The first day of college may be exhilarating, but the next four years could be a mixed bag of emotions. The day of the wedding could be blissful, but the next few decades, or much less for some, could be navigated through both easy and treacherous terrain. In more recent times, going viral on social media might follow a similar trajectory. The moment of “virality” may be intoxicating, but the days, weeks, and months that follow could be thrilling and nauseating. Usually, the person who crashes into newfound fame will hardly know what to do afterward. Why? Because they didn’t prepare for it. People rarely plan to “go viral,” so if they do, everything that follows is essentially a novelty.
Photographers can follow countless series of articles and guides to implement a sound social media strategy. However, there isn’t much material on the topic of virality and how to capitalize on a viral moment. To fill the gaps, we spoke to a few photographers and social media experts who’ve navigated these situations before, and they provided a rough blueprint to make the most of your social media stardom.
The Immediate Aftermath
So you posted a photo or video that the algorithm fancied, and now it’s raking in thousands of likes, shares, and comments. What do you do next? To coin a phrase used by many social media experts, including Sarah Crawford, Founder of Foodtography School, this is the time to ride the wave.
Study the Viral Post: Look at its style and substance and replicate it. Create similar content over the next few days or weeks. Contrary to popular belief, lightning – in this sense – can strike the same place twice.
Engage with the Community: Your viral post will bring in a lot more social media users. You’ll need to turn those casual passersby into active followers, so engaging with their comments and DMs is a good way to go about it. These interactions will propel the viral post and others further through social media algorithms, generating greater interest in the aftermath.
Extend the Viral Moment’s Life Span: See if you can repurpose the viral content and distribute it across other platforms. For example, you can include a viral Instagram post as part of your next email newsletter, or remix it into a video for TikTok. If it went viral on one platform, it could do the same on another. There’s also scope for revising and re-editing older content into the style of the viral post. If you made a viral video that starts with BTS footage of a photo and ends with the final image, maybe the same style can be used for older photos.
In a blog post on Foodtography, Sarah expanded on the importance of publishing more content that’s in line with the post that went viral.
Think of it this way — would you rather go to a restaurant where you’re obsessed with one dish, but the rest of the menu is just so-so, or a restaurant where you love absolutely everything on the menu?! So focus on creating more content just like the video that went viral. And next time someone new comes to your page, they’ll see you posting the same type of content and decide to follow for more!
Case Study: Dubai-based Travel Photographer Murad Osmann
Dubai-based creator Murad Osmann started out by taking a photo of his then-girlfriend taking his hand as she led him around Barcelona back in 2011.
We were just walking around the city, and I was taking pictures of Nataly everywhere. At some point, she dragged me forward, as there were probably too many pictures already, and I had managed to snap that moment on the phone. Back then, there were very few apps that could retouch images on the phone the way I wanted, but some new ones had just come out, and I really liked the result.
Over a decade later, with more than 3 million followers beside them, they’re still at it. The photographic template of visiting new destinations with his wife beside him (or in front of him in this instance) resonated, and Murad’s riding the wave to this today. While his account does feature different types of content, photos of his wife guiding him around the world are a staple.
Branding and Identity
Your work stands for something, and so do you.
It’s important to make sure your social media activity is consistent with your identity. Following the path of fame can be complicated, and it has coerced everyone from actors to musicians to stray from their original destination. Chasing likes might work in the moment, but it can undermine your identity in the long run. Don’t let that be you.
Refine Your Brand: Get all your digital marketing components in order, from your social media profiles and website, down to the email newsletter. Make sure there’s a clear and consistent visual identity at work.
Be Consistent: Refine and maintain a consistent look across all these digital platforms. Design elements like logos and color schemes should complement each other across different avenues.
Complement Your Identity with Your Content: Post social media content that reinforces that visual identity. The color palette of your images and the tone of your captions must also be symbiotic.
Strike a Balance: Having a strong grasp of your brand and identity will prevent you from going wherever the wind blows. You’ll be mindful of your creative inclinations and the audience’s interests.
Nour joined Instagram in 2010. Since then, he has amassed a following of just over 78,000 people. During this decade-plus period on the platform, he has had several viral moments, but his feed stays consistent: showcasing the interiors and exteriors of various properties through his signature aesthetic. According to him, these blowup moments on Instagram come down to what is featured in the photos.
It usually depends more on the project itself and how relevant it is to the audience, or if it’s a trendy (or new) place. For example, a post in January went viral because it was a shoot for a Dior event at a recently renovated historical palace. That’s why Egyptians were excited about it and shared it a lot.
Nour’s IG account is true to his identity and vision. The photos display the architecture of a venue while the caption names it. It’s a simple formula that engages his audience, and should they take a particular liking to a post, he may boost it every now and then. That’s about it. As the cliche goes, the photos speak for themselves.
An effective content strategy will maintain the audience’s interest beyond that one meteoric moment. Consider the following essentials:
Diverse and Engaging Content: To maintain your audience’s interest, offer a variety of content types, including behind-the-scenes glimpses, tutorials, interviews, and photo series. Experiment with different formats to keep your feed fresh and exciting. On a platform such as Instagram, you can have two different content channels, for example – one for your feed and the other for your stories.
Storytelling Techniques: Stories can be powerful and leave a lasting impression. Share the inspiration behind your photographs, your journey as a photographer, or the stories of the people you capture. For example, the popular Humans of New York account combines portraiture photography with anecdotes in the captions, exploring the lives of New Yorkers across different backgrounds.
Consistent Posting Schedule: Set a posting schedule that works for you and stick to it. Consistency builds anticipation and manages the expectations of your followers. They know when to look out for a new photo or video from you. To make life easy, you can rely on scheduling tools to plan and automate posts. So even when life gets busy and hectic, you have a buffer to lean on.
Quality Over Quantity: The urge to churn out more and more after a viral moment is high. But you risk putting out mediocre content and facing burnout. Pause, reflect, and ensure your upcoming photos represent your artistic vision and maintain a high standard.
Community Engagement: Actively engage with your followers by responding to comments, messages, and inquiries. Show genuine interest in their feedback and create a sense of community. Pose questions, conduct polls, and encourage discussions to keep them coming for more. That could give you even more content ideas going forward.
Stay Informed: Keep an eye on photography and social media trends. Experiment with new content formats such as videos, reels, or live sessions. This landscape never stays the same, and you’ll definitely have to change with the times at some point.
Collaborations and Partnerships
Following a viral moment, you’re bound to catch the eye of numerous parties on the internet. Other photographers may ask you for tips, while brands and agencies will gauge your interest in potential assignments. In more ways than one, you can leverage your virality into personal and professional success.
Networking: Build connections within the industry for long-term success. Collaborate with established photographers or industry professionals to access new opportunities. Your viral content could also open doors when it comes to client introductions.
Cross-promotion & Shared Projects: Your photography can resonate with peers who may be open to exploring joint ventures from a creative standpoint. By combining skills and perspectives, you can create something truly special with the potential to trump your viral moment.
Influencer Campaigns: Work with social media influencers who align with your style or target audience. Influencers can feature your work, conduct interviews, or create behind-the-scenes content, generating buzz and attracting new followers.
Sponsored Content: Collaborate with brands on sponsored content, giving you more publicity and an additional revenue stream. By carefully selecting partnerships that align with your values and style, you can maintain authenticity and benefit from the brand’s reach and resources.
Monitoring Results and Analytics
You’ll need to dive into the analytics tools of a social media platform to figure out what works, why it works, and who it works for. The data will hopefully lead you to publish more content with greater potential for virality.
Audience Demographics: Analytics tools provide demographic data about your audience, including age, gender, location, and interests. You can then tweak your content to suit their preferences. For example, if you’re a travel photographer with a large following based in Asia, posting photos from countries in the region could generate more attention.
Engagement Metrics: Tracking engagement metrics such as likes, comments, shares, and saves can provide a clear picture of how your content is resonating with the audience. You’ll start to notice trends and patterns in the best-performing content. For example, carousel posts with multiple images may have better interactions than standalone photos.
Referral Sources: Look into sources of traffic and understand how users discover your content. Is it through organic search, social media, or external websites? This information will help you promote your work more effectively, even leading to partnerships with the platforms themselves.
Your long-term goals as a photographer will help you leverage a viral moment more effectively. If you know which port you sail to, you can harness an unexpected gust of wind to reach your destination faster. If you don’t, it’s just a gust of wind.
Build Lasting Connections: Continue to engage with fellow photographers, industry professionals, and potential clients who have shown interest in your work. Network at events, participate in online communities, and seek out opportunities that align with your goals and vision.
Secure Clients and Exhibitions: Reach out to brands, agencies, and publications that align with your aesthetic and values, showcasing how your work can benefit their marketing campaigns. You can also explore exhibition opportunities to showcase your work in galleries, art shows, or online platforms, further establishing your credibility and visibility in the industry.
Diversify Your Portfolio: A viral moment may have showcased one aspect of your photography, but you could have other specialties you’d like to present to audiences. Mix up your content to show followers your versatility and additional interests.
Continue Your Education: Learning never stops. Invest in workshops, courses, or mentorship programs that help you refine your techniques, explore new trends, and expand your creative horizons.
Build a Sustainable Business: Focus on building a sustainable photography career. This involves setting realistic pricing, streamlining workflows, and investing in essential resources such as high-quality equipment and reliable support services. Establishing a solid foundation ensures that you can sustain and grow your business beyond the fleeting nature of viral fame.
Looking back, Stephen couldn’t recall a viral moment. He opened his Instagram account in April 2012, and today, he has 172,000 followers by his side. He credits his success on the platform to building lasting connections with clients and getting the attention of a prominent organization through the strength and quality of his work.
A few years ago, I was invited to become a contributor to the National Geographic Travel Instagram account. I’ve been posting regularly ever since, and with its huge following, my Instagram following grew as well. So I don’t really have a viral moment to reference, just a steady growth from being connected with one of social media’s largest presence.
By now, health experts and your friends and family can tell you all about the ills of social media. Spend too much time on it, and you might be diving deeper into the abyss of endless scrolling.
In your search for new and varying types of content, you could easily fall into the harmful trap of self-comparison. You’ll wonder why another photographer’s posts are getting more engagement even though you feel yours are better. Or you’ll admire another creator’s work to the point of envy and jealousy, feeling completely inadequate despite the efforts that you’ve put into your work.
On top of that, social media isn’t a utopia where you’ll discover universal love and approval. There are trolls and naysayers who’ll make their presence known in your comments and DMs, pointing out faults in your photos and videos. They’ll criticize the lighting in last week’s post, demand why you didn’t post yesterday, and complain about your recent content being way too similar and lacking originality. Engaging with the community is a way to build on a viral moment, but engaging with negativity is a way to destroy your mental well-being.
To make sure you don’t spiral, maintaining boundaries is key.
Set Limits: Restrict the amount of time you spend on social media. Have a schedule for engaging with social media content and the community and try not to go beyond that threshold.
Use Safety and Privacy Features: Each platform will have its own mechanisms. For instance, Instagram lets you hide offensive words and phrases from your comments and DMs, even letting you control the parameters for the tool’s activation. As your platform grows, it’s important to be aware of any scams or hackers trying to access your account.
Kill Them with Kindness: People who post negative comments typically want a reaction from you, usually an incendiary one. Doing the opposite usually negates their intentions and nullifies any control they feel they have.
Go To Battle: Then there are some creators on social media who thrive on the battlefield. They’ll fight fire with fire, coming back with witticisms and retorts to get back at the negativity. If doing this energizes you, have at it. But this is a practice reserved for the few.
Adapting to Change
We started this article by urging you to ride the wave. Eventually, though, the wave might come crashing down or slow to an ebb and flow. Social media can be so fickle, and what worked yesterday might be done with tomorrow. The formula for success is never static, so be mindful of the following as you come down from the highs of your viral moment.
Stay Informed: Follow industry experts, subscribe to relevant newsletters, and participate in photography communities to ensure you are aware of the shifts in the digital sphere.
Experiment with New Content Formats: Experimentation allows you to find fresh ways to showcase your work and connect with your audience.
Embrace Emerging Platforms: Instagram is a staple for photographers, but places like TikTok have evolved from dance routines to sanctuaries for diverse content.
Seek Inspiration Outside of Photography: Look beyond the boundaries of photography for inspiration. Explore art, fashion, design, or other creative fields to cross-pollinate ideas into your work. You’ll stand out in a saturated social media landscape.
Monitor and Adapt: Regularly monitor your analytics and track the performance of your content. Identify patterns, understand what resonates with your audience, and adjust your content strategy accordingly.
Adapting to change requires flexibility and a willingness to evolve. Embrace new opportunities, experiment with fresh ideas, and continuously learn and grow as a photographer. By staying relevant and adaptable, you can navigate the ever-changing social media landscape and maintain a strong presence long after your viral moment.