How to Go Viral: Photographer Von Wong Reveals Marketing Secrets

photography, marketing, tips, viral, Von Wong, TED

Getting discovered is easy! That’s what it looks like if you’re photographer Benjamin Von Wong. He’s a marketing master who’s figured out the formula – the secret to creating shareable meaningful work.

His photos are everywhere, from the front page of Reddit to major media outlets and photography magazines or blogs, not to mention the millions of views his work gets on social media.

Von Wong at TEDx Malaysia

He gave a helpful presentation the other day at TEDx in Penang, Malaysia. Ben talked about his process for creating shareable content and used examples from his latest viral hit Mermaid on 10,000 Plastic Bottles.

Here’s a recording I made of his talk:

Ben told me he added the “Von” to his name because there were too many Ben Wongs out there.

There’s no doubt Benjamin’s images are both epic and original. There have been plenty of artists though who’ve created amazing work yet struggled to find an audience.

After his presentation, I got to spend some time with him and find out more about the secret to his success. Here’s what I learned:

7 Photography Marketing Tips

1. Expect Your Photographs to be Seen: 

The one thing about Von Wong that really stood out was his desire for his work be seen. He said, “I try to make sure that anything I create is actually going to get seen by people. I struggle with the idea of creating art when it’s not getting seen by anyone.”

It was surprising to hear. The common advice is usually more passive, that you should just put your work out there and let the world embrace it…or not. Or as Steve Martin famously said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

If the average American uses 167 plastic bottles a year, in 60 years they will have used 10,000 plastic bottles. Photo by Benjamin Von Wong.

To see a photographer intentionally aiming for massive exposure before a project even starts was different. Getting his work seen is as much a part of his creative process as the actual project itself.

Some might say you need a big ego for that. That’s not the case. It’s about having a deep conviction that your art is meaningful, that your message is important, that your voice is heard.

Von Wong in the streets of Penang with his trademark ‘VW’ shirt. When I asked about marketing books, he recommended Made To Stick and Primal Branding.

2. Create a Solid Title:

According to Von Wong, your headline or subject line is key to driving engagement. It’s like making a first impression in the real world. It doesn’t matter how good your photo is, you need to make a good impression and pique someones interest before they even see your project. As a result, think about whether or not the title of your project is shareable before you even begin.

3. Learn About Social Media Marketing:

Social media is constantly changing. You need to stay up to date with the latest trends. For instance, Ben said 80-85% of people on Facebook watch videos with the sound off. If you don’t have subtitles in your videos then you’re missing out on a huge audience.

On a side note, Von Wong said he still uses Flickr. In fact, one of his major clients even found him through the once popular photo sharing platform. If you go to the last page of his Flickr feed you can see Ben’s first attempts at photography from 2008. It’s a great reminder that we were all beginners at one point.

4. Share Your Creative Process:

Take people behind the scenes. Document what you do. Since the start, Ben has been sharing videos of how he creates his images. The journey is as important, if not more, than the final product.

[Like this? Read: 27 Inspiring Photography Tips From Steve McCurry]

5. Travel Far or Near:

Get out from behind your lens or computer and meet people in the real world. Go to conferences, workshops, and meet ups. You don’t have to travel around the world like Ben does, just being an active member in your local community can have a big impact.

6. Collaborate With Others:

Ben believes, “The ultimate goal is to find someone who can help you bring out the best in each other.” He creates synergies around the globe by connecting with his small army of photographers, models, hair stylists, makeup artists, and more through a number of Facebook groups he created.

Members of the Mermaid Bottle Project team. Photo by Martin Lacasse.

Then when his work takes him somewhere, he posts a message in the group asking if anyone has any leads or would like to collaborate.

If you’re interested, check out I want to work with Von Wong and/or fill out this form. You can also connect with him through one of his many geography-specific groups like Von Wong in Singapore, France, or California to name a few.

7. Follow Your Bliss:

With all of his success, it seems like Ben has everything figured out. After hearing him talk it was obvious that he is continually reinventing himself and redefining what is meaningful. For instance, in his inspiring talk at E.G., (see below) he shares his reasons for pivoting his career towards that of environmentalist.

Do Sh*t That You Love

In the end, you could attribute Von Wong’s viral successes to his affinity for marketing or just plain luck. After getting to know him, I’m convinced it’s about hard work and living a life of purpose: to create, educate, and inspire.

Or as Ben so eloquently put it, “1. Do sh*t that you love. 2. Work with people who love the sh*t that you do. And 3., make good sh*t.”

Find out more about Ben here: website, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

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Author: Pete DeMarco

Pete DeMarco is an award-winning travel photographer. His passion for helping people transform their photography shows through in the expert advice he shares. His work has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, CNN, and as a staff writer for Digital Photography School.