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


4 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. Hi Jennifer!

    I love your examples of ways YouTube vids can go viral! One that really stuck out to me was this: “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.”

    First, I might need to go get that book.

    Second, it reminds me of something I put in my blog about viral marketing initiatives. Last year, right at the beginning of 2013, LinkedIn sent out an email to the top 1%, 5% and 10% most-viewed profiles on LinkedIn. I got an email that I was in the top 5%. While I didn’t share it (I don’t share much on my personal social media pages), I know many people that did. It definitely made them look important – great for their social media reputation!

    Great post!

  2. Jennifer,

    I think you make some great points about viral marketing… especially from the artists’ perspective! I love what you said about “give people something they can use.” That is so true, people sometimes just need information that is relevant to their job, education, or just life in general. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to YouTube for help with math homework or to try and figure out how to fix something. Can you imagine how popular Bob Ross would have been if YouTube had been around when he was teaching people how to paint on PBS? There would probably be an art store on every corner!


  3. Thanks for the caramel painting video, I really liked it, a Chinese Dragon painted by burning sugar to form the caramel substance, I believe that what makes this video went rival is actually two factors: first is the tendency for humans to show off in front of their friends to be the cool personality by sharing such amazing video, the second thing in this video is uniqueness, it is not very often to see such art done by caramel and done pretty good. I think it is a combination of factors that make a video goes viral, some of which of course would be ascribed to steps you’ve mentioned above, what really matters here is that ” people love it”, but what part of our brain participate the most to let us share similar videos? is it the emotional side or the reasonable side, so we can figure out the factors that affect more on our decision when we press share button?

  4. You bring up a lot of great tips. As more people realize they can showcase their talents via the internet and even find their audience there, they wonder about the best ways to reach them. Showing the creative process via YouTube is a wonderful way to let people get to know you and your artwork. It can also teach other budding artists a better way to work and help you network with like-minded individuals. When delving into creative work, it often becomes less about the business and more about the connection between the message, the artist and the audience. If businesses treated their company missions like artists treat their art, they would truly have something no one could duplicate. The work of a creative mind (which everyone can access if they stopped listening to that inner critic) is as unique as a fingerprint. I love seeing ordinary people make channels on YouTube about their creations. It’s quite inspiring.

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