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10 new rules for new content- learning from ask a ninja

November 14, 2006

Following their NYT fame this weekend.

Here’s the return of an old post.

Kent Nichols of Ask a Ninja was kind enough to pay us a couple of weeks back to talk about the phenomenal success of the video podcasting show he created with Douglas Sarine.

These guys are one of the leaders in the new school of lo-fi content creation; one character, a single camera, the set is bedroom, living room or a green-screen, there are lots of cuts and a fast paced dialog.

Some key facts about AAN:

– To date, AAN’s 40 films have generated over 13.2 million YouTube views

– Their Net Neutrality film was mentioned on the floor of the House of Representatives

– ABC’s director of online content, considers these two guys operating out of an apartment armed with a just a laptop and a camcorder as one of his biggest threats.

Based on our conversation, Influx has developed 10 rules to think about when creating viral content, or content for the viral age.

1. Funny is Good

Humor isn’t the only way you will achieve viral success, but its a big factor. According to AAN, if it makes them laugh, it’s in.

2. Create Stories and Characters

What is your back-story? Who are your characters? What do they represent? What’s their tension and conflict? What’s their voice?

Classic storytelling isn’t going away.

3. Aim for Quantity

Consistently get stuff out there. The only way of keeping people engaged is to let them experience your offerings with reasonable frequency. Ads usually get one shot at breaking through, but these guys create a new film every week; with 7 hours of writing, 2 hours of filming and 10 hours of editing and they have their 3-minute film.

If it doesn’t do so great one week, there’s another opportunity coming along a few days later.

4. Create a User Feedback Loop

Listen to your audience, but don’t let them rule you, lead them. AAN lets people in at the initial stages of the creative process. They get over 600 questions a day for the ninja. These questions are nearly always the catalyst for AAN’s creative thinking.

5.Think About Your Brand

Back to story and character- think of the viral content as a brand in itself- a content brand that should have a life of its own, one that can scale into different areas of content and across different businesses. AAN has a revenue stream in branded t-shirts and DVDs for example.

6.Fast is Good

Not just turning the material around at rapid speed, but also using speed in the content. Most funny ads are all set-up and then “the joke”, these guys average a joke every 10 seconds, so if one bombs, there’s another one coming straight after. Fast, also applies to keep people’s attention by using smart, well-paced editing that keeps the content flowing.

7.Always Allow Opportunity

AAN’s audience is 94% male between the ages of 12-34. However, when NPR approached them to do a review of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, they did it. NPR isn’t their audience’s media, but it was a huge opportunity to link with a big media power brand, they didn’t turn it down like some others might have done.

8. Let the People Promote You

There’s nothing better than word of mouth; people spread the word if the content is good. However, if you try to do it yourself, it doesn’t always work.

9.Open Source Your Content

Let your content out into the world and let people run it in their own media. Allowing users to put AAN on MySpace pages and upload it to You Tube has been a big reason for the brand’s success.

10. Turn Timing Into An Advantage

Timing gives you several opportunities for control. AAN distribute through iTunes and their own site, but allow people to take the content from there. So films that are initially distributed through two sources always end up on You Tube after a few days. In addition, you can turn timing into a revenue opportunity; premium subscribers can access the content earlier.

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