The influence of social media is beyond most people’s comprehension, which is why brands are looking for influencers.
Going viral is the goal of most influencers. And the wizard of virality is Steve Zilberman, who took influencers and social media personalities from zero to millions of subscribers almost overnight.
Steve Zilberman started filming and directing documentaries, then turned to social media and music. He has worked with Stone Temple Pilots, Bria & Chrissy, Cherdleys, Oliver Tree, Bella Poarch and Benny Blanco, as well as Tyga. Steve’s Magic Touch has garnered over 1.5 billion views and attracted hundreds of millions of followers.
Steve Zilberman refers to TikTok as the “ultimate social media,” which is an interesting statement. Intrigued by those words, as well as Steve’s seeming magic bordering on witchcraft, CelebMix spoke with Steve Zilberman to find out more about what he does and how he does it.
How did you get started as a viral engineer / creative director?
I started out as a director of photography and editor. I slowly moved on to social media, then to music, and now to music marketing. After many years of A / B testing the content to achieve the highest engagement, my pass rate is high enough to be interviewed about it.
How did you meet people like Benny Blanco, Bella Poarch and Oliver Tree?
It basically started with Oliver. Oliver found me when I was doing skits on YouTube with Cherdleys and he reached out to collaborate. He introduced me to the music industry and I started networking from there. His ex-manager and I started working together a lot, then he ended up in the team that manages Bella Poarch. Benny Blanco knew Oliver Tree and now Bella so he brought me on board to build his TikTok from the ground floor.
You’ve called TikTok the “ultimate social media” platform. Explain that, please.
If you post a photo on Instagram, some of your followers will see it. If a high percentage of those followers like or interact with your photo, Instagram may show it on the explore page. But if you are in Turkey, you will not see this message from Texas which is displayed on the explore page. What TikTok does is so unique is that when you post something, it is able to show that content not only to your region, but to random locations around the world. All at the same time, without flooding the traffic to the algorithm. It almost sounds too good to be true. And when a post gets high engagement quickly, it will snowball by showing more people. So, with a higher guarantee that more people will see your content, getting your content to be engaging already will be a big chance for that content to perform extremely well. I have a theory that the algorithm uses sophisticated AR technology that can differentiate between backgrounds, voice tones, camera angles, and subjects in video. When a video with lighting, angle, etc. specific works fine… the next time you post something similar, the algorithm may show it to more people. Consistency on TikTok works great and that’s my theory as to why. Not to mention the musical element. So with strong AR / AI technology and a guarantee of more traffic than competing social media platforms, you have what I call ‘ultimate social media’.
Why is TikTok “better” than say, Instagram or Facebook?
TikTok has more engaging users because you have a longer reach, so everyone is hoping to go “viral”. With more active users, it spurs more competition which in turn will produce more creative content. That’s why I would say it’s better than a competitor like Facebook. Young people also drive TikTok and if that’s one thing young people have, it’s definitely creativity.
Why does TikTok attract young people, while Facebook attracts a much older crowd?
Facebook has been around a lot longer, so naturally it will have an older customer base. TikTok recently exploded, so the younger crowd is more likely to be onto something new early on. It was just a platform that also incorporates music that young people love. The chance to become famous is another big reason why young people frequent the app.
As a musician or influencer, how should I approach building and growing my brand?
Simply put, be yourself. Experiment with different ways to deliver content until you find something that works. Trends work to bring you more traffic. For more information on this you will have to pay haha.
Can you really predict whether a video will go viral or not?
You can’t predict exactly what will go viral. But there are specific things that I am looking for personally. Have I seen this before and does it grab my attention? If I’ve seen this before, has it gone viral? Finally, is there something to say in this video? A dog returning to the streets of New York I would put a big bet would go viral. Something as shocking as a guy cleaning a dildo at the bus stop will attract attention. Something new and invisible like a dog in a robot following someone walking will be shared. After so many years of having successful viral videos, you get better at spotting what can do right. Or in my case sometimes, engineering.
What are the elements that make a video go viral?
There are several elements of what makes a viral video. It must be entertaining in a certain way, it must be unique in a certain way, and it must invoke an emotion or an opinion. The more shocking or unexpected it is, the more people will want to share it to show off to their friends. Comedy works great with going viral because you want to share the laughter with your friends. From the mid to late 1900s, the images or videos that went viral were primarily political. A viral video sparked quite a stir today. Anyone who watched the Minneapolis video had an opinion or emotion about it. It can be as intriguing as a boy yodeling at Walmart or as revolutionary as George Floyd.
Is what you are doing intuitive or are you really able to quantify it in a formula?
It’s a bit of both. The reason I don’t mind coming here to reveal all my secrets is that the biggest piece of the formula is intuition. Intuition cannot always be taught and takes years to perfect. So someone can go to TikTok after reading this and use some of the techniques I talked about, but the content still might not work. That’s not to say what I’m saying isn’t true, it means not everyone can create a viral play. Sometimes I shoot a dozen variations of the exact same video because one of them will speak to me more than the others.
Do you think video platforms will become more popular in the future or not?
I absolutely think video platforms will become more popular. With a video you can show much more than a photo and especially with increasingly shorter videos the viewer can watch more in less time.