We all know “viral videos” are rarely the result of a a crafted creative plan. It’s not to say that it can’t happen as we see big brands rolling out new videos every week that garner hundreds of thousands of views. The recent Snuggie phenomenon is a perfect example.

However, I’ve found that the viral videos that stick in my mind usually result from some form of  surprise activity that catches people offguard or in the case of today’s post subject, immediately uses pathos to drive viewer attention.

Over the past month, I’ve been tracking the video below posted by Lee Aase, social media manager up at Mayo Clinic, that shows an older couple playing a song in the Mayo atrium. Lee posted the video on April 7, 2009 on their Sharing Mayo Clinic blog after the video had been viewed 1,005 times on YouTube during the six months prior. Since posting the video and using Mayo’s various social media outlets to spread the word, the video has tracked as follows:

April 7 – 1,005 views
April 13 – 26,973 views
May 3 – 187,956 views
May 4 – 228,055
May 10 – 555,675
May 11 – 608,141
May 13 – 776,352
May 17 – 1,170,609
May 19 – 1,352,890

Wow. This is the content marketers dream about.

David Mullen and I have both shared similar thoughts about how PR and marketing firms need to relinquish the notion that firms can create viral videos on a whim for clients. This is a perfect example of how outside elements and timing typically work together to cause videos to become “viral” in an organic fashion. This is not a video concept Lee or someone else sat around trying to drum up to leverage attention around Mayo. Rather, Lee was smart about quickly identifying solid content and finding the right channels to tell as many people as possible about the video.

Let’s break down a few other elements that have made this video go viral.

1) It’s Heartwarming. In digging deeper into the backstory behind this video, we come to learn about Sharon, her reconstructed jaw and extremely positive experience as a patient at Mayo. Sharon was on cloud nine that special day and stumbled upon Fran and Marlow Cowan churning up some tunes on the piano. The Cowans have been married for 62 years (Marlow is 90, Frances is almost 84). The couple grew up entertaining crowds together.

Despite your age or how much bad news is being thrown your way about the economy, crime, etc. you can’t help but smile after watching the Cowans remind us all how important it is to embrace the day.

2) It’s Raw. No special effects or creative video work here, just a good capture of a very special moment that adds to the honest, personable nature of the video. In watching, you feel as if you’re part of “the moment.”

3) It’s Short. Clocking in at 1:14, it’s a quick view which is critical to engaging new viewers who come across the video via email links from friends, coworkers, etc. A small psychological factor but one that plays heavily into the decisions we make in consuming online video.

4) Social Savvy. Lee is one smart man. I’m going to bargain to say that he immediately dispersed this video to the entire Mayo staff after posting on Sharing Mayo as well as took advantage of using their social media platform to spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, Mayo’s own YouTube channel and other outlets. And then he told them again.

5) Bridged Online With Offline. Lee also knows media relations and there’s no better way to spread the word about a good story than by letting as many people as possible know about it. The Des Register Star recently ran a story about the Cowans and bloggers (count me in) have run with sharing the video as well. UPDATE: The Cowans were also featured on Good Morning America!

I’m quite excited to continue to watch the views shoot upward. Given the significant proportion of people that choose to go to Mayo as a result of word-of-mouth, this video will continue to be a huge marketing tool. Just take a quick glance at the feedback comments on the original blog post as a great example of where to find Mayo’s biggest advocates and supporters. I would also imagine Lee is working with closely with Sharon to track YouTube Insight info on the video to analyze trends around who is viewing the video and how they are discovering the spot.

Congrats to Sharon on her new health and capturing this great video and congrats to Lee and Mayo for smartly pushing things along to help tell the Mayo story.


UPDATE:  Also see Lee Aase’s post providing a full internal case study analysis.

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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this great post, Scott. As you said, we can’t sit around and dream up viral video ideas, but by having our blog, Facebook and Twitter platforms we could spread the word when we saw this really excellent video. It’s been a fun ride, and it’s not over yet. Stay tuned.

  2. Hey Scott. I wrote the blog post about my mom… Sharon. thanks for the wonderful article!! So well said.

    We’ve been blown away by the phenomenon and there’s even more amazing backstory around the Cowans. They’re going to be on Good Morning America, and the Houston ROckets want them to do a Half Time show. They were on NPR’s What’dya Know last week.

    Here’s a great article on them and their history:

  3. Thanks Lee and thanks for sharing Jodi!

  4. Scott,

    Thanks for the blog post. Good stuff.

    Matt Johnson

  5. […] of the most amazing virals comes from Mayo Clinic. Scott Meis explains the whole story of the main actors, the reasons for the success of this video and … […]

  6. Brilliant use of viral video. And equally brilliant analysis, Scott. Kudos, from @identitypr.

  7. Thanks Tom, much appreciated. Just checked this morning and the video is now cranking over 2.4 million views.

  8. […] also heads up Social Media University Global. He’s had quite the busy year, spurring along a viral video and traveling across the country to share insight about Mayo Clinic’s social media success. I […]

  9. […] simply evolves when we least expect it. The best we can all do is to continue to learn from key case studies and work to take a proactive approach to capturing share-worthy […]


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