Winning the second wave: the key to online video success

What pushes an online video campaign past the tipping point? What separates those with genuine momentum, sustained influence and real return on investment from those that generate a brief flare of interest before fading away? Marketers and agencies tend to assume that the answer lies with celebrities and top-tier influencers – those with the largest networks who can spread online video furthest and fastest. As a result, these very select groups tend to dominate their planning.

But Tweet thiswhat if the enthusiasm of top-tier influencers is only the starting requirement for online video’s success? What if the real tipping point actually lies elsewhere?

Early momentum from top-tier influencers gives online video a great head-start, but a new study from TNS, Twitter and Ogilvy & Mather shows it’s the involvement of a second-wave of less prominent influencers that really decides its impact. These second-wave influencers keep re-watching videos, commenting on them and sharing them with friends, often long after the attention of first-wave influencers has shifted elsewhere. Only one in five videos tested succeeded in generating this second phase of engagement. However 92% of these videos prove successful in terms of the total reach and involvement that they generate. The challenge for marketers is to maximize the chances of their videos making it into this group.

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In part, this is because marketers have paid less attention to motivating the second wave than they have to appealing to top-tier influencers. There’s a degree of pragmatism involved here: top tier influencers are easier to identify and target effectively, and it’s feasible to reach out to them directly and strike a deal for their endorsement. The second-wave isn’t just more diverse; it’s also unrealistic to motivate them on an individual basis.

Nevertheless, finding a consistent formula for driving the second-wave of sharing is a challenge that brands must rise to. Fortunately, we can identify clear characteristics amongst the videos that achieve it – and using these characteristics, we can develop a framework for success in the crucial second phase of the online video life-cycle:

Target ‘right here, right now’ moments

Tweet thisVideos that take place in a very specific moment in time significantly outperform the rest. Only one in five of the online videos tested in the study refer to specific moments in this way, but almost all of these (nine in every ten) are amongst the best performers in terms of sustained reach and engagement.

These ‘time-stamped’ moments include high-profile awards ceremonies (as with Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez celebrating backstage at the Grammy’s) but also common experiences created by the weather (a Panda playing in the snow at the zoo – or the perfectly timed ‘Snow Day’ commercial for Nike).



Their success results from the sense of immediacy and relevance that a specific moment in time produces, and the consequent motivation to retweet/ share and comment.

Engage the right emotion

Emotion is central to the effectiveness of any marketing. However, not all emotions are equal. Deeper analysis of the sharing patterns created by online video, reveals the subtle but important distinctions between the roles of different emotions.

Humour delivers instant engagement, producing an enthusiastic first wave of sharing and eager viewing. However, humour alone struggles to deliver longevity in terms of interest and engagement; for that you require deeper, more intimate and more complex emotional connections. Videos that succeed in generating powerful emotions like hope or pride (an uplifting film revealing how all races, religions and degrees of disability look the same under the skin, for example) are twice as likely to be top-performers in terms of sustained conversation and sharing.

There’s an interesting parallel here with the role of different emotions in driving long-term brand benefits for TV advertising. TNS’s analysis of Super Bowl ads over the last two years shows that, whilst humorous ads generated an immediate impact – and produced a powerful first wave of sharing on social media – they failed to drive organic social conversations or establish the personal relevance that is key to long-term brand benefits. Ads that were able to align with deeper emotions had far greater success in both of these areas.

Aim to generate comments – not just shares

Commenting is contagious in a way that simple sharing can’t quite match – and this makes the level of involvement that second-wave influencers have with a video central to its overall success. Tweet thisVideos with a higher ratio of comments with retweets/shares achieve far more sustained sharing and commenting going forward. Providing viewers with the motive and opportunity to express themselves should therefore be a priority for brands.

In all, 60% of those who retweet/share online video give the opportunity to express their own point of view as a reason for doing so. The opportunity for emotional self-expression is a key driver here, with videos providing a context and permission for talking about feelings, especially when the audience can relate those videos to their own lives. This was the case with John Lewis’s 'Man on the Moon' Christmas ad, for example, which benefited from tackling emotive subject matter that was relevant to large number of families – but rarely discussed. In such circumstances, comment strings often take on a life of their own, creating tangential dialogue that those sharing and watching can feel like they’ve contributed to.



Incorporate a story arc

Marketers are often told about digital audiences’ plummeting attention spans – and encouraged to shorten their online videos to fit them. However, the patterns of engagement amongst second-wave influencers suggest that this oversimplifies the issue. Tweet thisSubstantial videos can achieve very real success – provided that extra time is filled with an engaging story arc.

Complex stories don’t just provide online video with a means of exploring deeper and more motivating emotions; as a powerful package for building memories they help to maximise video’s long-term impact whilst drawing audiences back to view again. As repeat viewing increases so does the propensity to share and express oneself through comments. Quick-fire videos can generate an immediate first wave of sharing but don’t guarantee sustained success in the second phase. Videos that are able to incorporate recognisable characters and an emotional journey tend to generate far greater involvement – as demonstrated by Extra Gum’s two-minute love story, which has so far generated over 90,000 likes, 65,000 retweets and counting.



Ensure discoverability

Part of the problem with relying on high-profile influencers to broadcast online video is that they are only one of the distribution channels through which second-wave sharers discover their content. Videos with the highest viral success aren’t just passed on from influencers to followers – they gain much of their momentum from large numbers of people discovering them for themselves, or being introduced to them by smaller and more intimate networks. When it comes to the methods of discovery that are most likely to put online video in front of people, general browsing ranks top, followed by social media feeds and friends and family, and then video retweeted/shared by people that they follow. Interestingly, amongst those consuming video on mobile, social news feeds are even more important.

Discoverability across all these channels is therefore a key characteristic of successful online videos. Such videos aren’t just likely to be found and watched by more people; they are also more likely to be commented upon, as a result of the sense of ownership that discovery creates. From applying SEO principles to sponsoring content in social media feeds, and working with video platforms to secure positions in top ten lists and related content recommendations, Tweet thisthe mechanics of discoverability have a key role to play in online video’s success.

Build for mobile

It’s not just the content of an online video that shapes its chances of success; the format in which it is delivered also has a vital role to play.

Image 2Despite the fact that mobile devices smaller screens can make them a less preferred viewing choice, Tweet thispeople are 42% more likely to frequently comment on a video when they watch it on a mobile or tablet. Those who wait to watch video on a laptop or PC are more inclined to consume their content in lean-back mode rather than engaging, interacting and expressing themselves; they are less a part of an immediate, organic conversation.


The importance of mobile in driving comments and retweets/shares requires a mindset shift on the part of marketers. Any video with an online distribution strategy needs to be built for mobile first and foremost, not merely adapted to it once the creative is complete.


Tailoring tactics to win in the second wave

To generate all-important second-phase momentum for online video, brands and their agencies need to focus on the specific characteristics and motivations of second-wave influencers. The reasons these people give for sharing and commenting on videos are a good place to start. Second-wave influencers retweet/share to be part of the conversation, to respond to topical subjects, and to demonstrate their knowledge and passion – but also to provide a personal endorsement to the content their network is sharing.

When brands tap into immediate, recognisable moments and tell stories that invite second-wave influencers to express themselves, they are able to activate those influencers’ large personal networks – and push online video past the tipping point. And as second-wave influencers’ networks intersect, momentum is sustained through the urge to add personal endorsement to the content others are sharing. Videos don’t achieve this sustained success simply through being ‘good’, ‘emotional’ or ‘funny’; they achieve it through engaging the right emotions, in the right way and at the right time, to invite second-wave influencers to co-opt that video into how they express themselves, and personally endorse content. When brands succeed in doing so, they transform the effectiveness of their online video campaigns.


About the research:

This study, conducted by TNS, comprised of two analysis streams – behavioural analytics and quantitative surveying.

Behavioural analytics focused on the sharing patterns of 62 English-language online videos on Twitter from 2015 and 2016. Each video’s performance was then assessed on the basis of more than 4.2 million Twitter conversations they generated.

Quantitative online surveying explored online video and traditional TV consumption, sharing behaviours and reasoning behind them. Surveying was conducted in the USA and UK amongst 1000 respondents in each country who view and/or retweet/share online videos at least once a week. Age fallout was representative of Twitter users. Surveying was conducted in May 2016.

Credits to project team from TNS UK: Charlotte Brown, Sunando Das, Prerit Souda, Nada El Hammammy and Imran Fazal


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