McConnell web video racks up more than 1 million views — but how?

April 29, 2013

A new web video from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) reelection campaign has apparently gone viral, gaining more than one million views in less than 36 hours. And that's despite relatively limited pickup in the news media. The two-minute web video, titled "The American Ideal," was launched Thursday morning. At 4 p.m. Friday, it was listed as having 651,021 views. Just 16 minutes later, it had 1,036,039 page views. The growth slowed significantly after that; by Monday morning it was at 1,072,850 views.

None of McConnell's other videos have gotten anywhere near this amount of traffic, and the short trailer version of the video has only 1,098 views.

Did the video really go viral? "It doesn't have the characteristics of an organic viral video," said Eugene Lee, Founder and CEO of ChannelMeter, a YouTube analytics site. A viral video, he said, would have more pickup in social media and would accumulate views steadily rather than spiking quickly and then dropping off. He suggested that it was a "paid buy" -- this article from the Daily Dot explains how YouTube views can be bought.

McConnell's campaign attributes the sharp increase in views to an innovative social media strategy and the presidential campaign quality of the video. The video also was promoted in some Web ads and mentioned on campaign news blogs, but it hasn't gotten much traction in the traditional media or cable news.

"It was a combination of some media attention but a lot of social media interaction on Twitter and Facebook," McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said. The campaign also spent over $6,000 on Web ads promoting the video, although that's not out of line with previous Web ad buys. According to the campaign's internal numbers, it was seen by over 2 million Twitter users and directed huge amounts of traffic to the campaign website.

It's hard to measure a YouTube video's social media reach without access to internal numbers, but a look at a few indicators suggests an unusual spike in traffic.

The post on McConnell's Facebook page announcing the video has 239 likes and 66 shares. Another post directing visitors to the video on his campaign website is far more popular, with 5,307 likes and 533 share. A subsequent post announcing that the video hit the million-view mark has over 621 likes and 62 shares. Twenty-two people have clicked on a Bit.ly shortened link to the video. A Google search for the video's unique marker (found at the end of the url) turned up 21 different links. By comparison, a Google search for a video of Michael Buble singing in the New York City subway, which has 441,272 views, finds 360 links. That Google search doesn't catch many sites that embed videos in blog posts, so it is imperfect measure, but it gives an idea of the impact. The video was not on YouTube's trending chart. McConnell turns off both comments and ratings on all his videos, so there's no way to measure feedback.

The video was created by wunderkind videomaker Lucas Baiano. The McConnell campaign recently hired Baiano, a 24-year-old Canadian who has also done work for Rick Perry's presidential campaign, BMW and the coal industry.

Baiano made a splash with dramatic and movie preview-esque web videos for Tim Pawlenty's 2012 presidential campaign. He himself has over a million Twitter followers.

McConnell has yet to draw an opponent. Actress Ashley Judd (D) passed on the race last month.

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