How to Go Viral

Make internet magic with these tips from celebrity magician John Stessel.

John Stessel ’16 first felt the power of magic on his 8th birthday when he unwrapped a magic kit and quickly mastered the art of vanishing coins and beginner’s card tricks. What followed was a lifelong fascination with illusion. “There’s something really fun and interesting about having a secret that can amaze someone,” he says. “I find magic in lots of things—a good piece of music or viral video can be magic. Knowing what strings to pull is magic.”

A celebrity magician who performs at exclusive events, Stessel’s other job is developing magical marketing campaigns for brands like iHeartMedia and Bicycle Cards. His big break came in 2023, when he filmed a viral video in partnership with TBS. The footage shows him making treats disappear to the delight and confusion of shelter dogs at a Hempstead, New York, animal shelter. “The idea was to show off their personalities and maybe get some of them adopted, and it ended up being the most successful thing I’ve ever done,” he says. Not only was every dog in the video adopted, but the spot was picked up by “Good Morning America,” “Inside Edition,” HuffPost, People, and more, racking up tens of millions of views along the way.

“That experience made me realize what I wanted to do with magic,” he says, adding that performing for shelter dogs online has become something of a passion project for him. “That was the first time I had seen magic make a real change in the world. When you look back on your life, the dream is to reflect on the lives you’ve impacted, and in this case, it’s hundreds of dogs I’ve helped find homes.”

Here, Stessel shares tips on how to go viral.

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Play the Numbers Game

Stessel likens each video he makes to a lottery ticket—the more you make, the more shots you have at going viral, and you never know which one is going to hit.

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Collaborate with Others

Stessel prioritizes working with creators who genuinely like making content and are good sounding boards for ideas. “The more you work on videos, and the more you brainstorm, the more content you’ll share online,” he says. “No account is too big or too small to collaborate with.”

An illustration of a hook.

Find Your Hook

You have about three seconds to get someone’s attention with a video, so put the most interesting bit up front to keep viewers engaged, he says.

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Tell a Story

Whether the hook is a magic trick or a funny joke, a compelling story is often at the core of most viral videos. What unique story are you trying to tell?

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Keep Creating

One of Stessel’s video series centers on motivational magic tricks and life lessons. It took about a year to go viral, but when it did, Stessel got 22 million views and 60,000 new followers in two days. “I like to say that nobody is going to care until the world cares. What I mean by that is you have to set aside your ego, because every- thing is a failure until it takes off.”