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What Types of News Go Viral on YouTube?

July 19, 2012

Though professional news organizations contributed more than one-half (51.2%) of the most popular news footage posted on YouTube during the 15 months ended March 2012, over one-third (39.2%) of such content was uploaded by private citizens, according to a report by Pew.

Some 4.6% of the most popular news footage on YouTube was generated by corporate and political groups, and the origin of another 5.0% was not clearly identified:

For the study, The PEJ tracked 15 months' worth of the most popular news videos on the site (Jan 2011 to March 2012)[1]. Some 260 different videos were examined, by identifying and tracking the five most-viewed videos each week located in the "news & politics" channel of YouTube, analyzing the nature of the video, the topics viewed most often, who produced them, and who posted them.[2]  

Below, additional findings from the July 2012 report titled "YouTube & News: A New Kind of Visual News," issued by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

Citizen Journalism?

Citizens are responsible for posting a good deal of the videos originally produced by news outlets: 39% of the news pieces originally produced by a news organization were posted by YouTube users.

The rest of the most popular news videos during the 15-month period, 61%, were posted by the same news organizations that produced the reports.

Clearly, a symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic "dialogue" many observers predicted would characterize journalism online, Pew notes.

However, although YouTube offers guidelines on how to attribute content, clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video content moving through the synergistic sharing loop. For example, news organizations sometimes post content that was apparently captured by citizen eyewitnesses without any clear attribution as to the original producer. Citizens also post copyrighted material without permission. And finally, sometimes the creator of video content cannot be identified, Pew points out.

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  • by Rishi Thu Jul 19, 2012 via web

    From a B2C perspective, the most popular news that goes viral is product launches and product reviews. This holds especially true for technology products like cell phones, computers, etc. It is important to plan your product launch strategy effectively, looking at current trends or developing videos that relate to "high search volume" keywords on YouTube.

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  • by JazzSocialMedia Thu Jul 19, 2012 via web

    Loved the content--but why use blue for every box? I couldn't tell the difference on my computer. Little boxes--there are lots of colors!

  • by Mike Dawson Thu Jul 19, 2012 via web

    When striving to develop one of those elusive "1 on every 500" corporate videos to reach half a million plus hits, we can take much from these findings.
    News is rarely laugh out loud hilarious, yet when it is, it accounts for almost a fifth of viral news. The thing about news video though is that it is a short lived experience, and interest levels whilst peaking in the short term will wain almost immediately.
    To incorporate elements of current news in particular if the news is immersed in controversy or humor into a sales video creation, and / or to time the video in line with current events, short term traction can be attained for solid results.
    Mike Dawson of

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