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How a short video for Help for Heroes went viral

How did a short video for Help for Heroes rack up 125 million views within days?

Most organisations can only dream of creating a viral video but for charity Help for Heroes, that dream became a reality when a film from its Facing it Together campaign achieved around 125 million views within days.

The video, featuring Tempy Pattinson, 5½, chatting to Iraq veteran Simon Brown, 38½, reached 900 million people as it appeared on online news channels and broadcast media, stunning the communications team, which historically regards 50,000 views as a successful campaign.

Senior communications officer Richard Miles explains: ‘We are a charity with low budgets. We don’t do gimmicks. We have to win hearts and minds.’ The Facing It Together campaign comprises six videos, each featuring a conversation between a veteran whom Help for Heroes has helped and a supporter. He adds: ‘We worked closely with Polymedia, a PR consultancy who were drafted in as an efficient way to maximise the impact of the campaign, from concept to implementation, particularly as we had just 5 weeks to turn it around.’

Within minutes of Tempy and Simon starting their chat, the team ‘knew we had something special’.

Darlington-born Tempy raised £200 by swimming 100 metres when she was just three and completing a triathlon, despite, as she tells Brown, being scared to ride her bike at that time. She had asked to meet a real soldier, and was connected with 13 year army veteran Brown, who lost 80 per cent of his sight after being hit by a sniper while on a rescue mission. He has since had 25 operations to rebuild his face.

‘Even though I didn’t know any soldiers, I thought that they’ve done something for us so I could give a present back to them by raising them money,’ she explains in the film. ‘I’m quite proud of the soldiers.’

‘A child looks at things differently than adults, and they can ask questions that adults can’t but might want to,’ explains Miles. ‘We had a roll out strategy for our campaign. We wanted to create a buzz around the video by posting it [on our sites] a day before we sent out the press release.’

The charity anticipated the video would achieve around 50,000 views overnight. The video was posted on Help the Heroes’ social channels, which have about one million followers, at 7pm on a Tuesday evening. By 10.30pm, it had achieved 300,000 views; by morning this had reached about 500,000. The strength of this interest became the hook for pitching the story to mainstream news outlets.

‘We would usually pitch stories on an exclusive basis,’ explains Miles. Instead, the communications team pitched the story to The Sun, Mail Online, Daily Express and the Press Association, using the rising viewing figures as a hook. ‘The public interest had made the content valuable.’

The first story appeared on The Sun’s website, followed by Mail Online and The Mirror. Shortly after noon, Help for Heroes was approached by UNILADa platform which now reaches around one billion people per week, and social media and entertainment company LADbible. ‘We hadn’t really thought of them for this stage,’ explains Miles. ‘But they brought completely different audiences.’

The charity had to sign an agreement with UNILAD and LADbible giving permission for them to use the video on their social media channels. ‘You don’t give up copyright, but you effectively allow them to overlay the content with their house style,’ explains Miles. LADbible, for example, ran the story under the heading Not every hero wears a cloak. More than 22 million people have since viewed the video on UNILAD while LADbible has racked up an impressive 7.5 million views. ‘They were some of their most significant viewing figures for a video,’ adds Miles.

The team then targeted a wider field to include regional online publications, including the Northern Echo and Forces TV, plus broadcasters. BBC Radio Leeds, for example, interviewed Si live at lunchtime, reaching about 78,000 listeners.

Other news wires were now starting to focus on the story, and it appeared on the Evening Standard’s site as well as ITV National, both online and in its evening news bulletins. By this stage, the video had hit around five million views and Help for Heroes had secured a slot on the following day’s This Morning for Si and Tempy.

‘We faced requests from ITV’s This Morning and Good Morning Britain and BBC Breakfast,’ says Miles. The charity chose This Morning, where husband and wife team Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Lansford interviewed the duo, because, along with its viewing figures, the show has extensive online reach. ‘We also have a great relationship with the programme.’

The eight minute chat was watched by more than three million people, and was then shared online by ITV. This Morning also released clips from the interview to the media, which were picked up by Mail Online, The Sun and The Mirror, resulting in a second wave of hits for the story, plus Entertainment Daily.

Each media outlet had also by now started to feature the video on their Facebook sites, after reaching agreement with Help for Heroes. ‘In the past we have been reluctant to allow our content to be used in this way,’ concedes Miles. Within 24 hours of the ‘big seeders’ using the video on Facebook, it had been viewed by almost 40 million people on the channel. Indeed, Unilad had already reached 13 million views on Facebook, followed by 8.9 million apiece on both Mail Online and The Sun and 5.7 million on LADbible. The story had also been picked up and shared by people as far away as Morocco, Australia, America and Japan.

Help the Heroes was also experiencing other unexpected benefits. Even though the video did not have a specific call to action, it registered a nine per cent increase in the dwell time on its main website plus a 35 per cent increase, month on month, of new beneficiaries coming forward to support the charity and 47 per cent increase in event registrations. It also raised an unexpected £12,000.

‘Nobody ever says they want to create a viral video,’ says Miles. ‘But you put the building blocks in place, and create content that resonates and creates an emotional connection, that people will still talk about when they get home. And you must have a strong strategy for roll out.’