Going Viral ≠ Increased Business

Every platform, content scraper, blog publisher, and even legitimate (formerly?) respectable publishers (I’m looking at you, National Geographic) out there sells creatives on the idea that if you share (I so loathe that word as it is used by those businesses) your work, the exposure will be great for your business.

The reality is, probably not. Here is one photographer’s story about a viral photo that got a ton of views and likes and shares and even press but, so far, no appreciable new business (note: he did book a couple of weddings, but that isn’t clearly because of the viral photo–maybe he would have booked ’em anyway at the show he mentions).

Now, maybe he could have used the viral exposure better (for example, connected it immediately to a sales promotion), but really, I’m not sure that would have made a major difference. People don’t impulse-buy photography. No one is likely to see the viral photo and say “I need to hire that photographer!” unless, maybe, s/he was already looking for a wedding photographer. Assignment/commissioned photography is still not a commodity, not a product on the shelf, so exposure like that may never pay off.

So, the photographer gets a brief hit of online fame, when his name is included (and it often isn’t), but no real financial benefit. He’s not suddenly booked up and the interest has already faded. In exchange, he has lost the ability to control the work (i.e., license it) and thus generate revenue from it.

However, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the viral photo has generated buckets of cash for the sites that have used it (eyeballs = advertising moolah) and will for as long as people will look.

Moral of the story: don’t give your work away; don’t share it and don’t let your clients share it, unless they pay for the privilege.