (18:02)
Every single video it needs to make people feel something. Just like we said before, this even applies to videos like resume. The resume video has an emotional response because people are already subconsciously transporting themselves to the moment when they get that job in the next 30 days. And that’s extremely important because it’s going to get an emotional response, you know? And sometimes the emotional response is like, Whoa, I can’t believe it. Amazing. And sometimes that emotional response is literally just taking them to a more alert stay or it’s kind of like, Oh, you gotta pay attention to this. Right? You know, and you’re making them feel something, right? Like they’re starting to visualize these things happening, right? And that and feeling is the language of the body I’m thinking is the language of the mind. So when you can start to get it into the body, then it starts becoming very real and solid and they’ll start connecting deeply with your content.
Matt Johnston: (18:55)
So you need an emotional response. But as far as response goes, again, it’s not just empathy. I mean it’s also response in general. So let’s say that you’re doing an interview with someone, this is a problem I see all the time. You say, okay, well what am I going to talk to them about? Well, if you want to talk to some, like for example, we used to interview, you know, a lot of celebrities are, I assume, interview a lot of celebrities and uh, it was always the same thing. What do we make content about? Should we just make content about their movies or whatever it is. And I would say, no, let’s get to the empathetic core of it. What can they talk, talk about that people would identify with emotionally and what can they talk about that will elicit a response? Like, is there some story, some sort of, some sort of way that we can make people feel?
Matt Johnston: (19:39)
And it is directly related to empathy, because if, because empathy is by definition, emotional, emotional identification. So if you’re emotionally identifying someone, it will respond. But it needs to be a little bit more than that. You need to actually make people respond physically and emotionally to it. Not meaning you need to make them cry. Although if they cry, that’s definitely ticking the box. But it’s more about, uh, making them feel, uh, alert. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s almost a way that you frame that empathy, uh, if that makes sense. So the always for overdeliver and, and, and really what over deliver is all about is, uh, is, is just the fact that there’s so much content out there right now that you need to make sure that you editorially over-deliver. Now all of these things are editorial, so anybody can do, do these things. It’s not like a video thing.
Matt Johnston: (20:32)
I mean, it’s a content thing and that’s what’s so important. And what’s specific to video is that emotional core. Uh, but we’re just, we’re, we’re just inundated in content. And if you want to stand out, you need to go that extra mile, do that extra research, work a little bit harder. Uh, and, and again, it’s not working a little bit harder, uh, in, in the video ways. Working a little bit harder editorially. And when I say a little bit harder, I do mean a little bit harder because I do know that the internet is still a volume game. You still need to flood the zone with content. And if you’re going to flood the zone with content, you can’t be spending days and days and days making a video. These videos should take you two hours to make. So how do you get to get them to two hours?
Matt Johnston: (21:14)
You know, I’ve, I’ve had my team’s making these videos in 45 minutes to an hour. And if you have it in a system like this, you can churn out a lot of really great connecting life, changing content in and hour. You know, it’s not a direct relationship between how valuable a piece of content is and time spent on that content. 100% not the case. So we need to just do a little bit of extra research, put things in context. You know, if you’re doing a story about something that happened historically, then you might do a little bit of research and find out, uh, and sort of find out, you know, what the a, has this happened before? Who did it happen to? Uh, has anybody else had this idea? How was it applied? I don’t know. Just, just think about the different contextual things around it.
Matt Johnston: (22:02)
Um, uh, so sort of over-delivering there is one is, is, is, is a big piece. Another way to overdeliver is sort of look at what competition is doing and just go a step above that, right? Trump, that content, you know, which is, which is really, really important. So on a scale of one to 10, the value that you provide value. I’m so obsessed with value. Ask any of those students that I teach, it’s all about empathy and values. Like the two only two things I talk about. I swear. Uh, uh, but on a scale of one to 10, the value you provide needs to be a seven. Plus you’ve got to provide massive value in your content. It is extremely important to provide massive value because value makes people empathize. And when they empathize, they’re responding emotionally. And when they respond emotionally, it’s getting into their body is becoming very solid.
Matt Johnston: (22:54)
And then the true connection is happening with you and them feeling that will make them want to share that content. And sharing is our currency. Sharing is the currency of social video, not views, shares, right? That’s where the real viralocity happens. So you’ve got to make sure to over deliver. It’s just, it’s very, very, very important, right? So you don’t want to just tease, you want to deliver. So if you come up with a great specific, emotionally driven, empathetic headline right off the bat, and you slam it there and then you deliver a bunch of garbage or not very thought out editorial content throughout the video, you’re not delivering, you’re just teasing. You know, you’re basically clickbait and video form, and I hate that word, clickbait because it’s usually just describing, but the big rule here is, I love what people would call, click baity headlines, but you’ve got to deliver in the content you have to pay off on that headline.
Matt Johnston: (23:56)
So everything that you are promising, you need to pay off on that. So go the extra mile in that video content. All right, so let’s back up here. The system hook, empathy, response, over-deliver, hook, getting those first three to five seconds of your video. Great. In a great spot. YouTube, slightly different. You’re sort of deep teasing, a little bit more in YouTube and appealing to emotions and in Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, all of those algorithmic platforms you want to knock people right over the head with a great headline, uh, and or a very strong visuals, extremely strong, blow you away. Don’t usually see this type of stuff. Empathy, connecting with people, emotional intelligence, connecting with people emotionally. It has to be everywhere in your video. Uh, and it has to be the main angle of your video because people want to click a mirror response is emotionally responding.
Matt Johnston: (24:50)
So your video needs to elicit an emotional response out of people. And over-delivering means going that extra mile to make the value that people get from this video extremely high. So I hope that makes a lot of sense. I’m going to go into how I script these on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, on those types of platforms in an episode. Very soon we’ll sort of go through the methodology that I use, the formula for scripting this shareable video. And uh, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s extremely powerful. I’ve used it for every single video that I’ve ever, that I’ve ever been a part of, uh, or had my team be a part of. And uh, it’s extremely powerful. So I hope you got something out of this. I’m excited to talk about this, uh, this, this methodology at the digital crush conference. Uh, if by any chance you’re, you, you, you, you live in the Pacific Northwest, definitely come, come check us out.
Matt Johnston: (25:42)
I’m going to be delivering some value bombs there and I’ll be available to, uh, to, to chat with anybody there. I’d love to, I’d love to meet you. Definitely, uh, come up and uh, let me know that you listened to the podcast. I’d love to meet you and uh, hopefully you’ve been able to get a good sense here for what the hero system is and how you can use it for yourself. If you have any questions about it, definitely let me know. Um, so thanks so much for joining us. That’s the hero system for now. Uh, so much more to say about it. I’m sure we’ll expand on it in the future. Really excited about where this podcast is going. Excited for the future. Uh, thanks so much for listening to the video marketing podcast. Uh, if you got value from this, and I truly hope you did, please leave a comment, leave a review, uh, subscribe to us on whatever your preferred channel is, uh, whether it’s, uh, overcast, Apple podcast, Spotify, whatever it may be, we’d love for you to become part of the community and I just hope you’re having a, an amazing day and that you’ll continue to have an amazing day.
Matt Johnston: (26:43)