Photography, just like any other area of society and technology, goes through revolutions regularly. You are familiar with the digital photography revolution – the transition from analogue (film) photography to digital photography. This transition was disruptive and for some people it was very painful or even impossible to make. Today, digital photography is the accepted standard. It allows us to use completely different, more efficient workflows, and it enables us to share our work with the world effortlessly through the Internet.
But with these new possibilities, the next revolution is upon us – the social photography revolution. A social photographer employs social media to promote his photography, his products, services, ideas and visions. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and many other social media platforms, you get a wealth of new opportunities to reach people and to market your work and your brand. But you are also facing new challenges since making effective use of social media has its very own rules and pitfalls.
You may think that social media is just a fad, that is will disappear as quickly as it came. You may also think that being active on social media is only of minor importance to you as a photographer. But with the massive growth of Facebook and other social networks, you may soon find yourself being sidelined watching others making effective use of social media to market their photography.
Did you make the transition to being a social photographer yet? This guide will teach you important techniques for making that transition and for making your social media presence more effective.
What is this guide really about?
This guide is not about the technological side of social media. I won’t tell you which button does what on which social media site. There are thousands of articles out there that do this, and any such information is bound to be outdated soon as the major players keep changing their interface and add new features.
This guide is about something far more important and universal – it is about your social media strategy. It gives you the corner stones for developing your own successful social media strategy. I will give you guidance on how to promote your work more effectively, how to write a good effective post, when to post and how often, how to achieve consistency in what you post and much more. These are principles that you can apply to almost any social network out there.
Who is this guide for?
Whether you are a commercial photographer trying to sell products and services or an amateur trying to gain recognition for what you do, the strategies and techniques you will learn here will help you in your efforts. This guide is really for anyone out there who is just starting out with social media or who is trying to improve their already existing presence.
How will this guide be published?
The Social Photographer consists of eight parts, and each part covers a different aspect of a successful social media presence. I will be releasing the eight parts over the coming weeks right here on farbspiel-photo.com. They will be free for everyone.
Part 2 – Getting your Messages Across
Part 3 – Timing is Everything
Part 4 – Develop Your Brand Identity
Part 5 – The Art of Engagement
Part 6 – Getting Your Photography Out There
Part 7 – Being Effective and Efficient
Part 8 – Being Inspired
Part 1 – The Basics
Before we start, let me briefly give you the right mindset for reading this guide. I am often using the terms product and selling in this guide. So, does all of this only apply if you want to earn money? No! These terms are used in a very broad sense here. Even if your goal is not to maximize your monetary gain, you are still selling something! This something may be yourself, an idea, a vision, the awesomeness of your photography – any message that you want to get out there to your audience in an effective way.
If you are not selling anything, if you are just in it for the fun of it, you don’t need a strategy, and you probably should not be wasting your time reading this guide. In that case, I wish you all the best and a lot of fun.
…still here? So, you are ready to learn some strategic thinking? Great!
As soon as you have a good idea of what exactly you want to get out there, you should really start treating it as a product you are trying to market and sell because the same principles apply. But you also have to be careful not to treat everything you do as an aggressive sales pitch. We will discuss the right mix later. First things first!
Before you do anything else, build a website
Wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be about social media? Yes, it is! But the first lesson you need to learn is that your social media endeavors should have one clearly defined goal: to drive people to your work and your products. Those products should reside in a single place – your website.
Build a website and use social media to funnel traffic to it. Your website is still your most important asset as a photographer. Social media does not replace it, it complements it. The right strategy is essential for the funnel to work.
What do I mean by funnel? Most of your posts on your social media will feed traffic into the funnel which is ultimately sent to your website. From your website, you should link back to your social media profiles such that your visitors can choose the ones they like and follow you there. Try to keep the traffic through the funnel going into one direction – towards your website. It is very tempting to include some social media plug-in on your website (e.g. on the sidebar) that displays posts from you or from the people you are following. Don’t do this. This will draw your website visitors away from your website onto your social media profile. But you want them to stay on your website for as long as possible.
How do you link back to your social media profiles? There are two things you should do:
Add social sharing buttons: These are buttons that let your visitors like or share your content easily. The more people share you work, the more exposure it will get. You can add a large variety of sharing buttons without the need to be a member of any of these networks. If your visitors are members of the respective social networks, they can share your content with a single click. Do not add all buttons under the sun, though. The temptation to add all the buttons you can find is big, but this has drawbacks: 1. your visitors will be confused and may decide not to share your content. 2. most of these buttons are associated with a piece of code and an image that needs to be loaded from some external server. This can greatly increase the load time of your site, which in turn has a negative impact on your Google ranking. Including the big networks is usually enough.
The technical details of integrating those buttons on your particular website depend heavily on the technology you are using to implement the site.
Add plain links to your profiles: Using the icons of the social networks you are active on and simple hyper references (links) on your sidebar does the job here. If a visitor clicks on one of these links, he is taken directly to your profile and can add you as a contact or see your posts. Again, you may not want to add all your profiles here. Select those that you want to promote to reduce the clutter and confusion.
Have some great content
Ok, this is obvious, right? But let’s just briefly discuss this topic: If your content is not excellent, novel and interesting to many people, your strategy can be great, but you still won’t get moving with your social media campaigns. Do you offer content or products that help people? Do you have insightful things to say? Do you produce photographs that fascinate people? Whatever it is, people need to have a basic motivation to listen to you.
This is where your strategy really starts. You need to have a very clear idea about what you offer. If you don’t, you will never be able to get a clear message across. Your audience will be confused and eventually lose interest. So, take a minute or two and think about it: What is your product? What are you trying to sell?
The best way to engage your followers and to build a relationship is to offer them free information that helps them solve problems. For example, let’s say you have just shot this incredible landscape photo. You could write a post saying “I have just shot this photo and I am really pleased with the result.” and attach the photo. If the photo is awesome, you will surely get a number of likes. But what if you gave a bit more information about the work that led to the final photo, something that your readers can take and apply to their own work? You may include details about the camera settings, special tricks you applied in the post-processing, a small tutorial that enables people to reproduce what you did. This would be much more interesting to other photographers that are following you, producing more engagement and drawing more people to your website.
Be willing to share
This takes us to a very important point: Social media is about sharing. Has that sunken in? Let me re-phrase that to make sure we’re on the same page here: Social media is about sharing information for free that is of value to others. Give away stuff for free and do not expect anything in return! Any old-school economists out there? I know that you would love the beat me up with a wooden stick for this statement. But you know, things have changed.
In the age of social media, information is no longer locked away and kept secret by a few selected people that make money from it. The culture of sharing is strange at first, and when I tell someone in the real world – someone who is used to classical economic principles – that I share valuable information (like this guide) for free, they don’t get it. They tell me that I must sell every word of it.
Here is the philosophy behind this principle: If you don’t share anything that is of value to your audience, why would they want to follow you? And if you do share valuable stuff, people will constantly see that you are doing awesome work, that you are an expert and willing to share your wisdom. Your are helping them every single day, and you don’t expect anything in return.
Now, let’s assume that one day you and that other guy (Mr. It’s-all-mine-go-away) offer an eBook for sale about landscape photography. Let’s further assume that both eBooks are of the same high quality. Who do you think will people go to to buy this eBook – Mr. You-want-some-you-pay-some who they don’t really know anything about? Or will they rather come to you, the person who they know and trust, the person whose content is well-known to be of high value and quality? Who do you think will have the larger following to spread the word about their product?
The more you give, the more you get. Maybe you don’t get it right away, but in the long run, sharing really pays off.
There are two caveats to this philosophy of sharing though:
- Keep a bit in reserve. If you plan on monetizing your content at some point in time, you should not share each and every bit of it. You should always make a conscious decision when you prepare any kind of content: Which portions do you share and which portions do you hold back to monetize them later.
- Share your content, but be cautious with sharing your consulting. If you share a lot, people will start asking questions (for example about your techniques). You can answer many of these questions quite fast, e.g. by pointing people to already existing content on your website. But some people ask a lot of questions and some ask very broad questions like “I want to edit my photos. Can you explain what I have to do?“. Be polite and helpful, but try not to let people suck too much of your time away from you. You need to get the balance right here.
There is one important requirement for you, the photographer: You should know how to express yourself in writing, and you should enjoy doing it. Being active and successful on social media means that you are going to write a lot. If that’s not your strong side, take it as a good opportunity to practice. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be the next Shakespeare, but if you outright hate writing, social media is not for you. Period.
Be on the right social networks
The number of social media sites out there is exploding. Today, there is a social network for just about every taste – sometimes there are even two or more. So, which ones should you choose for your social media adventures? There are some obvious choices. If I were you, I would start with Flickr, 500px, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest. These are arguably the most important social networks for photographers right now.
I won’t go into the details of each one here. There are many articles out there doing so. I will just briefly categorize the major networks for you as follows:
- Photo sharing sites: Two primary sites that fall into this category are Flickr and 500px. These sites are all about photography, and people use them to share their own photographs with others, to build a portfolio and to engage with other photographers. Flickr allows you to add formatted text to each image, but the text content is only secondary. Moreover, Flickr allows you to engage in social interactions by joining groups. 500px does not have the concept of groups, but it allows you to maintain a blog together with your images. Both sites allow you to comment and like photos.
- Networks for sharing rich content: Facebook and Google+ are the primary representatives of this category. On these social networks, you can directly share rich multimedia content with your followers. This includes text of (practically) arbitrary length, images, videos and links to external websites. These networks are not specifically tailored to photographers, but they offer features that let you present your photos in a visually appealing way. If you are a verbose person, these networks are for you.
- Networks for sharing information snippets and links: Twitter is the representative of this class. You can write messages of up to 140 characters. That’s it! If you’re like me, you will have a hard time compressing your ingenious thoughts in 140 characters. Doing this effectively is science in itself. But Twitter was never intended to share rich content. People typically write much more posts per day. Mostly the contents are links to websites that they find interesting or brief status updates or questions. The sheer volume of posts can be overwhelming and messages can easily get lost in the high volume of noise (stuff that you’re not really interested in).
- Networks for a visuals representation of your brand: Pinterest is mainly about images. You may add text to an image you pin, but the image is always the star. The things you pin do not have to be your own creations. Think of Pinterest more as a visual bookmark list or a big virtual pinboard (hence the name). Your pins can include images from some third-party website, product shots from sites like Amazon and, of course, photos or illustrations you created yourself. The primary use of Pinterest for you as a photographer is to 1. to present your own work, 2. to show what inspires you, and 3. to have other people pin your work so that it spreads. Pinterest has a reputation of attracting mainly a female audience. You need to decide whether that is of any relevance to you.
So, you see that different networks serve different purposes and different user groups. Thus, being on more than one social network does make sense. However, starting out on all 6 networks mentioned above simultaneously is probably not the best idea. If you start from scratch and you don’t have any experience with social media, a good start would be to get an account at Flickr, Facebook and Twitter to kick things off. On Flickr, you should build a portfolio, and on Facebook you could share accompanying information. Use Twitter for small status updates.
Once you feel comfortable with that and you settled down, you could get a 500px account. The general perception of 500px is that the quality of the photos is much higher on average than on Flickr. Many people use Flickr to dump all their photos. In contrast to that, people usually use 500px to showcase their best work. Additionally, you should join Google+. Google+ is similar to Facebook, but the photography community there is much stronger and a lot of awesome photographers spend most of their social media time on Google+.
Of course this is just one way of building up your social media presence. You could just as well join 500px and Google+ first. You may want to consider two things here:
- The longer you are active on any social network (i.e. the sooner you start), the bigger you will be. That is, the more followers you will have and the deeper your roots on that network are.
- However, when you are building up your first presence, you will make mistakes, some of which will stick with you for the rest of your time on that particular network. Thus, a fresh start with more experience sometimes has something deliberating.
Don’t jump on any bandwagon that you see coming your way, though. Being active on many social networks takes a lot of time if you want to do it right. Therefore, my philosophy here is less is more. Being on some network without putting in any effort is useless and may give you a reputation of being unresponsive.
Personal profile or business page?
At the very start of your social media endeavor, you need to make a decision as to whether you want to start a personal profile or a business page. Facebook and Google+ offer both options; the other networks described above don’t make this distinction. While a personal profile represents you as an individual, business pages are typically meant to represent businesses and larger organizations. For example, they offer features that let you define assistants that may manage your page for you. They can have any name that represents your brand while your personal profile needs to carry your correct real-world name. Creating a personal profile under a name that is not your own or with some brand name like “so-and-so photography” violates the terms of both Facebook and Google+ and may get your profile suspended. Pages are designed to be less personal.
So, the question really is: Do you want to be recognized as a person, as a brand or both? Typically, you will find that your personal identity and your brand identity are the same thing: You represent your photography business. Therefore, a personal profile is the best choice in most cases. But you should be careful not to mingle your private stuff with your business stuff. In Google+, for example, you can achieve that by creating a separate circle for your friends and family and by limiting your private posts to that circle only.
Having both, a personal profile and a business page on the same social network is possible, but this may be confusing for your followers and it divides the engagement. You should only do this if you really need to interact with people in two strictly separated roles. If you maintain a profile and a page for your business, you will find yourself re-sharing things back and forth as well as posting and commenting somewhat inconsistently under both roles. Keeping the separation and keeping both consistent can be challenging.
Ok, so you have just created that awesome new account on your preferred social network, but… nobody’s there.Â Your follower count is 0. How do you change that? A good way of making friends is to use the search function that every social network has and search for terms like “photography” or something that matches your personal preferences a bit better. See, who’s turning up at the top of the list, check out what they do and make them contacts if you like what you see. The act of making someone a contact has different names on different networks, but the idea is always that same: Building a relationship and seeing what the other person posts.
But you need to be cautious here: You may be tempted to simply add everyone. Be more selective and add only those people whose work or thoughts you like. This ensures that there will be a lot of high-quality information in your stream (the messages your contacts post) and only little noise.
Once you made some contacts, chances are that some of them will reciprocate and make you a contact as well. If you are making new contacts on a continuous basis, your follower count will increase and more people will hear what you say. Let’s hope they also listen.
If you already have an account on some social network, chances are that some of your contacts on that network are also active on your new network. The easiest way to kick-start your new presence is to ask those existing contacts to add you on the new network.
Know your audience
There are basically two groups of people out there that may be interested in what you do (besides your friends and family):
- Your peers – other photographers who like your work.
- Potential clients – people who may buy prints from you, who may license images for commercial use, or who may hire you for an assignment.
Chances are that most people who follow you are in the first group – they are your peers. If you share tutorials and information that is helpful to other photographers, you will get a lot of engagement. But posting aggressive sales messages to make people buy prints may not be received very well by that audience. If you have a lot of non-photographers among your followers, you may be more successful with your print offers.
If you want to reach potential clients, you usually need to actively search for them, follow them and engage with them. If you know that there is this big publishing company that you would like to engage with for possible photo licensing, try to find out who are the important people at that company and follow them on whichever social network they are most active on. Engage with them on different occasions but do not make a sales pitch every time you write a comment. Just make sure they know who you are and wait for your chance to make a concrete offer.
Your strategy with respect to reaching your clients depends heavily on the type of photography you do.
It’s a numbers game, isn’t it?
The first thing people tend to tell you when they speak about their social media presence is the number of followers they have. A high follower count equals a high status. You may like it or not, but that’s the way it is. People that are much wiser than you and me will tell you that your follower count is not important and that the quality of interaction and building lasting relationships is the essence of social networking. You know what? Both sides are right.
Obviously, your potential to influence people grows with your follower count and vice versa. So, having many followers signals to the public that you are influential. Therefore, many people desperately try to get more followers. But just as trying to get rich is not a good motivation for earning a lot of money, trying to get more followers will not actually help you in the long run. It’s the contents that you share and the way in which you approach people that will help you grow. Concentrate on that and the followers will come naturally.
Try to share only high-quality stuff. Be active and engage with people. This is the best way to get more followers and to increase your reach.
By all means, do not buy followers
Today, you can buy just about anything online – even followers on social networks. You can buy almost arbitrary numbers of Facebook and Twitter followers in chunks of 100s, 1,000s, 10,000s or more. Some companies who are in desperate need of some online reputation take this path. What they get, however, are chunks of dead fake follower profiles. This will not raise the level of engagement in any way.
Don’t do it. Buying followers is completely worthless and can only hurt your reputation.
To automate or not to automate
There are many people who treat social media as a single bucket into which they simply drop their posts to distribute them. They use automation tools that take care of this. The same content appears on all their channels. I never felt that this was a good way of using those platforms, and I think that your followers will notice your carelessness sooner or later. Considering the vast differences between the different social media platforms, you should treat them differently, and you should post different content to different platforms. For example, Twitter is really bad for posting images and any deeply profound messages while Google+ is much better for this type of content as it has no real limit on the length of your posts, and it provides a simple markup language for formatting your posts.
If you automate your postings across your social media profiles, it all boils down to the lowest common denominator: Your messages will all be Twitter-style (140 characters or less).
Summary of Part 1
Social media is the next revolution in photography. Today, being present on different social networks is indispensable for any type of photographer. The paradox thing, however, is that your social media strategy revolves around your website, not your social media profiles: One of your primary objectives is to bring people to your website through your social media activities.
You need great content and a certain eloquence to be successful, but you should choose the networks you are active on with care. Each has different strengths and weaknesses that you should respect. Being on too many networks may be counterproductive for your social media reputation in the long run.
Take a second and figure out who your followers are. Treat them as people, not as numbers, and be careful with automated posting to several networks.
Coming up in Part 2
Part 2 of The Social Photographer is titled Getting your message across. You will learn how to write effective posts, which errors to avoid in your messages, and how to build a campaign – a series of related message with a common goal.