How to create a viral video: 5 lessons from the #LipSyncChallenge

If your agency is considering creating a viral video, follow these five steps for success

By Lieutenant Benjamin Hess, P1 Contributor

Not since 1989 when Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” stole the airwaves has lip syncing dominated our popular culture as it did this summer. The viral public safety #LipSyncChallenge led hundreds of police, fire and EMS agencies nationwide to throw their hats into the ring with varying degrees of success.

My agency got into the game a bit late and missed most of the contests, but nevertheless we learned the same lessons I’d suspect (hope) most agencies picked up along the way. As there is undoubtedly the next incarnation of the #LipSyncChallenge waiting around the corner, I’d like to share five lessons we learned.

1. Find your talent

One of the initial discussions we had was whether to go big or small. Some agencies chose to show only a single officer or two lip-syncing in their patrol vehicle. Most of these are at least as effective as the big productions, sometimes more so. We believe the key to success, regardless of the size (we went big!), is to find the right people to convey the message you want to send.

You might be surprised to learn the secret talents of your officers. Some are former professional dancers or singers, drama club members, weekend warrior videographers and editors, or just that guy or girl who’s a menace on the dance floor at weddings. Start the selection process by seeking out the talent and the people in your agency who actually want to participate. Open the project up to everyone, but don’t be afraid to put the people who are really good in the spotlight. You are, after all, creating a video that will literally be seen by tens of thousands, if not millions, of people. Do what you can to make it look good!

2. Ask for help from and/or include your community

If you are aiming for a big production, you will need an actual video production company, or at least someone who knows their way around a video camera. If you don’t have anyone in your agency that fits the bill, or don’t work in a city or county that has its own video department, reach out to local production companies and ask for help. Some businesses will volunteer their time for the greater good, most will politely decline, a few will laugh at the idea; you won’t know until you ask. Don’t forget about the little guys either; there are plenty of talented semi-professional filmmakers and videographers looking for their big break, as was the case with our agency (it helped he was also an employee).

Include members of your community. We had a local circus troupe volunteer to be a part of the big finale at the end of our project (it will make sense when you watch it below) and our lip-sync video simply wouldn’t have been the same without their help.

3. Don’t be afraid to promote your project

Reach out to local media and let them know what you’re doing. We posted a teaser trailer and screen shots of the project as it progressed on social media and the response was tremendous. We found that building anticipation for the final product is almost as important as the end response.

For our project, we chose the title song from the film “The Greatest Showman,” which came out earlier this year. During a planning meeting someone suggested contacting Hugh Jackman and asking for his participation. While we didn’t get him in the actual video, he gave us a shout out on an Instagram post that currently has over a million views. A few agencies have got celebrities to appear in their videos; whether they were a dispatcher’s brother’s wife’s cousin or not doesn’t matter, strive for something that makes your project special. And don’t be afraid to just ask.

4. Make it meaningful

The point of the 2018 #LipSyncChallenge is to show a humorous and/or or human side to law enforcement. Participating agencies did this in a variety of ways; Multnomah County, Oregon, did it by simply having a lone patrol officer singing along to Baby Shark to show that he’s a parent just like you; we did it by filming one of our lieutenants coming home after a long day on the streets and kissing his daughter goodnight. The goal is to have a point and make it meaningful.

5. It is all about perception

The biggest question we were asked is why we were making a video in the first place. The simple answer is public relations. The deeper answer, and what I believe to be the more accurate one, is the “humanizing” of police officers and other first responders. The public rarely sees a smile on the face of the cop they’re dealing with, let alone see them singing, dancing and making fun of themselves and their noble career, all with that same smile.

The second question we were asked was how we justified the time and taxpayer’s money spent on the project. The answer is we didn’t have to. We made sure to use, for the most part, volunteers and employees on breaks or time off, which is why it took a month and half to complete the project. Don’t forget to put something in the opening or end credits that states as much; our local media made sure to comment on that in their coverage showing we were sensitive to the taxpayer’s interests.

Even though state, federal and local governments spend millions of taxpayer dollars every year on PR and advertising, law enforcement simply can’t spend money on something some view as unnecessary and even self-serving, even though we know there are many benefits to be gained from positive police PR and community engagement.

While I fully expected to hear criticism from members of the public and the media, I did not expect to hear it from a few members of our own agency. I had one officer say to me he didn’t agree with what we were doing and that bad guys don’t care about our dance moves. While I agree the bad guys don’t care, law enforcement is about protecting our communities from the bad guys and our communities care that their protectors are people, just like them. And that is important.

About the author
Benjamin Hess is a patrol lieutenant with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office in Fort Collins, Colorado. Lt. Hess started his law enforcement career with the Pennsylvania State University Police nearly 20 years ago after graduating from the University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice. Lt. Hess moved west to Colorado in 2006 where he started as a patrol deputy with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. Lt. Hess has worked as an investigator, a patrol sergeant, a SWAT team leader and a sergeant in Internal Affairs. Since becoming a lieutenant, Benjamin has focused on building community and intra-agency relations. 

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