Goals before tweets
Just as you would not take time from your business to attend a high-ticket conference without careful consideration and advance planning, neither should you just jump on the Internet and into the social media pool. Invest your time online as wisely as you would your dollars offline by being strategic. Here are the basic steps you need to take:
- Determine your point of difference and whom you’re selling to
- Establish a home base and follow-up plan
- Find the places your target market hangs out
- Interact with them there in ways that are useful to them, specific to your brand/strengths, and nice, period
- Follow up.
A quick aside on the order of these: As you establish your social-media marketing system, you’ll find yourself jumping around from step to step, tweaking here and adjusting there. The days of “done,” if ever they existed, are gone today.
But for now, a brief overview of each, in the order they need to happen as you’re getting started:
- Determining your point of difference and whom you’re selling to is something you should be doing as part of an overall marketing plan, and beyond the scope of this piece. Take some time with this step, but don’t feel like it needs to be perfect before you put yourself out there; in today’s fast-paced world, “establish-and-iterate” works very well, and also allows room for your own growth as a business. There are many excellent resources on finding a niche and branding, as well as experts you can pay to help guide you.
- Establishing a home base and follow-up plan can be as simple as getting a basic business website in place and calling/emailing your contacts on some regular basis.
- Finding the places your target market hangs out requires research — sometimes amazingly little, if you’ve really done your homework in Step #1.
- Interacting with them is what social media marketing done well is all about.
- Following up is you taking the conversation from a public space to your own private marketing universe. As mentioned above, this can be as simple as regular emails and phone calls, or can include snail mailings, autoresponders, e-newsletters, in-person meetings — pretty much whatever you determine works for you, your business, and your fans, prospects and customers.
What the social media universe looks like: a birds-eye view
As a professional, you go to various events, one-on-ones, and conferences to meet up with fellow photographers, prospects and clients, but your studio or home office remains your base of operations.
On the Internet, social media sites are the gathering places and your business website becomes home base — the mothership, if you will. You meet, mix, mingle and share elsewhere, but you provide a well-appointed place to hang out for those who want to know more about you and what you have to offer them.
Looking at the above image, if Ansel Adams were getting started shooting today, he’d want to establish his own central hub (hopefully with a high-level domain version of his business name, like anseladams.com). Then he’d hit Twitter and Facebook to mix and mingle, join a few LinkedIn groups on landscape photography and large-format cameras, maybe throw a video or two of himself shooting away on a butte up on YouTube.
When people became intrigued by this Ansel fellow’s helpful links on Twitter or his cheery updates on Facebook, they’d follow the link back to his mothership, where they might:
- view his well-organized portfolio of past work
- learn more about the way he works in his bio or “about” page
- read his blog, featuring insider info on his most interesting assignments and possibly a few how-to’s
- discover links out to the rest of his social media universe to explore further
- find his contact information (preferably on every page) to hire him for a gig
As time passed and he established more and more of a presence online, assuming he had talent and professionalism (let’s go ahead and say he did), Ansel would build a name for himself as the guy to go to for all things landscape-photography. More and more, other people in his social-media orbit would do the heavy lifting for him, re-tweeting and sharing his content with their friends, associates and followers, because they liked him and found his stuff interesting and useful.
Physical laws of the social media universe
If it looks simple, that’s because it is. The rules of social media are basically the same as the rules of marketing and engagement from the get-go:
- Be Useful. Provide content that is informative, supportive of, andentertaining to your audience. Always remember that it’s not about you; it’s about how you can help them. And if you serve them faithfully, they will follow you faithfully.
- Be Specific. Don’t wander too far afield. You can (and should) throw in the occasional personal update, and it’s always best to talk in a relaxed, human (i.e., non-corporate-speak) voice online. But if you talk about too many things outside of your main area of expertise, you’ll confuse people. Yes, you contain multitudes; let people find that out later. It’ll keep things interesting!
- Be Nice. Nobody likes a jerk. Don’t snark; share your toys; be civil.
However, “simple” does not necessarily mean “easy.” Learning how to put these three basic principles in action — not to mention actually doing the work — takes time and effort.
Helpful steps on the road toward social media mastery
- Identify what works for you. Who do you like following? Whose stuff are you happy to see turn up in your Twitter or Facebook stream?Find 5-10 people you really enjoy interacting with (they are probably being useful, specific and nice!) and really study their profiles. How many times do they post per day? What things are they posting? What is their ratio of “broadcast to listening” (e.g., tweets to “@”-replies, posts to inline responses to other people’s posts)?For advanced credit, check out their profiles on other social-media sites. What are the bios like? Are they identical across the board, or is their LinkedIn different from their website? How personal are they getting? How do they condense what they do into 160 characters for their Twitter bio?I like to keep examples of my favorite stuff. I use a combination of Delicious (bookmarks I can tag for different things I want to find later) and Evernote (a wonderful “everything bucket” into which I throw text, links and screen grabs). Both are free resources, although Evernote has a premium version with a few additional features.
- Choose what appeals to you. Yes, you need to be in the same spots as your clients, prospects and potential “sneezers” (Seth Godin’s excellent term for active sharers). But the social media universe is big enough that you have many choices. If you hate hanging out on LinkedIn, don’t. Or adapt the tool to the way you like to work: use Twitter for responses and use Facebook to initiate conversations; curate videos on a YouTube or Vimeo channel rather than making your own.
- Be recognizable ubiquitously. If possible, use the same avatar (that’s the little identifying picture of you, usually square in format) across all of your social media sites. Try to register the same username. If you’re allowed to customize your profile, choose colors and/or typefaces that are similar, and that are drawn from your visual identity. You don’t have to have identical bios everywhere, and you can adjust your voice to fit the style of the venue, but don’t be wildly erratic, either.
- Post less, but better. The constant flow of fresh information from all sides can trigger anxiety: I haven’t posted in a week/day/hour/minute!Don’t feel obligated to keep up with a pace you can’t maintain. If it helps, think of the social media universe as New York City: It’s going 24/7, but you can and should duck out and take a nap, grab a bite, do some work, etc.
- Keep to a schedule. Your business wouldn’t grow if you only paid attention to it when you felt like it. Your skills wouldn’t get sharper if you only practiced when you had free time. Make your social media activities a regular to-do, like any other aspect of your work. A great way to get started is to spend several hours over a few weekends immersing yourself in the research process, choosing the sites you want to be involved with, setting up your profiles, getting comfortable with how that site works. (Down time is terrific for this, too.) Then allot roughly a half-hour daily, which you can break up into two or more chunks, if you like.
- Be patient! You didn’t become a great photographer overnight; it will take a while for you to get the hang of social media, and a while after that before you start seeing tangible benefits to your business.You can start learning immediately, though. You’ll pick up terrific tips and valuable information about all kinds of things, marketing and photography included, just by studying people who are already immersed in the social media scene.
So as much as you can, be an eager, willing, wide-eyed student. Relax. Have fun! Look at it as a game you’re learning the rules to rather than some punishment an evil younger generation has foisted on you.
And to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite classic television shows,“Let’s be nice out there.”