Social Media Marketing: The Next Best Thing?

“With any marketing campaign you need to excite potential clients so they will want to contact you, and you need to keep current clients interested and be sure they think of you first.”
—Jeff Colburn

There are so many choices today for online and social marketing. Here’s a partial list: Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, Online Groups, Twitter, Tumblr, Myspace, Digg, StumbleUpon, and of course your website. How effective are these new marketing scenarios in helping you sell photography services? We asked four photographers using social media to share their experiences. Thanks to Jeff Colburn, Karen I. Hirsch, Gail Mooney-Kelly, and Ian L. Sitren for their helpful opinions and advice. Please see their web addresses and visit their websites to see their work.

(Editor’s note: Emphasis via italics added by author.)

So, does social media really sell photography? The conclusion of the photographers we talked with seems to be yes, but only if you put in consistent and continual effort, just like any other marketing tool. Following is a scenario, courtesy of Therese Gietler of www.andyBATT.com, of how it’s supposed to work:

1) You purchase an ADBASE subscription and create a targeted list of 500 names.
2) You send out an e-blast, and Mary at Nike opens the e-mail.
3) Mary then clicks the link, which takes her to a specific image of two guys flying upside down through the air.
4) Mary loves it so much she hits the “like” button; when she hits the “like” button, it registers on Mary’s Facebook wall.
5) Mary is friends with lots of people in the sports marketing world, like Joe from Wieden+Kennedy.
6) Joe at Wieden+Kennedy sees that Mary likes your work so he clicks open the link to your main website.
7) Joe checks it out and realizes you are perfect for another campaign he’s working on, and sends you a personal message, either by e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, whatever his platform of choice, to see your portfolio.
8) Oh, Joe also hits the “like” button…and so your social media keeps going and growing!

Shutterbug: Every marketing article you see today talks about social media, but exactly how do these tools work? How do they fit into a marketing plan?

Gail Mooney-Kelly: We live in an empowering time. The individual has a global reach if they are willing to do the work. If it wasn’t for social media, I never could have created a film and raised money on Kickstarter (an online funding site) and had the trailer seen in over 115 countries. I have spent my life’s career telling the stories that need to be told with my camera. Now I can distribute them with ease and no longer need validation from the powers that be (such as waiting for editorial assignments or other commissioned work).

I have utilized social media to promote, advertise, and fund my film project Opening Our Eyes. I think social media works best when it is specific and somewhat targeted and strategic. For example, I have a funding campaign running now on IndieGoGo—another online crowdfunding site. So I can send a direct e-mail or tweet straight from Indie with a message like: “Check out some behind the scenes videos of Opening Our Eyes at IndieGoGo.” That tweet will also show up on my blog, my Facebook page, the project’s Facebook fan page, and my LinkedIn account. That’s one short tweet that gets seen on four to five platforms!

Jeff Colburn: I’ve had pretty limited sales success with social marketing. I do things that get a lot of attention and a lot of hits, but not much in the way of sales. Postings I made on a photography forum did land me a photography assignment. A concierge in Phoenix had read my posts and when a guest needed a photographer in Sedona, instead of calling a local resort for a reference, he called me directly. Facebook and Twitter have never given me much success, but I’ve had good success with Digg and StumbleUpon.

LinkedIn has resulted in some heavy traffic to my site when I post a link to an article on my blog (the more controversial the better). My most successful one to date resulted in hits in my blog increasing by 15 times above normal, with 40 comments, 155 Facebook likes, 17 LinkedIn shares, and 24 tweets. A LinkedIn group that mentioned my post has 110 comments to date.

Ian L. Sitren: I have primarily focused my time and effort on Facebook. I do have a presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. I do not have that much of an interest in posting the continuous stream that it seems to take on Twitter to build an audience. And LinkedIn does not show photos, as I would prefer as part of my marketing efforts. I have been blogging consistently for maybe six years now, although I have let that slide in favor of Facebook lately. I intend to change my blog, and my website for that matter, to a different format soon and use it more effectively. My website will be on the scalable version of liveBooks and my blog will be on Tumblr.

I post anywhere from one to three times per day on Facebook and typically four or five times per week as time permits. I do not post anything personal, with very rare exception, and I do not allow other posts from other people unless it also relates to my photography and, again, with very rare exception. Each of my posts are one of my photos, usually from a current shoot, some from my past archives, and limited to what I do as a photographer. No family photos, no bushes and trees, no photos of what I am eating in some restaurant. I tag each of those photos with every person involved so it also appears on their wall. And I credit them in the comments. That would be people such as the model, the makeup artist, my assistant, and my location hosts.

My own comments with the photos are not for selling my photography. My comments are typically about the model or project and the shoot itself. I see many photographers openly pleading for business in their wall posts over and over. Being out in the same world as these guys, some of whom are my friends, I know that it is very negatively received by their potential customer base. I let my photos and projects speak for themselves and it is obvious that I am in the business of photography. That allows people to feel more inclined to connect with me without feeling burdened that they might be faced with a hard sell.

SB: What specific plan do you have to use social media for promoting your business?

Gail Mooney-Kelly: In general, I set aside an hour to two hours a day for social media to promote my business. If I have a project that I am promoting then I will specifically devote my social media to it.

Karen I. Hirsch: I use social media to network with potential clients. By providing pertinent news and information to my target market and by answering questions asked in online groups, I am being introduced to a new set of prospects. Those people who already know me are reminded that I am still around. When it’s time to make an appointment, it’s easier to get a positive response when the person you are calling is already familiar with you.

Through social media, I let prospects know when I photograph something interesting on assignment or on my own. I link back to my principal website/blog, so viewers can read more about the subject and also see my images. In this way, they become familiar with my work and with my personality. Online statistics show that my social media contacts are coming to my website. I also use social media to stay informed about photo industry news and to keep up with issues that my colleagues are experiencing.

Jeff Colburn: Before I start to use social networking, or any advertising/marketing project, I need to ask myself one question, “Where are my potential clients?” Do my clients use social networking? If so, then I jump on in, if not, then I find some other marketing technique that will reach them.

I have two kinds of social media programs, casual and professional. With casual, I make simple posts, like “I just came back from a day of shooting the changing colors in Flagstaff. I’ll have photos up soon.” I don’t usually put this kind of post onto my blog, but I will put it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook (both my personal and business pages), and Myspace.

A professional post is usually longer and more detailed. It can be a follow-up to a casual post, or a
stand-alone post. I would start by creating a blog post and include photos if applicable. I go into a lot of detail, including where I was, what I saw, anything interesting that happened. I add any applicable links to my fine art (JeffColburn.com) and/or stock photography site (StockPhotosArizona.com) where they can find more photographs.

With this in place I then let the world know about my post. First, I put the page on Digg and StumbleUpon. One time this resulted in a 900 percent increase in hits to my site in less than 24 hours. I then make postings to all of my social networks and my LinkedIn groups, with a link to my blog post. There are also several forums where I may make a post.

I make sure to include something that will make people want to click on the link to learn more. It could be: “Have you ever seen,” “You won’t believe what I found,” or “I’ve never seen this before.” People are flooded with requests to click on a link, so you have to make your request stand out from the crowd.

Next I try to find any kind of hook in the article I’ve written that would make it newsworthy. Then I create a press release, and it goes out to an extensive list of free article sites, newspapers, TV and radio stations, magazines, Chambers of Commerce, and other outlets.

This week my press release resulted in a local newspaper asking to use a photograph of mine that was selected by Shutterbug’s “Picture This” contest. My plan is to be everywhere I possibly can be. If people see me in several places, they may ask, “Who is this guy?” And that creates a new potential client. Online marketing is fleeting. You can be all over the place one day and buried under a thousand posts the next, so you need to constantly put yourself out there.

Ian L. Sitren: I am tracking my Facebook campaign based on feedback and results. The “likes” and “comments” on my wall posts and photos are the barometer that people are seeing what I am posting. “Friend requests” and other comments coming in daily are also a measure of my reach into my market. New clients coming in directly from seeing my posts and photos are of course the desired final result. I have indeed been lucky enough to have that happening but it all comes from my continual and consistent posting.

SB: Social media can absolutely promote you to other photographers but how do you rise above all the “noise” on these different channels to actually reach photography clients?

Gail Mooney-Kelly: You do this strategically, and I mean even with whom you are “friending” or linking in to. I also stay consistent to my “brand” and who I am in what I tweet or put on Facebook. I try to post things of interest that may be beneficial to my “friends” and not just do posts that are just about me. I think one big mistake a lot of people make is that they just promote themselves and don’t bring value to people who follow them. They say you should only do posts about yourself 20 percent of the time. The other 80 percent should be about other informative material. If you give people something, you will rise above the noise.

Jeff Colburn: The mistake that many photographers make is that they promote themselves to other photographers, but why? They aren’t your clients, unless you are selling photography classes or books. You need to promote yourself to people who would be your clients.

Once you find the best way to reach your potential clients, promote what’s unique about you. Do your photographs have a different look than other photographers? Do you have access to something unique, like aircraft carriers, or restricted locations? Do you offer an in-depth knowledge of some area you specialize in, like lightning, eagles, or photo manipulation? The only unique thing you really have is you and your vision. So find out how you differ from other photographers, in a good way, and promote that. And above all, be friendly and helpful.

You also want to make your postings not only popular, but to last as long as possible. To do this you can create posts based on the following popular themes: Top 10 lists, controversy, “how to” tutorials, reviews, humor, news, resource lists, debate/attack something, comedy, interview people, and go behind the scenes.

Ian L. Sitren: I have not directed my Facebook page and postings at other photographers, although I have many photographer “friends.” Because I have a clearly defined specialty of photography in bodybuilding and fitness, my efforts have remained mostly there. I am well known and respected in the industry and made a concerted effort to build my friends among the fans, athletes, business people, magazine editors and publishers, and so forth.

I think I rise above the “noise” first because of the quality and uniqueness of my photography. Next I think it is because I talk about the people I photograph and not about me. And I have always enjoyed telling the stories of so many great and fun people. I have done that in many magazine assignments and features.

SB: Do you feel social media works differently when trying to find potential clients than when keeping current clients coming back for more?

Gail Mooney-Kelly: It depends on what you are posting. If you post relevant material, they will come back for more. As far as finding clients, you need to look at it through their eyes and talk about what they are interested in.

Jeff Colburn: I don’t think there is any difference. With any marketing campaign you need to excite potential clients so they will want to contact you, and you need to keep current clients interested and be sure they think of you first.

Social media has the advantage of being free and frequent. You can contact your followers whenever you want. It’s up to you, but it is a tightrope walk. Too little contact and followers lose interest and excitement. Too much contact and you burn them out. Just because you can contact them all day, every day, doesn’t mean that you should. Make sure your posts are useful and informative. Saying that you’re having coffee at the car wash is a waste of everyone’s time. To say you’re having coffee at the car wash, and you bumped into a photo buyer of a popular magazine is a worthy post.

You do need to be careful, because social media can be a big black hole in cyberspace that can suck time out of your day faster than you can ever imagine. I could easily spend all day doing social media promotion and never have time to do other promotions or photography.

While social media is great, and safe, with no face-to-face meetings or cold calling, it will never replace personal contact. People buy and hire people they know and like, and the best way to build a solid relationship is face to face. Whatever you do, remember that you will spend about 10 times as much money and energy finding a new client as you will in keeping a current one.

Karen I. Hirsch: I have found that people who know you are more likely to respond to your e-mails. So, the better people know you via social media, the more likely they are to see your work and either be reminded about it or be introduced to it.

Ian L. Sitren: Specifically, as it relates to my Facebook experience, I am reaching an audience interested in my work. It grabs their attention and I believe that people specifically return to see what I have posted. That would be relevant to both potential and current clients.

SB: Please tell us your favorite social media “success” story.

Gail Mooney-Kelly: For my project and film Opening Our Eyes I used social media for everything, including finding the subjects who would appear in the film. After getting word out through Twitter and Facebook and e-mails, asking people if they knew anyone who would make good subjects for the film, we were already creating an audience. We needed a platform that was global because we were looking to do a film on people who were making a difference—on six continents! We created a website and blog and as we journeyed around the world people followed us from every corner of the globe. The idea and the project were starting to become globally known. As we blogged and did podcasts, we would alert people to these new entries via Facebook and Twitter and people would share the stories and it grew.

When we returned from this 99-day adventure, I knew that I needed funds to be able to hire a professional editor. I can edit video, but I knew that a professional would really raise the bar. I put the campaign on Kickstarter and tweeted and made posts on Facebook and was able to raise over $10,000. Without social media, this project would not have been possible. I am now in the middle of another campaign on IndieGoGo to raise money for film festival entries and distribution.

Jeff Colburn: The most recent was last week. I received an e-mail from an editor at Photography Monthly, a publication in the UK. He had read one of my blog posts, and liked it so much that he asked me to make an article out of it for their December issue. This is especially great for me as I want to start selling my fine art photographs in Europe and Japan, and this is a great way to get my foot in the door. And they pay well, too.

Karen I. Hirsch: I have reconnected with people from my past who have started their own businesses or have risen on the corporate ladder. I find people who I know via their contacts. I believe that eventually this will lead to new business. I just received a referral from a CEO of a top ad agency due to social media. Social media also removes geographic limitations. I have corresponded with people in England, Australia, and South Africa regarding my business—people who I never would have talked with if it were not for social media. Coincidentally, I just received a referral from social networking this afternoon after our interview.

Ian L. Sitren: My success stories are very simple; people see what I do, many already know who I am, and they make inquiries about one thing or another. Subsequently I end up with a shoot. I think the “social media” aspect of it creates a familiarity and comfort level that does not exist with just a cold call or mailing. The best method of marketing has always been meeting face to face in a social way and building relationships. “Social media” is perhaps the next best thing.

Contributors’ Websites
Please visit our contributors’ social media sites and web pages for more information on them and their work.

Jeff Colburn
www.JeffColburn.com
www.TheCreativesCorner.com
www.StockPhotosArizona.com

Karen I. Hirsch
www.karenihirsch.com
www.karenihirsch.com/Blog/Blog.html

Gail Mooney-Kelly
www.kellymooney.com
www.openingoureyesmovie.com

Ian L. Sitren
http://secondfocus.com
http://secondfocus.blogspot.com/

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