Wedding photographer Aaro Keipi had one of his photos go viral recently, and the lessons he learned are an interesting case study in modern marketing. You might think that having one of your wedding photos go viral can directly lead to more business from all of the eyeballs that hit your image, but as Aaro discovered it’s not that easy.

Creating the Image

Despite what the looming castle in background might suggest, the bridal party photo was captured at a wedding in Virginia. After the bride had mentioned that she had some swords to use for photos, Aaro concocted this battle scene and then used Photoshop to complete the “Game of Thrones” look.

The bride in the picture was an old friend of mine, and when she contacted me about shooting her wedding, she mentioned having a couple of swords that she wanted to use in some of the pictures. The wedding took place in Luray, Virginia, a place not really known for its medieval castles (I’m based in Finland but travel to the U.S. a few times a year for weddings). The wedding was fantastic, and we got this fun shot of the bridal party “fighting” the wedding couple. As a surprise to the couple, I added a royalty-free castle and dark sky into the background of one picture with the help of Photoshop. The edit was done quickly (in less than an hour) and I didn’t pay much attention to details, treating it as a bonus to the wedding couple, and they loved it.

This quick video breaks down Aaro’s post production of the photo, where you can see the base image that was captured on site at the wedding.

Aaro’s Path to Going Viral

How exactly do you get an image to go viral? While some images can certainly be found, unpromoted, and then shared on a popular outlet to get lots of visibility, Aaro’s image took a more deliberate path. A few days after delivering the image to his couple, Aaro uploaded the image to imgur “figuring it would give a few people a laugh”. Within a few hours the image had racked up over 100k views (it currently has over 353k). Within a few days it had been reposted on sites like 9gag, The Chive, and “a bunch of random Russian sites.”

The rush came when UNILAD shared the photo on their Facebook page, which has over 14.4 million fans. At first the image was posted with no credit, but a link to his Facebook page was quickly added after Aaro sent them a Facebook message.

Going Viral Boosts Likes, but Strike While the Iron is Hot

Once UNILAD added the link to his Facebook page, Aaro got a huge spike in likes. After some of the initial excitement wore off and he started to do some digging, Aaro discovered that a lot of them were actually coming from parts of the world outside of his target market and probably wouldn’t result in any new business. He also noticed that a lot of the profiles looked like fake ones set up for like farming, which are definitely useless likes. After clearing out the dross, he ended up with a few hundred likes that he judged to be legitimate.

To further boost his visibility with the image, Aaro prepared a summary and sent it out to local Helsinki news outlets. Within just a few days, every news agency he contacted had run the story, which included links to his website and Facebook page. The increased traffic spiked his daily website stats by 30x, peaking at 1,400 visitors.

Aarography Viral Wedding Photographer Google

via Aarography (http://www.aarography.com/)

Despite all of the new website traffic, Aaro didn’t see a correlating increase in inquiries.

Using the Viral Image as Direct Marketing

To get an additional wave of marketing out of the image, Aaro had a large print produced and brought it to his first wedding expo a few months later, along with a laptop playing the post-production video. The effort paid off, because a lot of people at the expo already recognized the image and it served as an easy conversation starter.

Wedding Photographer Viral Expo

via Aarography (http://www.aarography.com/)

The Actual Benefits of Going Viral

In terms of concrete benefits, Aaro calculated that he received “about 900 new legitimate Facebook likes on my page, with the majority coming from my geographic target market.” Those are 900 potential clients (or client connectors) that have already seen and reacted to his photography in a positive way, and are highly likely to like, share, and comment on any future content.

The connection he was able to make at the expo with strangers who recognized his image resulted in a few weddings being booked. While it might be hard to say how many of those he would have booked without the viral image marketing, I think it certainly helped to have something that allowed wedding couples to easily connect with a potential vendor. Trust is a key factor in determining whom a couple books, and each couple that recognized Aaro’s image already trusted him on a social level.

Aaro put a lot of work into managing the viral ride his photo took, and I think it definitely paid off despite its minimal immediate impact on his business’s bottom line. He was able establish a larger, geographically-relevant fan base on his Facebook page and generate link trust with several local news agencies in Helsinki. Over time these two accomplishments alone easily make up for the lack of direct business generated from going viral.

via Aarography

You can see more of Aaro’s wedding photography on his website, Aarography.