Social Media Marketing for Photographers

Social Media Marketing for Photographers

Social media is very exciting.

Exciting – adjective: a word used by the marketing industry use to describe something that is cool new and that no one is quite sure what to do with; the only thing certain about exciting things is that we all want to dive onboard in case we miss the boat.

For me most forms of social marketing are like the traditional art of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) combined with Mailing Lists except that you, the photographers are dealing groups of people instead of individuals, and leveraging those individuals to help you, you have a lot less control over what is being spoken freely by anyone who wants to voice their opinion. There is plenty of scope for personal contact, but for microstock I remain skeptical about having enough hours in the day for one-on-one dialogue unless you increase prices to make it viable. Depending on what exactly you are promoting it can be hard put a figure on CLV (customer lifetime value) so don’t let me stop you making one-on-one contacts.

The True Power of Social Media for Photographers

Social media is not you sending out your marketing message but harnessing, perhaps you could call it ‘steering’ the people talking about you, and how those messages other people post are interpreted by the community as a whole. Your messages can, at best, only serve to plant a seed. Only if your message is liked/enjoyed/hated/useful to the community will the message spread. Your single marketing voice if used in a traditional “posting press releases’ fashion is for the most part completely lost in the crowd unless influential people spread the message… there are always exceptions to any rule, especially if you dangle a carrot (competitions, freebies etc)

New Rules to Learn

All the traditional rules apply to the “push” part of social media: timing, matching messages to the right audience etc. The clear benefit in social being that if people like what you tell them then that message is by some mechanism passed on to the rest of their network “they do the marketing for you” (- if it was only that easy!)

Be wise with social networks and the platform they operate on, as a very simple example, I think about 5% of my friends on Facebook are in some way related to the photography or design industries. Conversely I’d estimate that an overwhelming proportion of the people who follow me on various twitter accounts are photographers or designers. I’m not suggesting that trying to get image buyers on Facebook to ‘like’ your photography work is a waste of time, clearly it has some use, It’s just important to consider what type of network people have created, some examples:

  • a network of people working in a chosen industry e.g. linked in (potential gold dust?)
  • a network of their friends and family (still a useful vote for your content if they like it, but it’s far less likely to come to the attention of someone in a position to buy)
  • a large network of people who will happily subscribe to lots off things and pay little attention to what they follow (all vanity? are those high numbers as good as they look?).
  • a small network of people who are very selective about what they watch and pay interest to everything that comes in their inbox. (Quality counts)
  • a following of random people who adore you like a celebrity because it’s cool to do so
  • a network people you cajoled into following your after they visited you website – little more than a glorified mailing list.
  • a network that your customers set up on their own to talk about you over which you have no control, not really relevant to a photographer I admit (and in fact you don’t have much control over any social network!)

— one size does not fit all.

Of course for what I would call frivolous content (funny animal photos, cool looking desktop backgrounds and phone skins you know the kind of stuff) then the more people linked to you in the network the merrier, and there is nothing wrong with using this kind of universal content (a.k.a. cyber drivel) to attract ‘traffic’ just be aware that less of them will convert into stock photo buyers – so think more about targeting the buyers. The non-buyers who like your work are still a useful asset, every ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ is a vote for your content, and opens the door to another pair of eyes, as well as being considered by search engines and algorithms as one indication that your content is something good.

Something I would always keep in mind is the more people see your work the more likely it is that one of those people will be a buyer. Be that the 1 in 10,000 who saw it on Flickr or the 1 in 100 who converted after finding your work after using a term like ‘stock photo’ in Google. I’m not suggesting those numbers are accurate, but to emphasize that not all sets of eyes and mouse fingers are alike.

I personally underestimated the power of Facebook for many years, dismissing it as unprofessional / and non business oriented. A Facebook fan page can be a very valuable tool in your social media marketing kit, it does require investment, and if you are already stretched across a lot of other tasks either outsource or decide if it is more or less important than your current marketing activities. Want lots of fans? It’s fairly easy to buy them for 5 to 10 cents each with Facebook advertising, so don’t use those numbers alone to compare your success against your peers.

Social marketing is just another spoke in the marketing wheel, without a hub to actually promote you don’t have much; your hub can be your images in lightboxes on a microstock or a Facebook fan age. Ideally, and if you have the time/knowledge/budget it will be a website that you control and manage, a site to which you can add your content (not necessarily stock images either).

The goal of your marketing wheel can quite easily consist of several things combined, be that referral links, direct sales of photos, ad supported content, or further promotion of each of your spokes. It can even be entirely further promotion e.g your goal is to get more people to your mailing list on which you sell advertising space, it’s not easy to work purely ad supported and so this would be a path grow a network, in the end the goal will probably want to be selling those photos or at least referring clients to them. I’ll look at the goal more in the next chapter.

Content for Social Networks

Pull – content on the web that people can search for or use for research and reference

Push – messages sent out for promotional purposes, news and updates.

Most social platforms combine and blur the two together allowing the community to organize, tag or rate collections of push messages hence creating useful resources of ‘pull’ type content as well as keeping their users updated with the latest news that is available.

Most social marketing tools online still in some way involve content (a.k.a. pull) of one type or another, or at least they revolve around ‘mentioning’ the content on a traditional website or blogging service.

What makes popular social content?

Content is (almost) always king. Even in social networking you often find that the most popular ‘networks’ are the ones that provide something really useful to their followers, almost all of the time that is some kind of useful information. Occasionally you will come across someone who has created a ‘brand of themselves’ and who’s opinion seems to be what everyone is following, for the most part in photography I’ve seen that the popular people in social media are the ones who provide a contestant stream of useful information, call me old fashioned but I still call that stream of useful posts ‘content’. Create good content and people will come, generate automated banal drivel and few will listen.

I could be blunt here and say that attractive but insubstantial “bimbo” content is the order of the day. In depth articles are good but get buried all too easily, use the frivolous stuff to grab people and then get them hooked on something good. I very much dislike what I just wrote but it seems, sadly, all too true.

Top lists and any kind of useful comparison or roundup that lets visitors see ‘the best’ in one place seems to be the stickiest content that engages social users. Sadly, long in-depth discussions and debate seem to be under represented in the social sphere – where the attention span is at most 30 seconds. All that said about easy to digest ‘link bate’ I do see sites having great success with complex content like tutorials that I would guess take days of work to put together – after all you are sit here reading this. A mix of the two is perhaps the best approach, some regular, easy to generate ‘fluff’ and some much more in depth content. There seems (unmeasured) to be mileage in creating lightboxes in some form, be that a microstock site or perhaps picking a selection of related images from Flickr and hosting a page that links to them all.

A good source of up to the minute (literally) and relevant news also creates very attractive content that people will follow or subscribe to. I add the caveat that the news needs to be specific to a niche target audience. One person’s facile celebrity gossip is another person’s goldmine of entertainment; likewise “what’s new in image search and microstock subscriptions services” might sound like a dry subject to most photographers but buyers might love you.

Which social networks?

  • Facebook the largest network, but also somewhat private (fan pages are mostly public), it’s not a place that people seem to do much digging for information, but they do respond to the likes and recommendations of their friend or peers. Studies suggest that while teenagers and university students spend vast amounts of time socialising on Facebook they do not use it to gather information about products or companies etc. – it’s purely seen as a way to keep in touch with friends.
  • twitter, nothing like as big as face book but it’s users are perhaps more informed, or at least influential. It’s a common stop with people looking for instant news on something that has just occurred, the problem being a few weeks after you post something it might as well be consigned to the land that time forgot.
  • linked in – a network for professionals, you need to know people before you add them to your network meaning that you can’t just dive in and market to people – makes this a much less ‘spammy’ place and certainly somewhere you tend to trust what being said(?!?)
  • Flickr, okay so it’s more photo sharing that a network, the little social aspects come about commenting and feeds of images uploaded by your friends. I mention it not because of its social credentials but because it is ‘the’ photo sharing site (by share I mean sharing with others so they can view your work).

 

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