If you’re under 30, it’s likely that you already understand the power of online social networking. But for those of us who’ve been doing business before the Web was ubiquitous, there’s a good chance that you aren’t exploiting the opportunities offered by social networking as well as you should. Services like LinkedIn, Facebook, Digg and Twitter are just a few of the services that can serve as powerful promotional tools
The Big View
One of the reasons that professional photography is facing challenging times is that the advertising and publishing industries are hurting badly. Advertising and publishing dollars are shifting away from print, which is the ideal medium for photography, to the Web which is as least as well suited for a wide range for other creative media including video, interactive, 3D renderings and animations.
But an even bigger change is taking place. Advertisers and publishers are looking at a completely new way to get their messages and content out to audiences. They call it a “conversational” approach. Instead of broadcasting their message with an authoritative, top-down voice, they are looking to create an interactive relationship with their target audience. This can be anything from simply encouraging lively forums on corporate and news sites that were once tightly controlled, to having contests where audience members make commercial, vote on new products or are given some other way to feel they can actually wield influence, and therefore have a stake in the relationship.
And a key part of this conversational approach is what is variously called viral marketing, social marketing or social networking. The premise is simple: You are more likely to open, read and act on an email from a friend telling you that Burger King has a site that will turn you into a character from the Simpsons (here) than if the email came from Burger King. Modern consumers have been bombarded by enormous amounts of corporate and media messaging for so long that it’s become increasingly difficult for these organizations to cut through both the noise and the skepticism that envelops consumers today.
Ways to Use Social Networking
Photographers can use this same approach to help promote themselves, their work and their business. After all, face-to-face networking has always been the most effective marketing tool and what is commonly called social networking is really just an Internet enabled form of traditional networking. In many ways, the advent of social networking for photographers parallels the emergence of portfolio Web sites. While it’s always more effective to sit down with a photo buyer and show them your portfolio in person, the massive reach of a Web site more than makes up for the fact that you aren’t spending “face time” with each visitor and the images don’t look as good as they would in a beautifully printed book.
The same is true with social networking. While each referral may not be as meaningful as a personal introduction, the sheer scale of social networks can result in getting you significant exposure.
There are two primary ways to use social networks, broadcasted and targeted.
The goal of the broadcast approach is to have your network of contacts reach out to their network of contact, who then reach out to their networks of contacts (an on and on) to draw attention to you, your images and your service. This is called “going viral.”
An example of this viral approach is to push out to your Facebook “friends” a message that says you just returned from spending a month living with and photographing a family of migrant farm workers and have posted the images on your Facebook page with a link to your site. The hope is that your Facebook friends like it, pass it on to their friends, more people link back to your Facebook page, ask to be your friend and otherwise spread awareness of your work through other services like Digg and Twitter. Ideally, beyond just making more people aware of you and your work, this could bring you to the attention of organizations that work with migrant workers or publications that are doing a story on the subject. There are two benefits to promoting yourself and your work in this way:
- Your message is likely to reach interested, important parties that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find
- When it does come the attention of these organization or publishers, it will be as a referral from a “friend” or some other trusted source, not from a complete stranger.
The targeted way of using social networks is to look for a specific person or people who you would like to be introduced to. You can usually do this either by searching the networks of you “friends” or “connections” to see if the people you want to reach are part of their networks, or you can usually search on a specific person and then see if they are in one of your contacts’ networks or perhaps removed by one or two degrees of separation.
Here’s an example of using the targeted method: Let’s say your name is Jim. You know that an agency is calling in books for an upcoming ad campaign. You’re sure you’d be perfect for the job but also realize that yours will be one of dozens of books they’ll be reviewing. You know the name of the art buyer and search for them on LinkedIn. You see that the art buyer is one degree removed from one of your connections, who we’ll call Jane. You contact Jane and ask her to find out which of her connections is connected to the art buyer. We’ll call the contact between Jane and the art buyer Joe. Ask Jane if she’s willing to make an introduction between you and Joe. If she agrees, ask Joe if he would mind sending a note to the art buyer (or perhaps have Jane ask Joe) along that says: “A colleague I greatly respect suggested that a photographer she knows would be a great fit for your upcoming shoot. His name is Jim and he has submitted his portfolio. You can also see his work online here . . . “
The efficiency of locating and reaching people via the Internet is a major cause of the decline of print publishing, and that in turn is one of reasons the field of professional photography is facing such challenging times. But photographers can also use the Web’s ability to connect people as an asset when promoting themselves and their work. The advent of photographers’ Web sites, which made the physical portfolio virtual, was only one step in the process. The next step is to get the word out. Direct email campaigns are important but it’s getting increasingly difficult to break through the “noise” and get your message to photo buyers using direct email alone. The new frontier is online social networking. If you aren’t doing this yet, experiment to see what works best for you and then incorporate it into your marketing plan.
In times like these you need to use every tool available to reach potential clients. Online social networking is an exciting and powerful way get your message out.
If you find this post useful, subscribe to our RSS feed!