During a recent conversation with a young entrepreneur, it came out that I was not especially engaged with social media. She looked horrified: “You’re not on Instagram! How do you get customers?”
It doesn’t take a Kardashian-like reach to boost the bottom line with social media.
Social media is not a marketing panacea, but I’ve known for a long time that my lack of savvy is not helping my photography business, so her gasping response hit close to home. I decided then and there to begin building my social media presence in general, with a focus on Instagram in particular, in an effort to bring my marketing plan into the 21st century.
To that end I’ve begun looking to expert photographers who are doing social media right. I called President of American Photographic Artists (APA) and Sony Artisan Tony Gale to ask how he uses the various social platforms, and to get a better idea of what photographers should expect from social media. We discussed where each platform fits into the puzzle and he also said it doesn’t take a Kardashian-like reach to boost the bottom line with social media.
Pieces In A Puzzle
“I think the different social media avenues have different purposes,” Gale says. “For example, Instagram for me is a way to just stay top of mind. It is not a big direct revenue source for me, it’s 'I'm still around. Remember me?' And for existing clients, it makes them happy because I share stuff and link to them. Nothing exists in a vacuum. So that's what Instagram does for me: It makes my existing clients happy when I post something like, ‘I shot this great thing for this great client,’ and it reminds people that I exist.”
While Instagram is perfect for photographers because it’s so visual, Gale uses Facebook in much the same way—with the understanding that there’s a fine line between sharing and over-sharing. It’s helpful when clients and prospects know you because of your social media presence, so long as you’re actually likable.
“Facebook works in a similar way,” he explains, “in that there's a lot of clients and potential clients I'm Facebook friends with, and I try and stay active because it reminds them that I'm around. I've actually had quite a bit more people reach out to me through Facebook messaging to talk to me about shoots than Instagram. Those are the two I use the most. I do use Twitter and LinkedIn, but less so. I know people who love LinkedIn, but I just don't use it much. You’ve got to go where the clients are, not expect them to come to you.”
“It’s a personal page,” Gale says of Facebook, “but I would never put anything super personal on there—or on any social media, for that matter. I don't really understand why people do. The last thing I shared was something that AlphaUniverse.com had shared. The thing before that was an editorial client who had posted a link to an article that I had done pictures for. All of that helps remind people you're around. Part of it is about the community and about people wanting to work with you. And if they feel like they know you—well, if they feel like they know you and they like what they know.”
There are lots of great photographers out there, but each of them brings unique interests, personalities and customer service skillsets that clients appreciate. “Years ago I was meeting with a potential client who actually mentioned that the bio page on your website was important,” Gale says, “because it gave them something about your personality. Especially if there's something you're interested in and a shoot comes up that's relevant to that, they're going to think of you as opposed to someone else. It makes it easier for an agency to sell it to a client: ‘This photographer likes the subject that we're shooting.’”
Starting From Nothing
Social media is a big subject and it can be quite daunting for those who aren’t naturally inclined to share. The key to getting the ball rolling, Gale says, is to start small. “It's different for everybody,” he says. “That's part of what makes it challenging. The advice I give everyone who's not sure is just to pick one—whichever one you want—and start using it. Once you're really comfortable using it, then you can think about a second one. I think a lot of people tend to think, ‘I have to be on everything!’ and then it's too overwhelming so they do nothing.”
Photographers who expect social media to be the savior for their marketing plans should think again, Gale says. It’s just one part of a well-rounded approach to client engagement. Because every client is different, you’ve got to find them wherever they might be. The nice thing about social media is it becomes another avenue for giving other marketing tasks greater reach.
“I do postcard mailings a few times a year,” Gale says, “and I do occasional emails, but I'm doing less of that because it just doesn't seem to be doing much. I'm also on various websites—Found Folios, Boulevard Artists… Every few months they do this deck where they mail like 100 pictures to various people that you can opt into. I've been doing that. And I occasionally do more elaborate promos about once a year because they are quite time consuming. I did one where I had reusable insulated lunch bags and I baked cookies and gave everybody a dozen cookies and a little thing of chocolate milk and then a packet of photos. Part of what’s good about those is I’ll share them on social media, so even the people who don't receive them can see them. Everybody thinks it's cool. So it has life beyond that.”
Instead of looking for a single, all-purpose marketing solution, photographers are better served by doing a little bit of everything—including as much social media as they’re comfortable with. Look in all of the places prospective clients may be hiding.
“There's just no way to know what works,” Gale says. “Go to events where potential clients are speaking—panels of art buyers or photo editors—and there'll be four people and one will say ‘I only like emails,’ one will say, ‘I hate getting emails, I only like mailed things.’ Somebody says ‘don't ever call me,’ somebody else says ‘you can call me.’ There's no way, unless you've heard that individual speak and taken notes, there's no way to know that Jane is fine with emails but Bob hates them.”
“Somebody once said, 'Only half of marketing works,’” he adds, “’but the problem is which half?' You just don't know what's going to appeal to different people at different times, so if you rely on one thing you're eliminating the possibilities of other people.”