Odds are, the last time you spoke with a fellow photographer, it came up. Not photography itself, business finances or gear, but marketing—social-media marketing, to be specific. Whether you call it by this term or not, it’s what you were discussing, and it more than likely centered around the topics of using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and/or a blog. Elements of your discussion that might sound familiar include the following: “How many followers do you have?” “How often are you posting updates?” “What do you share?” “Can you believe X has Y number of followers?” “Is it even worth using X site?” In many ways, social-media marketing is a big mystery to most photographers, and for some, it’s downright unnerving.
What Marketing Is All About
Social-media marketing is simply the latest flavor of traditional marketing. Before we get too sucked into the “social-media” aspect of marketing, it’s important to remind ourselves what marketing is all about. Once we have a handle on that, the “social” portion of marketing will seem much less overwhelming or mysterious.
The American Marketing Association Board of Directors defines marketing as: “…the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
The core terms within this definition to burn into your memory are communicating, value and customers. When we conduct marketing, we want to communicate value to our customers in an effort to secure their business. Traditional marketing for photographers most often centers around letters, postcards, ads, phone calls, etc., to grab the attention of a prospective client. If you’re lucky, the clients you find will, in turn, recommend you to their friends, and your clients will develop into an extension of your marketing efforts.
Social-media marketing is all about this later stage of traditional marketing and amplifying it. Social-media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ excel in facilitating the spread of recommendations and/or testimonials about a person, a business, cool projects, great photos and so on.
Social Media: First Steps
Social media sounds great, right? I’m sure you’ve heard several “experts” tell you how great social media is, but then you’re left flat with no specifics of how to make use of it. To start, you should consult the best marketing consultant on the planet: You. Yes, you’re the first marketing consultant to meet with. You should ask yourself the following questions before you start down the path of developing a social-media marketing strategy:
1. Who is my audience?
2. Who am I?
3. What will I broadcast about myself to the world?
4. What goals do I want to accomplish?
5. How will I achieve my goals? Asking yourself these questions will put you in the best position to be successful when using social-media websites to market yourself. Questions 1-3 will help you focus and hone your message and activities. Question 4 will help you identify business goals, but note that business goals shouldn’t be confused with the means to achieve the goals (e.g., goal: “20% of my revenue will be from book sales” vs. means of achieving goal: “Sell my book on Facebook”). Lastly, question 5 will help you think through the logistics of attaining your goals. Unfortunately, most people gravitate toward question 5 first when thinking about social-media marketing, dwelling on followers and, frankly, this is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Having a lot of followers with no clear idea of what to do with them will help you very little. Followers will grow organically as you execute your goals.
Own A Strategy, Not Just A Social-Media Page
Before diving into specific strategies, it’s important to emphasize that there’s no one right way to make use of social-media websites to grow your business, just as there’s no one right way to take a photo. Similar to photography, social-media marketing is a creative endeavor. With the right mind-set, you can find ways to creatively market your business and offerings in ways that would have been difficult, if not impossible, as recently as six years ago.
The three most notable social-media strategies are long-tail content, community-building and curation. You can employ one or all of these strategies to achieve your business goals, although I’d recommend pursuing and excelling at one before you aggressively try to juggle two or three of them. It’s also important to note that all of the strategies discussed here aren’t quick wins, but tactics that make notable differences over longer periods of time (six to 12 months and beyond). At first, this may be disheartening, but as you look at others you consider to be successful social-media marketers, you’ll see they have been at this for some time, and it wasn’t just a quick overnight development.
The premise of the “long tail” is that more can be found in a nonstandard probability distribution curves tail than its head (see the diagram). Examples were highlighted by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article and later in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. While Amazon and Apple’s iTunes are often noted as examples to this theory with books and music (where surprisingly, to many, sales volume of the top 40 best sellers at any one time are dwarfed when compared to cumulative lower-volume sales of the remaining inventory), the same principles can apply to any company.
In the realm of a photography business, albeit on a much smaller scale, the long-tail effect is equally relevant as it relates to content. Rather than look solely for short-term gains with the production of your content where you might grab a lot of attention at once, continually and regularly add to a growing online portfolio of images, articles, blog posts and social updates. True to the core concept of the long-tail theory, the more you produce and place online, the more likely your audience will find you over time, and simultaneously, you’ll find a larger audience. Long-tail-content strategies facilitate fan growth, increase website traffic, improve search-engine-result rankings, increase sales and business leads, and increase sales opportunities.
Developing a community and following is an important strategy and often happens organically, but also can be pursued with great care, effort and focus. Community-building can happen through a blog, but is often much more productive via a social-media website like Facebook. The difference in community development on a blog versus Facebook, for example, is that identities are generally hidden on blogs and revealed on Facebook. Blog communities are made up of subscribers and are anonymous until site visitors reveal themselves by leaving a comment. By and large, the percentage of people who comment on blogs versus “read only” are quite small. On the other hand, Facebook is made up of hundreds of millions of profiles that reveal a great deal of information about each person. Facebook enables you to access audience demographics on company fan pages, making it quite easy to see identities and information about your audience. In addition, Facebook also makes it easy to broadcast an update message to fans who subscribe to a fan page.
Sites To Employ Your Social-Media Strategy
Developing and managing a community can be time-intensive, but the effort can yield tangible results if the commitment is made. Online communities are different than newsletters in that greater interaction is required, including soliciting answers to questions (e.g., polls) and replying to comments to keep people engaged. The end payoff is usually a loyal following eager to share your work and access to a subscriber list that contains high-quality leads.
Another model to grow and keep an audience of fans engaged is to share interesting information from other sources in a curated fashion. While writing original content is a fast path to defining and sharing one’s expertise, curating content that’s of personal and professional interest gives people extra insights and ideas. This helps tie an audience into one’s inner thinking and tastes while continuing to provide a venue to engage others who are interested in similar topics and content. Curated content is often shared with reference to the person who first noted the content; as a result, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to other bloggers or social-media power users who can help you reach larger audiences. Curated content also allows you to tap into exponential follower growth. Followers share your content with their network who, in turn, share it with theirs, and so on.
Regardless of your strategy, the key to success for any, or all, of them is to be consistent, dedicated and creative, develop a schedule, plan ahead, use new online tools as they become available to streamline your efforts and always provide a link back to your website in your profile information. Most importantly, you should take note of two other best practices.
One, provide content of value to others, not just to you. Social-media marketing requires a delicate balance between sharing valuable content and self-promotion. To avoid turning off your audience, avoid too much self-promotion. A good rule of thumb is to share one item of self-promotion for every nine updates referencing content of value from other sources. Talking too much about yourself or being too pitchy quickly alienates your audience just as if you were to do so in person at a party.
Two, as much as possible, interact with and energize your audience. Unlike a regular website where you post content and move on, social-media sites allow you to converse with your audience. This is great for networking on both a personal and business level, allowing you to get a direct line to the interests and needs of your audie
nce. An audience you connect with is more likely to be energized and share your content with their audience.
Jim Goldstein is a professional outdoor and travel photographer, as well as the VP of Marketing at BorrowLenses.com.