What makes a video go viral? – The success of Mama Hope

Ten months ago Mama Hope, a charity based in San Francisco, released a video African Men: Hollywood Stereotypes. The film was produced a couple of months after the Kony 2012 video and was designed to challenge the stereotypes of African men portrayed by Hollywood. It has been a huge success, and at the time of writing has 1,048,931 views. It has 16,235 likes and only 315 dislikes with 2,909 comments mostly positive. OK, nothing by Kony standards but for a small NGO these statistics are impressive.

Not all the reviews were positive though. In a critique by Elliot Ross on Africa is a Country, he says “People might want to see this video as a counterpoint to Kony2012, and it’s of course nothing like as egregious, but I’m not sure exactly how far we can move away from the Invisible Children with a video by Joe Sabia (who directs the Mama Hope stuff). Sabia is another Silicone Valley, TED-talking master of viral narrative, which seems to boil down to not much more than a heavily concentrated dose of American sentimentality, however that sentiment is directed. Mama Hope is another white-staffed NGO run out of California. They are doing something very different by attempting to engage very broad cultural currents (as opposed to, say, organising the world’s most self-congratulatory wild-goose chase in Central African Republic), but that’s not without its problems.”

I agree. It is quite cheesy. But does cheese sell so to speak? Did the video change perceptions? Will it change behaviours? This is one of the downsides of social media for international development – it’s very hard to measure. It is near impossible to segment on social media, therefore do NGOs have to cater for the masses? One recent comment on Mama Hope’s YouTube channel states:

“I would like to see also the African Women in the video, make it douple [sic] that long and show the Women from the movies that are not shooting but only have the role to show how bad the bad guys are and than show these who are Doctors, Engineers, Scientist….”

Well yesterday, Mama Hope released a new film The Women of Nyamonge Present: Netball to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The video has been live for 13 hours and so far has only 262 views. I’m interested in whether this video will go viral as well. I wonder what Mama Hope’s seeding strategy is. Was the last video considered an antidote to the Kony video(s)? Did it effectively piggyback on their virality? It is hard to analyse as the YouTube public statistics have been disabled, but a million views is incredibly successful for a small NGO.

Mama Hope only have a small fan base on social media, Twitter (1,556 followers) and Facebook (3,969 likes). It will be hard to seed this film via their social media channels alone. So what made the last video so successful? What is through mainstream media? Was it through various blogs that commented on the video?

On a recent blogpost by Hubspot they claim “Most videos we track see about 75% or 80% of views in the first 3 to 5 days.” I’m pleased to see an NGO experimenting with a new style of video and I sincerely hope that this second video also has an impact in the next couple of days.