Social media is very exciting.

Exciting – adjective: a word used by the marketing industry use to describe something that is cool new and that no one is quite sure what to do with; the only thing certain about exciting things is that we all want to dive onboard in case we miss the boat.

For me most forms of social marketing are like the traditional art of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) combined with Mailing Lists except that you are dealing groups of people instead of individuals, and leveraging those individuals to help you, you have a lot less control over what is being spoken freely by anyone who wants to voice their opinion. There is plenty of scope for personal wikafollow contact, but for microstock I remain skeptical about having enough hours in the day for one-on-one dialogue unless you increase prices to make it viable. Depending on what exactly you are promoting it can be hard put a figure on CLV (customer lifetime value) so don’t let me stop you making one-on-one contacts.

The True Power of Social Media

Social media is not you sending out your marketing message but harnessing, perhaps you could call it ‘steering’ the people talking about you, and how those messages other people post are interpreted by the community as a whole. Your messages can, at best, only serve to plant a seed. Only if your message is liked/enjoyed/hated/useful to the community will the message spread. Your single marketing voice if used in a traditional “posting press releases’ fashion is for the most part completely lost in the crowd unless influential people spread the message… there are always exceptions to any rule, especially if you dangle a carrot (competitions, freebies etc)

New Rules to Learn

All the traditional rules apply to the “push” part of social media: timing, matching messages to the right audience etc. The clear benefit in social being that if people like what you tell them then that message is by some mechanism passed on to the rest of their network “they do the marketing for you” (- if it was only that easy!)

Be wise with social networks and the platform they operate on, as a very simple example, I think about 5% of my friends on Facebook are in some way related to the photography or design industries. Conversely I’d estimate that an overwhelming proportion of the people who follow me on various twitter accounts are photographers or designers. I’m not suggesting that trying to get image buyers on Facebook to ‘like’ your photography work is a waste of time, clearly it has some use, It’s just important to consider what type of network people have created, some examples:

  • a network of people working in a chosen industry e.g. linked in (potential gold dust?)
  • a network of their friends and family (still a useful vote for your content if they like it, but it’s far less likely to come to the attention of someone in a position to buy)
  • a large network of people who will happily subscribe to lots off things and pay little attention to what they follow (all vanity? are those high numbers as good as they look?).
  • a small network of people who are very selective about what they watch and pay interest to everything that comes in their inbox. (Quality counts)
  • a following of random people who adore you like a celebrity because it’s cool to do so
  • a network people you cajoled into following your after they visited you website – little more than a glorified mailing list.
  • a network that your customers set up on their own to talk about you over which you have no control, not really relevant to a photographer I admit (and in fact you don’t have much control over any social network!)


— one size does not fit all.

Of course for what I would call frivolous content (funny animal photos, cool looking desktop backgrounds and phone skins you know the kind of stuff) then the more people linked to you in the network the merrier, and there is nothing wrong with using this kind of universal content (a.k.a. cyber drivel) to attract ‘traffic’ just be aware that less of them will convert into stock photo buyers – so think more about targeting the buyers. The non-buyers who like your work are still a useful asset, every ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ is a vote for your content, and opens the door to another pair of eyes, as well as being considered by search engines and algorithms as one indication that your content is something good.

Something I would always keep in mind is the more people see your work the more likely it is that one of those people will be a buyer. Be that the 1 in 10,000 who saw it on Flickr or the 1 in 100 who converted after finding your work after using a term like ‘stock photo’ in Google. I’m not suggesting those numbers are accurate, but to emphasize that not all sets of eyes and mouse fingers are alike.

I personally underestimated the power of Facebook for many years, dismissing it as unprofessional / and non business oriented. A Facebook fan page can be a very valuable tool in your social media marketing kit, it does require investment, and if you are already stretched across a lot of other tasks either outsource or decide if it is more or less important than your current marketing activities. Want lots of fans? It’s fairly easy to buy them for 5 to 10 cents each with Facebook advertising, so don’t use those numbers alone to compare your success against your peers.

Social marketing is just another spoke in the marketing wheel, without a hub to actually promote you don’t have much; your hub can be your images in lightboxes on a microstock or a Facebook fan age. Ideally, and if you have the time/knowledge/budget it will be a website that you control and manage, a site to which you can add your content (not necessarily stock images either).

The goal of your marketing wheel can quite easily consist of several things combined, be that referral links, direct sales of photos, ad supported content, or further promotion of each of your spokes. It can even be entirely further promotion e.g your goal is to get more people to your mailing list on which you sell advertising space, it’s not easy to work purely ad supported and so this would be a path grow a network, in the end the goal will probably want to be selling those photos or at least referring clients to them. I’ll look at the goal more in the next chapter.