I have written a lot about social media on this blog not only because most marketers are talking about it but because many photographers have expressed doubts about it. The truth is that social media is integral to most online marketing efforts these days. There are no rules which is probably what scares photographers the most but look at all the photographers who have become known as subject matter experts in the past several years. How many of them were widely known before the internet? The barriers to entry in order to get published in the past was determined by print publishers but now they don’t nearly wield as much power in the past and there are so many more opportunities to make a name for yourself. Take this blog post for instance. Sure I could have pitched this article to PDN or a mainstream business publication and pray that I get a heavily-edited version published months later but instead you get to read the original version here several days after I wrote it.
When I started this blog, my intent was to share some of the things I’ve learned in marketing to photographers that might not have a background in business. My photo blog wasn’t really an appropriate place to talk business since the blog is meant to highlight my photography so I created this blog as sort of a business information archive that I could direct photographers to if they had questions. It takes some time to write the articles for the blog but the benefit to me is that it helps to establish some credibility with my target audience and open up additional opportunities to get my name out there that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I bring this up because photographers have traditionally written for magazines and authored photo books for the same purpose; to get their name out there, build their reputation and leverage that reputation to monetize other products and services. Lets face it, for most people, the pay for writing magazine articles and books doesn’t really justify the time incurred for developing the query, negotiations with the publisher, development of the article, re-editing and dealing with the accounting department of the publisher. Their real intent is to develop a brand around their name. Legendary nature photographer, Art Wolfe, has even been quoted as saying that he has done 60-something books but they don’t earn him much money and are basically a break-even deal but what being so prolific does for him is keep his name out there. Another example is that there are some well-known wedding photographers that shoot weddings for the same purpose. Shoot a few select weddings every year, broadcast how cool they are online then spend the rest of the year pushing their products and services onto other photographers because they have realized there is more earning potential to marketing to other photographers than in the actual art of photography.
So it’s true. Unless you have a plan for leveraging your reputation, publishing via traditional print or social media is merely for vanity. It doesn’t pay well on the surface but if you have a plan and stick to it then social media much like print publishing in the past can be your keys to the kingdom. That is the secret to social media for photographers.
My latest article for Black Star Rising might be of interest to you since I have previously written about social media in several posts on this blog. This article addresses the questions that people might have regarding the purpose of social media.
Here’s the article:
It is no surprise that anytime an opportunity presents itself, there will be marketers flocking to it. The problem with marketers is that they often jump into a new medium without fully understanding the motivations of those using the medium. I am writing this because I have been noticing more and more lately that people are creating Twitter accounts with no intention of interacting with people at all. These people just care about pushing their products or services onto people. Well guess what, those old-school push marketing tactics only serve to drive people away from you.
It is in really bad taste to DM someone with a sales pitch as your first line of correspondence after they have added you. It’s even worse if you DM someone your spammy message and haven’t reciprocated the add so they can’t even respond back to you. If you have built your profile effectively then there is no need to do this because we would already know what you’re about. When someone adds you on Twitter, the chances are that they have seen your line of work already and don’t need to be talked at in order think positively about you. Just like when you see someone in person that you want to talk to, you should be personable. Say hi and ask them how they are doing, or compliment them on something. Be sincere. You wouldn’t just walk up to someone and shove your business card in their face saying “I’m the shit. Now check out my website, goodbye.” It is also perfectly fine to not say anything and see if they want to say something first. Play your cards right and they’ll want to get to know you. Play them wrong and they’ll be indifferent to you.
Most marketers who aren’t experienced at social networking treat these activities as if they were the same as their mass media outlets. There is a huge difference. In mass media, it is generally expected that you are not talking to any specific person as it is an impersonal form of communication. In social networking sites however, it is all about direct communication with individuals. People join these sites to communicate with each other not buy stuff. It is about relationships and dialogue. You have to work at it in order to get to the relationship stage. Maybe then at that point, they might want to buy something or maybe not, but at least you’ll have acquired a brand champion.
Perhaps this blog post should be re-titled as, “Relationships 101”.
Blogging is one of the most powerful tools that a photographer has available due to the intimate nature of the medium. Those same benefits can also be drawbacks without proper etiquette. It is surprising to see how off-putting some photographers are when it comes to representing themselves on their own blogs. A blog at best is a method of establishing more personal communications with your audience. There are a lot of ways to attract an audience, which I will get to later, but attracting eyes is easy. Retaining an audience is another matter. Just like in advertising, you only have a few fleeting moments to grab someone’s attention and keep it. So what are some things you can do to build loyal relationships via a blog?
1. Write for your readers. People don’t want to be talked at or down to. Be personal. (There’s a fine line though. For example, don’t discuss your three abortions from 15 years ago unless that is an underlying theme of your blog.) There’s a photographer I’ve seen that writes half of his blog posts in the 3rd person. That sounds really bad. I don’t know whether that photographer drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid or not but I think he would be better suited not even having a blog than writing that way.
2. Post photos. That sounds really obvious but surprisingly, there are a lot of photography-oriented blogs out there that are overly-chatty don’t feature too much photography. It is really easy to get side-tracked from the main concept of the blog but I would try to minimize that. Create another blog if you need another venue to talk about photography-related topics not focused around your own work; like this blog for example.
3. Post consistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean everyday but be predictable enough so your audience can have a general expectation of when you might have posted something new. It is really hard to maintain much less grow an audience without consistent posting.
4. Keep the shameless self-promotion to a minimum. It is okay to do some but too much comes across as bragging. There are more appropriate venue for promoting. People are on your site because they generally want to like you. Reward the reader with quality content then you’ve got word of mouth marketing.
5. Enable blog comments and respond to commenters. People are taking time out of their day to offer you something so it is polite to acknowledge them. The advantage to having a blog over the rest of a static website is that it allows for two-way communication. Take advantage of that!
6. Widgets. Install relevant widgets and badges on your blog where appropriate such as Twitter badges, Yelp if you are a travel photographer, etc… These are things that should be adding extra value to the experience for your audience.
7. Make your RSS feeds and subscriptions easy to add. Not everyone uses feeds to read blogs but it makes it much more convenient for those who do. Most importantly, it is a timely way to distribute your blog without any effort.
How to attract an audience
1. Write content that interests your audience and is conducive to discussions. My article on Top Ten Most Influential Nature Photographers of All-Time is an example of this. Once I wrote the blog post, I started a discussion thread on the Nature Photographers Network forum. Then it led to other photographers starting discussions on several other nature photography forums and wound up being discussed on Outdoor Photographer magazine’s blog in addition to a number of other photo blogs. All I essentially did was start a discussion.
2. Social media integration. Having a presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, niche forums, etc… is a perfect vehicle for seeding links back to your blog. Be sure to participate more than just shameless self-promoting though. Communicate with people. It is called social networking for a reason. TV commercials are past their moment in the sun because they don’t engage people. Facebook and Twitter are as hot as they are because you can “talk” with people who you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It adds a human element to the work.
3. Participate on other photographer’s and industry blogs. This is a really rewarding thing to do. As a photographer, you may only care about selling your own work but there is a lot of value in building relationships with your colleagues. Many times, they end up becoming regular participants in your blog or on the social networks with you as well. And yes, there is a bit of marketing psychology to this but that doesn’t mean participating with a “salesman-like” mentality. Be yourself!
4. Write articles for magazines both print and online. Be sure to include a URL back to your site if possible. The readers that are interested in you will find your blog through your site.
5. Public speaking engagements. Photographers like Chase Jarvis, David Hobby and David Alan Harvey for example have tons of people participating on their blogs because they have big offline visibility in addition to an online presence. Another thing they have in common is that they care about engaging with their audience.
6. Write good blog titles, categorize blog posts, and tagging. This is both good for search engine visibility and for overall site usability.
7. Be an innovative photographer and do any of the above effectively.
There are a lot of photographers out there doing an excellent job of blogging. Those are the people you should follow. Don’t copy them necessarily but figure out what they are doing and see how that fits in what your plan.
For thousands of years, masters of a single martial arts discipline would have an almost mythical status. Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, etc… If you could master your art then it was assumed that you could win any fight with relative ease. It wasn’t until the early 90’s at UFC 1 that a skinny Brazilian in a white bathrobe (gi), Royce Gracie, stepped into the ring and submitted his opponent, a pro boxer, with moves that most people had never seen before that a new era was born. After defeating two more far larger opponents that night in similar fashion, Gracie went on to win several more UFC tournaments but people started to realize that they needed to add jiu-jitsu and other skills to their existing arsenal just to compete. Experience, toughness and size were rendered irrelevant by Gracie because they had been caught off-guard. Unprepared for change.
I see much of the same things going on in the professional photography industry nowadays. Photography has always been seen as a print medium since it was invented but now the Internet has matured, many experienced photographers are struggling to adapt to the technological changes. Photojournalism is the area that has experienced the greatest amount of change due to all of the cutbacks and financial struggles of mainstream newspapers. Even in good times, the pay was shit, but now there is just not enough work doing traditional news for the amount of people qualified to do it. Many of the ones that are still working now have either adopted new business models such as the Strobist or those who have become multi-media journalists simultaneously recording still photos, video and sound gathering. Those who are still working and haven’t tried to learn anything new are treading on thin ice.
As if becoming a great photographer wasn’t difficult enough, now people are saying that we have to be photographers, videographers, writers, social media experts and recording artists at the same time?!? Crazy! I think that is a bit alarmist but there is truth to that as well. To fight in the Octagon, professional photographers have to at least have a working knowledge of the various disciplines in case they might need to apply it sometime. Not knowing is going to severely limit the upside for income opportunities.
Honestly I believe that once this all plays out there will be a place for everyone if they play their cards right. Just like there still are karate instructors, there are still going to be successful photographers that never record any sounds or video but there are also going to be those who don’t specialize in any specific discipline and create their own style by mixing a little bit of everything together. But I guarantee that all of the successful ones will be the ones who keep tabs on what else is out there even if they never pursue those avenues.
Recently, a Karate expert, Lyoto Machida became the light heavyweight champion of the UFC so now Karate is the rage again. But he didn’t get to the top by solely training in Karate. He also has a black belt in BJJ and is trained in sumo wrestling. He uses that other stuff to prevent others from dictating the fight, so he can stay upright the whole fight kicking people however he feels like. It is the same concept for photographers. Don’t let the changing market conditions take you out of the game. Adapt to it, dictate where you will play and kick the competition’s ass.
By the way, I recently posted a multi-media project on my site. Check it out: Nature Photography Multi-Media Video.
Nature photographer, Younes Bounhar recently interviewed me about the topic of social media. You can check out the interview on his blog –
Twitter for Photographers: An Interview with Richard Wong.
With the growing popularity of online social networking / chatter / media whatever you want to call it, information has never been more readily available for photographers. If you want to know what any particular demographic is looking for or talking about then there are software applications out there that help you do this research. For a marketer this is information that companies paid millions in research for in the past. For you and I, the small business owner, it costs nothing.
Take Twitter for example, which is characterized by it’s fast-paced speed of updates. Mainstream news outlets like broadcast news, newspapers and the radio aren’t even the first to break stories these days. Often times the story has spread virally via Twitter before any mainstream media outlets catch wind of it. Now imagine being able to listen in on any subject of discussion on the Internet like Superman. You don’t need a stock agency wants list anymore. Those will be outdated by the time they are published. The information is already out there for the taking. Experienced photographers should be able to gather a lot of useful information from adopting these new methods if they embrace the technology. Be creative. Think creatively.
There are applications out there such as TweetDeck that allow you to not only interact with your friends on Twitter, but you can customize searches around specific terms and see what people on Twitter are talking about in real-time. Keep one column active for the search term “stock photography” and it is fairly obvious that many people (especially photographers) out there are woefully uninformed about the photo licensing industry. Even more telling is the amount of people who expect to find great photography for little to no money. If you can stomach this type of dialogue for long enough you will also find gems in there such as a photo buyer who tweets about having difficulties while looking for a specific image. Maybe you are that person who can help them out. Be sure to know what you are talking about though. Know the value of your work to the end user. If you have the right image at the right time then the buyer should be willing to pay what’s necessary for it. A twist on the old saying, you get paid only what you ask for.
Market research is just one of the many other uses for social media monitoring which includes PR activities such as reputation management but that is a huge topic all on its own.
Updated 5/11/09: As requested, here are some other apps you might want to try for social media monitoring –
Field Report: The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography. A photography industry, marketing and digital imaging workflow blog off-shoot from my regular In The Field: Outdoor Photography Blog.
(626) 422-6151 / Richard (at) rwongphoto (dot) com
Above Photo by Greg Lato
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