In Part 1 of this series, you have learned about the basics of social media for photographers: How your social media efforts should be driving traffic to your photography website, the nature of the different social networks out there, and the importance of having great content and being willing to share it.
This second part is called Getting Your Message Across. Due to the volume of information, it is spilt into two sections, published in separate posts. This first one teaches you How to write concise and engaging messages while the second one will be about Campaign building.
Great content alone is not enough. Having great content and being able to get people excited about it are two fundamentally different things, and you need skills in both areas. As a matter of fact, people who are very good at getting their message across are often more successful than those people who are shy and have superior content. You need to be able to sell what you have, and this is surely a question of your character. If you are outgoing, extroverted and eloquent, you will find it relatively easy to convince people. But there are also a few rules that can help you in getting your message across, no matter which type of character you are.
In this section, you will learn how to write effective posts that engage your readers. This includes tips on structuring your messages, getting the wording right and an hitting the right tone. In many examples, I will show you the Do’s and the Don’ts.
For the purpose of this discussion, let us coarsely differentiate between three types of messages. We will discuss how these types relate to each other further down. For now, it suffices to know that there are
- Personal messages: messages that relate to your personal life, experiences and questions. For example, a funny photo of you and your friends at a restaurant could be the subject of a personal message.
- Pitch messages: messages in which you are pitching an idea, a product, an event, new content on your website etc. Essentially, a pitch message is any messages by which you want to get people to do something.
- Curation message: message by which you share other people’s thoughts, ideas and work.
The distinction between these message types may not always be that clear. Sometimes, the boundary is a bit blurry, and a message may have elements of two or even all of these types. Actually, merging them in the right way can be very effective for building a relationship with your contacts in a social network and for selling something at the same time. Let’s look at each of these message types in turn.
If you have interests or hobbies besides your photography, go ahead and make them the subject of your personal messages. In this way, people really get to know (at least a part of) your personality. This shows that you are not a one-trick pony and that there is more to you than snapping pretty pictures.
There is one thing concerning personal messages that is especially important for photographers. If you attach a photo to such a message, it should still be a decent one. Obviously, those photos are not the ones you put into your portfolio, but if a photographer attaches tons of really bad smartphone pictures to their personal posts, it signals to the public that they don’t care.
Hard selling (direct messages with the sole purpose of selling something) does not work too good on social media. If you’re only in it for the selling, people will quickly realize that and leave. In many cases, the stuff that you are pitching does not and should not translate directly into a monetary gain. If your goal is indeed to sell a product for money, you should use social media to attract people. This can be done by offering something valuable connected to your product (e.g. an eBook or a tutorial) for free.
Don’t expect anybody to take the next step and actually buy something – just provide them with something useful and show them that there’s more if they want more. Those that take the gift and leave would never have bought anything from you anyway. Those that stay and invest money appreciate that you leave the decision entirely to them.
In the example below, my goal was not to sell anything but to grow a community.
- It helps shape and convey your brand identity. The range of topics you share and your personal opinion about them are a part of your identity that you can communicate via curation.
- It establishes you as an expert in your field and as a source of interesting and useful information.
- It help you build trust and relationships with those peers whose work you share. This also increases the chance that those people will share your work in the future.
- It helps you attract more followers. Many people will simply follow you because you keep them informed and present them with interesting content. Of course, these people will also see your pitch messages.
If you want to convey your messages effectively, there are some tips to keep in mind. In the following, I will present you with a few general guidelines that help you write and build messages effectively in a systematic way. If you take these guidelines and adapt them to your personality and to your needs, they help you in being consistent in the way you communicate on social media. This, in turn, will help you build your brand.
Let’s begin with some general things.
Keep It Brief and Simple
- They check out the visual elements of your message (attached images etc.).
- They read the first sentence(s).
- If that gets them interested, they quickly scan the rest of the text.
- If they are still interested, they may read the full text.
If your readers don’t understand within 3-5 seconds what the essence of your message is, they normally lose interest and go to the next message. 3-5 seconds, that’s all you have to entice your readers. Remember: It’s social media, and every one of your followers probably has dozens or more messages waiting in his stream. Thus, they will quickly scan them and select which ones to concentrate on.
Being brief does not sound too bad, does it? After all, if you have to write less you need less time, right? Well, yes and no. Mark Twain once wrote in a letter: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” You will find that conveying the same idea precisely with fewer words is difficult and sometimes indeed takes longer.
Don’t Be Too Brief
Any of these reasons will turn people off. Why would I bother to like, +1 or comment on one of your photos if you signal clearly that you don’t care? And why would I want to build a relationship with you if you are obviously not interested in it? I wouldn’t! I would shake my head and leave.
If you think your English is not good enough, it is still much better to make the best of your language skills and write something. People will understand this and appreciate that you engage anyway.
Don’t Give Away Everything
For example, if you link to an entry on your blog, you can put an excerpt (a few sentences) of into your social media post. Do not post the whole text of the blog entry.
Use Markup If Possible
Facebook and Twitter, for example, do not allow you to format your text in any way. Flickr allows you to use a subset of HTML in the descriptions of your images.
There are a few common elements and principles that help you achieve this. Please note that it is not mandatory that all your messages look as explained below. They also do not all have to look the same. This is not a blueprint but a collection of useful concepts that you should adapt to your need and to your personality.
The nature of a headline can be different. Sometimes, directly stating the subject of your message works best. On other occasions, you may pose a question or state some surprising fact to start your message with. Sometimes, this stirs a lot of interest and makes people read on. Don’t get too fancy or philosophical in your headlines. Be brief and get straight to the point.
For example, let’s say you have written a blog post where you compare JPGs vs. RAW images. Your conclusion is (of course) that people should shoot in RAW mode whenever possible. Here are some good and bad examples of headlines you could choose.
Examples – Bad headlines
|»JPG has lossy compression, RAW doesn’t«||Focuses on a detail not on the actual topic of the post|
|»If it had not been for the JPG format, the digital photography revolution would never have taken place at all«||Long and winding making it hard to get the point|
|»RAW images«||Too little information|
Examples – Good headlines
|»Shoot in RAW format – JPG Sucks!«||Provocative and polarizing. People will feel tempted to object and will naturally read on.|
|»Do you still shoot JPG?«||Direct personal question with a twist: “still” indicates that the reader is late to the party|
|»8 out of 10 Photographers Still Shoot JPG? What about you?«||Surprising fact coupled with a direct personal question|
The Call to Action
Use action-oriented verbs (“learn”, “join”, “read”, “check”) in your calls to action and make them as brief as possible.
Examples – Bad calls to action
|»It would be great if you could perhaps go to my website and read the full article. [LINK]«||Much too long, reads as if not even you are convinced|
|»[LINK]«||No indication of what is behind the link|
Examples – Good calls to action
|»Learn more about processing RAW photos at [LINK]«||Positive action verb, explains what the reader can expect, with a clear link|
|»Join the community at [LINK]«||Positive action verb, invitation|
What’s In It for Your Readers?
|»Buy my eBook on shooting in RAW format!«||Why should I buy it? Surely not because it’s your eBook|
|»Learn how to use RAW format more effectively in my new eBook. Get a set of free RAW images to practice.«||Aha, I will learn something. Your eBook will make me more effective, and there is a free set of images on top. I am sold!|
You may still want to keep things brief in the details. If your message spans more than a single screen, you may be better off converting it into a blog post and linking to it.
The Second Call to Action
But don’t just put random stuff in there! Make it fit the topic of the message. Also, don’t count on people actually clicking on the links in your resources. Remember: the further down something is in your message, the less likely people will notice it.
Visual Content is King
If you are posting a link, Facebook and Google+ will automatically add a thumbnail image and an excerpt from the linked website to your post. This is better than having no visual content at all. However, if you attach a screenshot of the respective website, it will be represented in the post much bigger and, thus, it will get more interaction. You can put the link to the website inside the text.
Please make sure that you give proper credits if you use other people’s images. You should under all circumstances avoid giving the impression that the attached image is your own if it isn’t.
Approach your readers directly and individually. Write in first or second person (I, we, you) and use active voice. Remember, you are addressing your readers personally, and they are following you because of that. Let’s assume that you have an eBook that your readers should download:
|»The eBook can be downloaded at…«||Passive voice|
|»The eBook is available for download at…«||Passive voice again|
|»You can download my new eBook at…«||Active voice approaching the reader directly (keywords are you and my)|
|»Download my eBook at…«||Alternative to the above; still active voice but shorter; no personal approach, however|
Use informal language. For example, in written English, contractions (e.g. “I’ve” instead of “I have”) are usually considered bad style. When you use them in your social media campaigns, however, they introduce a casual style. In many situations, this is a good thing as it reduces the distance between you and your readers. Being too formal makes you appear inaccessible.
However, you should avoid abbreviated Internet slang as much as possible. You should write “you”, not “u” and “thank you”, not “thx”. You may use these terms when you comment and discuss with others, but when you are trying to sell your ideas, using proper language signals that you are serious about it.
Finally, please check the grammar and spelling of your posts. If you consistently post text with a lot of errors, you signal to your readers that you don’t really care, or (worse yet) that you don’t know better. The least you can do is to copy your post texts into a word processor software and run a spell checker before you post them.
Don’t be too aggressive with your words. There is a fine line between being convincing and being aggressive. The former will make people follow you while the latter may make them shy away.
|»What are you waiting for? Go ahead and buy my prints now!«||You pressure people and make them feel uncomfortable|
|»I have lots of prints in store for you at [LINK]. The metallic ones are my favorite.«||Moderate hint with a personal touch and a recommendation. People will not feel guilty if they don’t buy a print.|
Leave your business parlance at home. If you have ever watched a teleshopping channel for a few minutes, you know how annoying it can be to be bombarded with phrases like “order now”, “buy 1, get one free” or “But wait Bob, there’s more…”. People will smell the slightest hint of this and unfollow you if you pester them.
A Final Word
Summary of Part 2.1
In this part of The Social Photographer, you have learned systematic ways of getting your message across to your readers. You saw that there are different types of messages that you should approach differently. Simplicity, a good structure, the right wording and an enticing tone are very important. Not only do they help you convey your point, but they also shape your brand identity over time.
What’s Ahead in Part 2.2?
The title of part 2.2 is Campaign Building. Your social media activities should not only consist of individual one-shot messages. Sometimes, you want to take your readers with you on a longer journey. Maybe you have a long-term project, a photo contest, or you want them to join you in the making of a new product. That’s where you need campaigns – series of messages that build on each other and lead to a well-defined goal. In Part 2.2, we will take a closer look at how such a campaign can be set up.