This is part 2.2 of The Social Photographer. In part 2.1 (How to write concise and engaging messages), you learned some of the basics of getting you message across on social media. We have discussed the different message types and the principles of writing simple and engaging messages.
In this part of the series, you will learn how to build a social media campaign for your photography projects. While we only considered single messages in Part 2.1, you will now learn how to pitch a longer running project with a series of messages that tie into a coherent overall scheme to build a community around your project. In the end, that will help you reach a well-defined goal (e.g. raise awareness for your brand, sell a product or establish your authority as an expert in your field).
Sometimes, the things you are pitching are of a one-shot nature. For example, you have just uploaded a new photo from your last shoot to your website and you want people to look at it. This can be done in a single message. On other occasions, however, the things that you have in store are a bit more complex and more long-term in nature. In such cases, a single message won’t do your cause justice. You need something that lasts longer without reposting the same boring message over and over again. You need a campaign.
Much like in a political election campaign, your campaign has a single call to action and several steps that you take on your way to make people take that action. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t want you to run for president. But still you want to tell people something important and meaningful, and you want them to be a part of it. Shouting something arbitrary into the ether once will not make that happen. You need more sustained and coordinated efforts towards that goal.
The word campaign is a bit overloaded already. For the sake of this discussion, let’s define what the term means: A campaign is a series of related posts with a common call to action. Your campaign may actually have components outside the world of social media, but we are going to ignore those for the moment.
Let us look at a hypothetical example to make things a bit clearer: Tom – a great photographer but not so savvy in social media – is working on a project to publish a photo calendar of twelve exotic locations. He visit those locations to take the shots, creates the calendar and sells it on his website.
Tom does not bother thinking about how to pitch that calendar on his social networks. He, simply writes a single message once the calendar is finished and available for sale. That’s it! He takes his shot and hopes for the best. Some of his followers are surprised, some have better things to do right now, and everybody else is not online while Tom’s message makes its way into the social media nirvana – the place where all the old messages are kept. Not a lot happens. He writes a reminder with the same basic content boring those people who heard him the first time. His sales are not going well. A bit disappointed, Tom decide that for next year’s calendar, he really needs to improve his social media strategy.
What would be your advice to Tom? Surely you know a few things Tom could do to improve. Right? But let’s take a more systematic view and build a little campaign for Tom.
Tom could start by posting a pre-announcement message to make people curious and build up some expectations. This message does not actually reveal what Tom’s project is about. But it makes people listen and wonder: What in god’s name may be the mysterious project? Curiosity opens people’s minds and makes them more receptive to the following messages.
|Some great things are coming up
I will be on the road quite a while now for a new project. My journey will take me to Aruba, Nassau, Mongolia and nine other locations. I am really excited, and I will soon be able to give you more information.
The list of locations alone will get people’s attention. Tom’s excitement and the upcoming information will make them curious. Tom attaches some nice image (possibly from an earlier trip to one of the locations) to make the post more of an eye-catcher. Remember: Visual content is king!
Some people shy away from announcing the things they have in store. They fear that they may not be able to live up to the expectations they build up. Free yourself from that fear. You are good, and you will pull this off!
Now, that people are curious to get the details about Tom’s project, it is time for the actual announcement. The announcement lifts the curtain. It reveals the specific details of the project and raises specific interest. Note that this is not the place to send out hard selling messages. People will surely not follow the campaign because of the calendar. They will follow it for the fun and the information that’s in it.
|One calendar – twelve photos – twelve locations
A couple of days ago, I told you about my new project. I am very excited about this. My newest calendar will consist of 12 photos of exotic locations. Over the coming weeks, I will be visiting these places to shoot the photos:
Aruba, Nassau, Mongolia, [LIST CONTINUES]
Will you join me in this adventure? Go to my website where I will be posting a small report each day: [LINK]
A he is traveling, Tom posts small updates on his website, as he promised, getting people involved with behind-the-scene information. He writes about his shoots attaching images, and he includes little anecdotes about his journey (personal messages). He posts excerpts of these updates on his social networks, including links to the respective posts on his website/blog. He spreads these posts over different times of the day to make as many people aware of the project as possible. This creates a number of pointers spread all over his social networks that drive people to his website and eventually, to his calendar. Chances are that some people will reshare his posts, making even more people aware of the project.
The secret at this stage is to create a routine. If Tom posts daily at certain times, interested people will find it much easier to follow along. Some people will actually be awaiting his posts.
As he returns from his journey, he reports that he is now finally back home.
|On home turf again!
Finally, I am back from my calendar shoot. As exciting as the journey was, it is good to be on home turf again. I can’t wait to go through all the photos I have taken and process them. This is going to be even better than last year’s calendar.
I will share more information on the post-production work and some tips and tricks that you may find helpful for your own calendar projects.
Stay tuned! This will be fun!
Tom’s return marks the next big milestone in the project: The shooting is over, now the post-production begins. The call to action of this message is simply to stay tuned. While he is post-processing the calendar photos over the coming days or weeks, he also shares a few small tutorials with tricks and tips that people can use to create their own calendars. In every post, he includes a pointer to the calendar page on his website. It’s not a bold call to action – only a subtle hint and a link.
Some weeks later Tom has finished his work on the calendar and publishes it. At this point, many of Tom’s followers are aware of what’s coming. They will not see the calendar as some product at some website but they will feel that they are a part of it, having been there to follow the whole process of its creation. They are socially involved.
Not that this does not automatically mean that all those people will buy a copy. It means that there are potentially many people out there who are aware of the project and who are positive and open-minded about it. Some of these people will spread the news and raise awareness outside the community, and some may actually become customers.
On launch day, he posts a message where he summarizes the project, and includes a call to action for people to buy a copy. Of course, he includes a nice image depicting the finished calendar so that people get curious. Again, he includes a link to the page where people can buy a copy of the calendar.
|The 2013 Calendar is Out! Check it out at [LINK]
Those of you who followed my little calendar adventure know that over the last few weeks, I have been working hard on this project. Now, it is finally finished: The new 2013 calendar.
12 exotic locations, an incredible journey and some unique experiences. It’s all here for you to hang it onto your wall.
Get one of the first signed limited edition calendars now! There are only 20 available: [LINK]
Note how Tom exploits the fact that the calendar event has shaped a community of people following the course of the events: Those that did follow the campaign are part of this little community and will be interested for that very fact. Those that did not, will feel that they have missed something interesting here, and they will be eager to catch up with the rest.
Note also that the limited edition announcement at the end creates an additional sense of exclusivity.
Ok, so the calendar is finally out. But that does not mean that the campaign is over yet. There is always room for a few freebies, right?
Tom puts 5 copies of the calendar aside and gives them away for free. He could either do this based on a contest where people must submit something and the best 5 submissions are selected on a given date. He could also simply give those copies to the first 5 people who comment or chose randomly among the commentors. Giving away some calendars for free will attract more people, and some of them may buy a calendar for the regular price even if the 5 free copies are already gone.
|Get your free 2013 calendar now!
The calendar sales are going great. I am just about to get a second edition printed.
Are you in the mood for some freebies? Among all the people commenting on this post, I will give away five free copies of my 2013 calendar. Simply do the following to participate:
1. Write a comment and tell me where you will hang your copy.
2. Share this post with your followers.
Next Tuesday, I will choose the lucky winners.
Note how the procedure Tom suggests for taking part generates comments and shares which will raise the level of engagement in the overall campaign.
The Aftermath – Sharing Small Snippets
Of course, Tom would not put the calendar in its entirety on the web. But over the coming weeks, he posts small versions (too small to actually make a high-quality print) of the calendar sheets to raise the awareness even further.
Up to this point, people did not really see the actual photos in the calendar except for some early previews. So, posting the final images will actually still be new and interesting for his followers, which is very important. Even more so if he includes small stories and behind-the-scenes reports from the different places. He may also disclose the camera settings and the post-processing techniques he used.
The purpose of this aftermath phase is to keep the awareness level up, provide fresh content, and associate it with the call to action (to check out the calendar).
Gaining Additional Momentum
Through this campaign, Tom already has a good chance of reaching a lot of people. But he could do even better by making his social network work for him. Tom has some contacts that are better connected than others. He could ask high-profile contacts to share some of the key posts.
If you do this, however, you need to be careful. Don’t pester your best contacts too frequently with such requests. Usually, if you have built a solid relationship with someone, they will be willing to share your posts if you ask them (assuming that they did not share it anyway). But if you ask them every other day, their motivation to help you will decrease. Also, this works best if there is something in it for everyone, not only for you.
The Anatomy of the Campaign – An Analysis
Let us analyze Tom’s campaign to see the mechanisms and effects that lie within. As the schematic figure below shows, the different phases and milestones of the campaign continuously drive people to the campaign goal through the campaign funnel. Traffic is generated, links are built, and the general level of awareness (both inside and outside of the community) rises. The structure of the campaign gives the community build-up process a certain dynamics (left side of the figure): During the initial phases and the build-up, the community grows reaching a plateau and then fading away eventually. Note that while the interest in the specific project will eventually fade away, the whole campaign will actually increase your following over the long run and help in building your brand.
Over which period of time should the messages of your campaign be sent out? That depends heavily on the type of project you are pitching with the campaign. A project like Tom’s calendar will typically run for several weeks because that’s the time it actually takes to produce the calendar.
Make a plan and figure out the timing of your particular campaign. The time between your messages should not be too long or too short. Identify the milestones in your campaign, and lay out a coarse schedule (e.g. in a spread sheet) and try to stick with it.
Don’t pester people with your project every day! As you are in the build-up phase and posting stories, tips and tricks, daily posts are fine. But be cautious not to turn off people by rubbing your call to action under their nose multiple times a day. They could lose interest quickly.
When Do You Need a Campaign?
As I said in the beginning, there are events that you can and should communicate in a single message and there are those events that justify running a campaign. In general, anything that may be considered as a project (some activity that runs for a certain time period and has a well-defined outcome) may be worth a campaign. The calendar project used above is one example. Here are some other examples of instances where you should think about building a proper campaign:
- A longer photo trip
- A publication (e.g. a book on photography or a coffee table book)
- The launch of a new website
- A special offer that is limited in time
- Some long-running photo project (e.g. a 365 project with one photo per day for a year)
Try not to start a campaign for everything you do. If you bombard your audience with one big announcement after the other, they will soon lose interest.
Final Tips and Remarks
Here are some things you should remember regarding your own campaigns:
- Try to mix your campaign-related messages with your normal messages. Running a campaign exclusively for an extended period of time may turn off some people who are interested in other things.
- Use consistent wording and recognizable formatting throughout the entire campaign. That makes it easier for people to follow it.
- Note that actually only a few of the messages sent out during the campaign have the obvious goal of getting people to buy something. The secret of building a good social media campaign is to get people involved because your project is fun, entertaining and educating – not because you want them to buy something. Don’t end each message on a hard-selling call to action. That will turn off people. Always ask yourself: Why should people show sustained interest in your campaign? What’s in it for them?
- Set a clear goal for your campaign right from the start. Tom’s goal was to sell his calendar. But a campaign could also have the goal of raising awareness for your brand or getting new subscribers. Whatever it is, figure it out and stick with it. Build and plan your campaign with that goal in mind.
- Throughout the entire campaign, you need to engage with people and show presence. A campaign is not a one-way road. People will have comments, questions and feedback. You need to be there to react.
- What if things turn out not so positive? Our fictive example was taken from a perfect world where the protagonist (Tom) had a decent following and things played out exactly as he expected. In real life, you may find that your campaign fails to generate interest. If that is the case, try to find out what the problem is. If you feel that you want to quit a specific campaign, make it graceful. Do not abruptly end it without further notice or recognizable outcome. Doing so will turn off those people who got interested and this is harmful for your brand. When you enter a campaign, you are committed? Don’t let your followers down!
A social media campaign seems like something that only the big players need. Campaigns are for Apple, Microsoft and Google who invest millions to promote their products, right? But setting up a targeted plan for communicating important personal or business-related projects to your followers can be beneficial no matter how big or small your brand is.
I have shown in the running example of this part how a series of messages can be used to build expectation and raise awareness and interest in a project, a topic or a product. Choose those projects that are really important to you and try to build a community around them by using the principles explained above. It will be beneficial in the long run, not only for the specific projects but also for your brand.
What’s Ahead in Part 3?
In part 3 of The Social Photographer, we will look at the right timing for your posts. You may already have the feeling that it does matter when and how often you post. But are there any hard facts that can help you determine the right times and the right frequency of posting? I will analyze this question and give you concrete tips and resources to find your personal schedule.
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