Viral Marketing Initiatives


When you’re promoting your own work, as many fine artists must do, you dream of finding a way to draw the attention of thousands of prospective customers for your art as well as your classes, workshops, instructional books, and DVDs. Especially when you see major corporations producing social media ad campaigns for brand-name products that go viral—the kind that inspire millions of views, likes, and tweets—you start to wonder if it’s possible to achieve just a fraction of that success. Although you may not have the massive bankrolls those big organizations typically invest in viral campaigns (Smith), there are steps you can take to maximize your social media efforts by focusing on video.

Image1. Choose YouTube for easy sharing. For fine artists, the method of choice is a YouTube video. Even the most noted artists have relatively small followings on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs, and their impressions just never seem to gain any traction. Furthermore, Vimeo still runs a distant second to YouTube’s dominance in video sharing. On YouTube, however, total unknowns have been able to reach hundreds of thousands, even millions, of viewers because they are easily shared on a variety of platforms with widgets. Making it easy for viewers to share your content is one of the most significant keys to success (Wilson).

2. Get people talking. In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger explains that one of the most important drivers of a viral phenomenon is people’s desire to appear to be on the cutting edge in front of their peers. Most of us thoroughly enjoy being the first to find something fascinating and strange on the Internet and sharing it with our friends through social media because it’s a form of social currency (Berger). For example, a video of a Chinese artist who paints with liquefied sugar caught the attention of more than 2 million viewers because most of us have never seen anything like it.

Spray-Painting-Art3. Evoke positive emotions. Researchers Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski have performed extensive studies on social media assets that have gone viral, looking closely at the emotions involved that drive people to share them. What they found is that most viral videos evoke positive emotional responses like amazement, awe, and astonishment, which create a deep curiosity within viewers (Libert). For artists, that’s actually not that hard to do because most people love to see the magic of someone creating art. This might explain why a video of a young, Roman spray-painting artist has been viewed nearly 1.3 million times. Her ability to create complex paintings of space using nothing more than spray paint and a few simple tools—all at warp speed—is truly astonishing and delightful.

4. Keep it lighthearted. Another demo video—this one created by artist Ivan Vesely, in which he uses nothing but a toothbrush to create an amazing portrait of a woman—provides us with a fourth key to going viral. Against the backdrop of fun and funky music by Empire of the Sun, Vesely hams it up in front of the camera while creating his work of art. Social media marketing expert Ekaterina Walter notes that using humor in your style and delivery can be somewhat risky (Walter), but Vesely’s carefree, fun approach has garnered nearly 2 million views.

images5. Give people something they can use. Jonah Berger’s research has also revealed that people will share whatever they feel has practical value (Berger), and for fine artists, videos that teach us how to paint are very useful and worthy of sharing with our fellow artists. These demo videos from Brandon McConnell, Peter Owen Goodale, Skye Taylor, and Patti Brady have been viewed anywhere from 80,000 to 500,000 times simply because artists are always hungry for more information.

If you’ve tried your hand at creating a video and posting it online, I’d really love to hear about your experience. Was it the success you hoped, or do you feel you might have done better, perhaps by following some of these five tips? And what golden rules do you have for getting videos to go viral? Let’s talk about it!


Berger, Jonah (2013). Contagious: Why things catch on, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, p 29-178.

Libert, Kelsey, and Tynski, Kristin (October 24, 2013). Research: The emotions that make marketing campaigns go viral, Harvard Business Review, retrieved from

Smith, Brad (October 1, 2013). Why you can’t “go viral,” and what to do instead, Social Media Today, retrieved from

Walter, Ekaterina (October 7, 2013). To go viral, here’s what content has to make you feel, Social Media Today, retrieved from

Wilson, Ralph F. (May 10, 2012). The six simple principles of viral marketing, Web Marketing Today, retrieved from