Casey Neistat on Virality

Casey Neistat

If there are some people who know a thing or two about virality, Casey Neistat is definitely part of them. The Youtube star has amassed over 12 million subscribers, 2.8 billion views, and has over 1000 videos on his channel. For about 2 years, Casey was putting out one high-quality vlog per day, pulling in massive amounts of traffic. He became one of the most famous and recognisable Youtube personalities on the internet.

As someone who has cracked the youtube code and established himself as a leading content creator on the platform, Neistat recently had a few interesting things to say about a very popular concept: virality.


What is virality anyway?

In a recent interview on Ashley Graham’s Youtube channel, Neistat was asked: “How do you make content that goes viral, and what does that even mean today?” For anyone looking to make a career and/or business online, this is a very relevant question. The internet is a crowded place, and finding your audience as a brand owner is much harder than it was 5 or 10 years ago.

  • There are 5.11 billion unique mobile users in the world today
  • There are 4.39 billion internet users, an increase of nearly 10% from 2018
  • There are 3.48 billion social media users, an increase of nearly 10% from 2018 (2019 data)

“There is an acute definition of virality that did not exist before. Back in the day it was like, 1 million views. Now it’s not. Something goes viral when it goes beyond what its original audience was intended to be.”

— Casey Neistat

Nobody really knows how to make content go viral. Most of us know how to make content targeted to our audience. We do our best to funnel that content down to our audience’s screens and email inboxes. Once in a while, something will have a far higher reach than what we could have ever anticipated. That’s virality.

Most videos Neistat make get between 1 and 2 million views. That’s amazing, but that’s his average performance. For him, that’s standard. When he posts a video that gets 20 or 30 million views, he has found his own virality. The video was seen above and beyond his original “desired” audience.

But for the kid who has 13 subscribers and uploads daily videos too, virality is defined by way less than 20 or 30 million views. His videos might get 10 or 50 views on average. Then one day, one video gets 1000 or 5000 views, and he just went viral at his own creator level.

Virality is a relative notion, not an absolute value.

Everybody wants to be viral

Especially when it comes to Youtube, a lot of people create content with the hope of not only going viral, but also going famous. They don’t want the virality to expose their craft, but to expose themselves. As Ashley Graham points out, virality should always be about the creator. It’s about people deciding to click on something someone made, when they would have normally not cared about that creator’s content. But it shouldn’t be focused on the creator only as a person.

At some point in the interview, Neistat emphasises how gross he finds the term “viral”. That’s exactly because of the fame connotation to it. Nowadays people will do anything to go viral, and then famous. They don’t care about creating great content anymore, and that’s a shame.

Just do the work

Youtube has quite a lot in common with Medium. The basic concept of a content creation platform is identical for both. People watch (or read) and subscribe to content based on their interests, and they promote that content more or less based on how they interact with it.

At the end of the day, whether on Youtube or on Medium, it’s about doing the work and not worrying about virality. Nobody knows the exact virality recipe anyway. It’s like Nutella. Everybody tries to copy the recipe but nobody can get it quite right, and all we end up with is a shelf of generic chocolate spread jars all trying to look the same. The truth is, these brands would be better off trying to create their own thing, their own taste, their own jam.

There’s no science to going viral, you can only try to maximise your chances to do so, and the only way to do that is to work. Here is how:

  • Focus on creating value for your audience
  • Plan your content, commit to not stopping
  • Interact with your audience
  • Reach out to relevant people to promote your content
  • Build your audience around your work, not around your self
  • Hang out with other content creators and learn from them
  • Analyse what works and do more of that
  • Most importantly, create because you love it, not because you want fame

We all seek virality as content creators, because that’s how we grow our exposure. But virality is not the only type of growth. Slow, consistent, progressive growth, works too. Plus, it is a lot stronger in the long term than unexpected bursts of traffic that die as quickly as they came, leaving you unsure about what to do with that sudden audience growth and all those views.

Going viral is about luck, and you should never rely on luck. Only work for luck.

Don’t expect any result, do the work, enjoy the journey, and great things will happen along the way.

“The harder you work the luckier you get”

— Gary Player

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