(The following is excerpted from the new book The Successful Wedding Photographer , by the editors of Photopreneur.)
When viral campaigns work, they can be extremely powerful — but they don’t work all the time. Even professional marketers can struggle to get a viral campaign off the ground, and they often work best when you least expect them to.
In 2009, Pollenizer, a Web promotion firm, was asked to create a viral campaign for Photo Art Gallery , a new photo-sharing site.
The site had created a video  that aimed to show — in an amusing way — the lengths to which photographers will go to capture a great picture. The video showed a photographer repeatedly falling out of a tree as he attempts to photograph a colorful bird.
Pollenizer, in a deliberate attempt to make the video viral and help the new site to grow, tried to use that video to encourage the site’s users to contribute clips of their own, some of which they would try to push virally as well.
Pollenizer created a page on their client’s site that asked six questions and invited members to pick up their video cameras to create an answer. They ended up with about 10 videos, most of them contributed by the site’s employees.
Those videos went up on a YouTube channel, were linked to on websites and promoted through social media. After about six hours, they had still only picked up about 100 views.
If you’ve never heard of Photo Art Gallery, that’s a pretty good sign that that particular campaign didn’t work.
As Mike Liubinskas, a founding partner of Pollenizer, wrote on his blog about the viral photography campaign, there is a difference between viral promotion — in which a company tries deliberately to provoke people to talk about it — and intrinsic virality, which requires more than one person to participate.
The most famous example of viral power in relation to a wedding wasn’t photographic. It also wasn’t deliberately promotional, but it did have a strong effect on one person’s career, leading to a burst of valuable extra sales.
When Jill Peterson’s father uploaded to YouTube a video of his daughter’s wedding on June 20, 2009, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he had no idea how far the clip would spread. He just wanted relatives who couldn’t make the wedding to see what had happened.
The “JK Wedding Entrance ” showed the ushers closing the church door before Chris Brown’s “Forever” begins to play. The ushers, groomsmen and bridesmaids then dance down the aisle, followed by the groom, Kevin Heinz, who tumbles through the group. Finally, the bride dances down the aisle to join the groom.
Within 48 hours, the video had picked up more than 3.5 million views. In less than a year, that figure had risen to 45 million views and the dance had been copied by the U.S. TV show “The Office” as well as dancing shows from Australia to the Netherlands.
Helpfully for Chris Brown, the video also pushed sales of his song to No. 4 on iTunes and No. 3 on Amazon.
Worst or Best?
In theory, then, viral content linked closely to a wedding photographer could have a similar effect on business, spreading the photographer’s name widely and making him or her well-known enough to find new bookings easily.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of suggestions. Mat Siltala of 97th Floor, an Internet marketing firm, points out that photographers often take plenty of amusing pictures at weddings that aren’t as romantic as the couple would have liked.
The photos might show the groom receiving a face full of cake, the best man trying to hit on the maid of honor or children doing the kind of cute and irritating things that children do at weddings. If the picture is entertaining enough, people will pass it along to friends.
But your clients might not take kindly to a wedding photographer who’s ready to capture (and spread) the worst moments of their day as well as the best. Potential clients may also end up wondering whether the outtakes from their wedding would end up littering the world’s email boxes as well.
So while using your worst or funniest wedding photos might seem like the most obvious virus bait, a better option might be to disseminate your best photos. The trick is that they still must be interesting enough to share.
Take a look at the most shared wedding-related photos on Digg, for example, and you’ll find not only many bad or embarrassing images, but also an assortment of wedding photographs that went viral because they are impressive, creative and fun.
Take incredible pictures, send them to friends and relatives, post them on social networking sites — and chances are, they’ll be shared. Worst case scenario? Only a few people will see your best work, rather than the thousands you might hope for.
And who knows? Those photos you’re most proud of just might go viral, too.