The Social Photographer (Part 2.1): How to write concise and engaging messages

The Social Photographer - Part 2.1 - Infographics - How to get your message across

Infographic: 7 Tips for Getting Your Message Across on Social Media (open in new tab)

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Personal Messages

In your personal messages, you are quite free with respect to the wording and the format. However, you have to keep in mind that people will not really differentiate between you the private person and you the photographer. You have to be consistent across both of these roles. Otherwise, you will lose credibility. Being offensive, cracking dirty jokes or sharing photos of the intoxicated you doing silly things are obviously not appropriate.

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.

Typical personal message: Wording and tone is consistent with all the other messages and the photo attached is decent in photographic terms.

Pitch Messages

The difference between a personal message and a pitch message is that in a pitch message, you want to make people take some action. That is the primary goal when you are pitching something. However, that does not mean that you cannot give it a personal touch. You should actually always put something personal into your messages. Don’t become a sales robot without a soul.

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.

The Social Photographer - Example of a Pitch message

Example of a pitch message: A catchy headline, two calls-to-action and some detail information.

Curation Messages

Curation messages are a bit like pitch messages. However, the content you are pitching is not your own. It could be a blog entry, a website, a video or a photo from somebody else that you think is interesting to your contacts. Usually, the text you are writing is much shorter than for a pitch message. Curation is a very important element of a good social media strategy for the following reasons:

  1. 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.
  2. It establishes you as an expert in your field and as a source of interesting and useful information.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
The Social Photographer - Example of a curation message

Example of a curation message: Short pitch text for another photographer’s photo attached with the original post and including the photo (photo by Patrick Downey)

General Considerations

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

Brevity and simplicity are key whenever you need to get information across to your readers. The longer and the more complex your post is, the more time and energy your readers need to invest to absorb it. Remember that most people are busy and have a short attention span. Experienced readers usually apply a specific technique to quickly grasp the contents of a message and to judge if it’s worth reading. In general, this technique may look similar to this one:

  1. They check out the visual elements of your message (attached images etc.).
  2. They read the first sentence(s).
  3. If that gets them interested, they quickly scan the rest of the text.
  4. 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

Being too brief is also not good. On Facebook and Google+, for example, you will find a lot of people who share photos (sometimes many in a short time span) and links without writing a single word about it. Some of them simply dump stuff into their social media channels. They are too busy, or they simply don’t care.

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

If you are pitching or curating something, you usually have some external content and an action you want people to take. E.g. you want them to go to your website and read your latest blog post. Thus, you should not give your readers everything in your post. Make them curious and give them a clear link to click on to get them where you want them to go to.

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

If the social network allows you to use a markup language to format your messages, you should make use of it. Google+ lets you render your text bold and italic (among other formats), and this is usually all you need. Use bold and italic text for headlines and to emphasize important elements (like your call to action). But use markup sparingly. Writing your whole post in bold face is not useful and comes across as being spammy.

The Social Photographer - Use Markup if possible

Moderate use of markup (bold and italic text) can help structure your message and makes it more readable: A bold headline (1), an introductory question in italics (2), and a closing call to action in bold. Between these elements there is normal explanatory text (4)

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.

The Structure

The worst thing you can do is to write a single large blob of unformatted text. No matter how eloquent and fascinating that text may be, people will not bother to decipher it. Structure your message, and cut it into easily consumable paragraphs. The structure of your messages should be such that it helps your readers to quickly understand what you are trying to say and what you want them to do.

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 Social Photographer - Structure your posts to make them more readable

Typical example of a Google+ pitch message: Write an interesting headline (1) and include a link to your content (2). Structure your post into paragraphs to make it more readable (3). Attach an eye-catching image (4) and use formatted text to emphasize important elements (5). Include a clear and direct call to action (6).

The Headline

Every message should have a headline – a line of text that characterizes the message and makes people read on. Often, the headline is not a full sentence. It should be short enough such that there is no line break in it. The headlines of your messages are similar to the headlines in a newspaper. If it is possible, you should also format them differently from the rest of the text – e.g. in a bold font.

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 Summary

If your message will be longer, you should add a small summary right below the headline. The summary consists of 1 – 3 sentences that give your readers and overview of your message. Many readers will actually only read this summary and either take the action you call for or move on. After the summary, you can add a longer description if necessary. In many cases, the summary is the sole content of your message.

The Social Photographer - Write a brief summary

A brief summary of 1 – 3 sentences (1) will help your readers understand the essence of your message. This summary can be followed by arbitrarily long content (2).

The Call to Action

In a pitch message, you want people to do something – e.g. go to a website, register somewhere, stay alert for upcoming information etc. This is commonly called a call to action. You should formulate your calls to action as directly and as clearly as possible. Make sure you give your readers all the information they need to actually take action. In most cases, this is only a link to some website. Include that link and mark it clearly. Don’t make them search for it.

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

The Fold

In classical print media, the paper of a brochure, for example, has to be folded to fit into envelopes and to facilitate the handling. Thus, you will first see the part of the brochure above the fold, and you will only bother to unfold it if that part gets you interested. In the Internet (and in particular in social media) there is also a fold. In social networks like Facebook and Google+, messages are collapsed to make them all the same size and improve the browsing experience when people go through their streams. Your readers have to actively expand your messages to read them fully. This means that you need to get your message across above the fold. That is the most important space where your headline, your summary and your call to action need to live. Usually, the fold is around the 400 character mark but it’s different on different networks.

The Social Photographer - Make your point above the fold

Make your point above the fold (1). In this example, the headline, the link, the summary and the call to action are above the fold. The details follow beneath.

Even if there is no fold, experience shows that the further down something is, the less likely it is to be read or acted upon. Thus, put the important items at the top.

What’s In It for Your Readers?

Remember, your readers will not take action because it’s good for you. They will take action only when there is something in it for them! This is closely related with the sharing argument made in Part 1 of this guide. To write a good headline, summary and call to action, you need to have a clear idea of who you address with your message (“Know your audience”) and what these people will get when they follow your call to action.

Bad Example

»Buy my eBook on shooting in RAW format!« Why should I buy it? Surely not because it’s your eBook

 Good Example

»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!


The Details

In messages that contain more information than fits above the fold, you should give the additional details in a separate section below the fold. Interested people will expand your message and read on. This is where you can put the long story and where brevity is less important.

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

Above the fold, you should obviously have a clear call to action. Sometimes, however, the people who expand your message to read the whole story may forget about that call at the top. Therefore, it is good to repeat the call to action again at the very end of the message, maybe with a different wording.

The Resources

If you feel that you have more information for people who found your message interesting, you can add those items in a Resources section after your actual message. Usually, this is a bullet list with brief text items and clearly marked links. A Resources section is not only good for stimulating additional traffic to your website, it also shows your readers that you have more interesting stuff in store, even if they don’t visit any of the resources.

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.

The Social Photographer - Include two calls to action if your message goes beyond the fold

If your message goes beyond the fold, it is best to include two calls to action: In this example the first call (1) is directly beneath the headline, and the second call (2) is below the details. Further information is give between the two calls. Finally, a resource (Previous Tips) section (4) concludes the message.

Visual Content is King

You know the old saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. This is especially true in social media where your message competes with hundreds of other messages for the reader’s attention. Attaching an eye-catching picture to your post increases the chances that people will read it and act on it. Thus, visual content is key, and a message that has no picture attached to it is essentially a lost message. The picture could be a photo, a screenshot, a diagram or an illustration.

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.

The Social Photographer - Visual Content is King

The same content shared on Google+ (left) and Facebook (right): The left post has a screenshot attached to it while the right post has a thumbnail attached to it automatically by Facebook. There is a big difference in the level of engagement.

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.

The Wording

The way in which you approach your readers and the wording have a big influence on the success of your social media work. Let’s look at the obvious first: Unless you are specifically writing for a local, regional or national market, you should write your posts in English. Any other language will severely limit the number of people you will be able to reach.

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:

Bad Examples

»The eBook can be downloaded at…« Passive voice
»The eBook is available for download at…« Passive voice again

 Good Examples

»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.

The Tone

How do you want your readers to perceive you? As the serious, authoritative guy, as the funny creative guy, as a professional sales person, or as something in-between? Apart from the mere wording you are using, there is also a tone in which you write your posts. For example, humor and irony can be powerful tools. Don’t take yourself too serious. Give your readers the feeling that it’s a friendly, warm-hearted atmosphere where you come from and they will follow.

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.

Bad Example

»What are you waiting for? Go ahead and buy my prints now!« You pressure people and make them feel uncomfortable

 Good Example

»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

Maybe you feel overwhelmed after reading all of this, and it may appear that there are too many pitfalls to avoid. But don’t feel intimidated. Take these points as best-practice guidelines. Over time, they will help you improve your social media activities. And most importantly, stay yourself. Don’t use any phrases you find here just because I told you so. Shape them so that they match your personality.

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.

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8 replies
  1. Murray Parker
    Murray Parker says:

    Thanks Klaus for putting this together, I know it took a lot of work and time. I look forward to reading the entire series. Wishing you the best of holidays.

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Murray!

      You’re welcome. Yes, this took some work. I hope you can apply some of the tips and put them to good use.

      I wish you and your family a great holiday season.

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Grzegorz!

      I am glad that this guide already helped you. I hope you stay tuned for the upcoming parts.

      Best wishes


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