Ben Lowy is an award-winning conflict and feature photographer based…
Is social media helping your business, or is it simply wasting your time? The truth is, most people don’t have any idea. Bringing your business into social media is easy, but getting something out of it requires more than just keeping in touch with family and friends.
Let’s be realistic about it.
Even with all the talk of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google+, I still know photographers who don’t know what to do with it. They’ve got a Facebook account because they’ve been told everyone is doing it. They hear that a whole world of new customers are there, waiting for them. It’s a new, great, easy, and cheap way to market themselves.
We recently released “The Freelancer’s Online Marketing Blueprint“, a free 53-page guide produced by the PhotoShelter Research Department. In the guide, the effective use of social media is examined and explained. However, I wanted to take it a step further by using some real-world examples.
After interviewing about 30 photographers about their social media use over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that there are two camps: people who use it effectively and are seeing real results, and people who don’t really know why they’re wasting so much time on something that doesn’t seem to be working.
The difference between these two groups is one simple thing: the understanding that social media is a tool, and not a marketing magic bullet. Simply put, photographers who use it successfully understand that they still need to do the work, and these tools aren’t going to do it for them.
I also noticed that these photographers had a greater sense of self. They know what their specialties are, and what they love to shoot. They are fully aware of what makes them different. They tend to identify with a group, or “tribe”, in real life, and social media is simply a tool that helps them connect with other members of their own tribe.
Ian Sitren specializes in bodybuilding and fitness photography. It’s a niche that he has been involved with for years before social media was invented.
Ian understands his niche, and he knows who his customers are. Bodybuilders, trainers, publishers and editors or fitness magazines, dietary supplement companies, clothing companies and designers, makeup artists, and hair stylists are the people who have a need for his services. He uses Facebook as a tool to connect with these people on a near constant basis.
In the beginning, he made a point to spend a few hours each day slowly adding his entire customer list to Facebook. Today, nearly 4,000 industry “friends” receive his daily updates.
His plan is to use Facebook as a tool to help land editorial and advertising assignments as well as private commission shoots with athletes. The things he puts into his feed are done so with this in mind, and he avoids anything that isn’t business-related.
He discovered that his best times to post are at 8am, Noon, and 5pm pacific times. It’s at these times when he says he gets the best response rates.
Recently, when Ian made a decision that he wanted to expand into an additional style of photography that he wasn’t yet known for, he used his Facebook feed to drum up assignments. Simply by sharing a different type of content (portraits of models with horses, including the image of Victoria Kirsanova, above) people started contacting him with new assignment opportunities.
Jurgen Banda-Hansmann is a photographer in Cape Town, South Africa. He uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as marketing tools for his business. He specializes in portraiture (especially for people who may be uncomfortable in front of a camera), and event photography (corporate events, birthday parties, and business networking events.)
He uses Twitter to connect mainly with publishers and other photographers. Facebook is a place where he initiates dialogs with people with the goal of establishing a trusting relationship with existing and potential clients. LinkedIn, he says, is a regular source of assignment work.
(The image on the right, of champagne glasses at a corporate event, is an image that came from an assignment generated via his connections on LinkedIn. )
Jurgen uses social media to communicate with people in corporations with a need for portraiture work, marketing companies, brand experts, other photographers, and people interested in photography.
His plan involves establishing lasting relationships with people, and for those relationships to bring referrals and paying assignments. Even his social media relationships with photographers are viewed this way — he will routinely refer clients to other photographers if he feels they will be better served. From a client relationship perspective, being well-connected, honest, and solution-oriented makes people more likely to consider him as their go-to guy for any photography needs.
Tyson V. Rininger specializes in all aspects of aviation photography as well as aerial, corporate, commercial, on-location, fine art and nature photography. He is using Facebook and LinkedIn, which he says is like a more professional version of Facebook.
Tyson is mostly looking to reach people in companies who build electronics and other parts for aircraft, aviation magazine editors, and people who have an interest in aviation photography. He, too, feels it’s important to earn people’s trust when using social media.
“Social networking can backfire if all you do is talk about yourself,” he said. “I tend to share news stories relating to aviation or general photography so potential clients find my page as more of a resource than a self-run trophy page.”
One way that Tyson builds his social network is by attending AirVenture, an annual week-long aviation industry event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where 12k airplanes fly in around the end of July. Connections he makes at AirVenture will usually end up being added to his social network soon after the event.
Social networking, for him, is a continuation of the in-person relationships he’s already made.
He has been able to find work in unexpected places – such as providing high-quality aviation imagery for companies to superimpose into computer and iPad screens shown in other images; and a company that uses parts of airplanes to make furniture.
One time, Tyson intentionally leaked an image on Facebook while the photo shoot was in progress as a way to drum up interest in the images. (The image, of an F/A-18C Hornet and the world’s only airworthy Helldiver flying over Central California, appears above.)
“I immediately received three requests from publications expressing their interest,” he said. “After discussing this openly with the three publications, this further led to stories and features which eventually spread to additional markets.”
So, if you’re not sure how to put social media to work for your business, start by looking at it as a tool. Use it to connect with people who share your passion for a niche, and aim to become a trusted member of a group or “tribe.”
More information about using social networking to boost your online marketing efforts can be found in “The Freelancer’s Online Marketing Blueprint” – a free download available from PhotoShelter.