Social media has changed the landscape of modern marketing. It’s today’s mass media, woven into the fabric of contemporary communications. But it’s not a free nor an easy medium. To effectively reach a target audience, photographers need to invest valuable time and develop a cogent strategy to make the most out of the social tools available.
Shama Hyder, digital strategist and CEO of the global marketing firm Zen Media, points out that entrepreneurs need to approach social media as a business pursuit: “At the end of the day, it’s about business results. It’s not just about doing it for the sake of doing it.” With that in mind, Hyder shares her top tips for using social in your photography business, including a deep dive into the all-important photographer-friendly Instagram.
Three things are crucial when setting up a social media campaign.
1. Start offline. Too many people dive in without taking the time to figure out their strategy. Social media is very competitive. There’s a lot of noise. You have to stand out. You have to think about the niche you serve, and you have to know your audience. That audience can’t be everybody. Focus on a specific group of people who understand and appreciate your work. It’s important that you have a signature strategy that you own. This applies across the board, not just to your social media, but it’s important to go through this process before launching a social media campaign.
2. Consider your platforms. Different platforms lend themselves to different things. Instagram is essential for visual businesses. But almost every platform has a visual angle, so don’t discount other avenues. For example, LinkedIn is great for marketing to commercial clients, so if you do business portraits, advertising work, or commercial photography, LinkedIn could be great. How many platforms should you use? However many you think you can consistently participate in, says Hyder. If you can post every single day on five, great. But if that’s not realistic, start with two or three. Instagram is a given for photographers, and then maybe add one more where you think you could gradually build a platform.
3. Be steadfast. Social media, like any marketing tool, requires consistency to be effective. Think of it like exercise. You don’t get a great new body by working out at the gym once. It’s the result of what you do every single day. Social media is like that. The first step is the hardest, but once you get the wheel turning and develop good habits, you’ll find yourself creating a growing body of work you can use moving forward.
Developing a unique social media voice happens when you carefully consider two key factors:
1. Your natural strengths. What do you enjoy? What are you good at? How do you best communicate? Lean into those things and don’t try to be something you’re not.
2. Market demand. What’s happening in the market, and how can you connect the dots?
“This process is all about the balance between your strengths and what the market needs,” explains Hyder. “There’s some trial and error involved; you have to put some things out there, test responses, and refine. That is hard for a lot of artists. They don’t like putting themselves out there and facing possible rejection. However, it’s very important to try things out and see what resonates.”
Social media isn’t exactly a secret. There are a lot of other photographers—and other businesses in general—marketing themselves through social channels. All that chatter creates a lot of noise, and it can be difficult to cut through the cacophony to reach your audience. Hyder recommends specializing and thinking about things from your clients’ perspective.
Make a splash in your niche. Find a niche that has enough demand but that’s small enough for you to be a big fish. Become known for something specific. It’s true what they say: The riches are in the niches.
Address a need. If you can serve the needs of your audience, your message will bubble to the top. “Even a whisper can be heard when there’s a need for it,” says Hyder.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Think about your audience and what’s important to them. For example, a newborn photographer who not only creates great portraits but who lets consumers know she has all her immunizations to be safe around a newborn. If you go the extra mile, let your audience know. It shows you care about their concerns and helps people relate to you.
As the most image-forward social media, Instagram seems almost custom-made for photographers. To use it most effectively, Hyder suggests a few best practices.
Curate. Instagram is a curation engine. Don’t put up every photo. You have a limited opportunity to showcase yourself to a busy audience, so only post your best work.
Niche your bio. People often overlook the power of the bio. Explain your niche in your bio. Talk about who you work with and how you’re specialized.
Hashtag it. Use hashtags so people can find you easily. Connect yourself to the kind of work you do and be as specific as possible. For example, #newbornphotographer is fine, but let’s say you work in Miami. Try using #miaminewbornphotographer to reach people who are searching for your services locally. But don’t overdo the hashtags. Five to six on a post works well; 30 is going too far and will detract from your message.
Share Stories. Instagram Stories are a great way to show your personality and your process. For example, consider posting Stories showing some behind-the-scenes activities, such as how you choose the right lens, how you set up lights for a particular look, or how you work with a client to get the perfect expression. Let people in and show a little bit of your magic.
Instagram Stories are also a great way to showcase testimonials and positive reviews. “It’s as easy as taking a screen shot of a good review and making a story out of it,” says Hyder. Or you could answer frequently asked questions, such as how to prepare for a portrait session or what to wear for a family portrait. “This goes back to the idea of thinking like your customer. Produce the content your customer is looking for. By answering their questions ahead of time, you look more professional and prepared.”
Micro-size it. Consider working with micro influencers to co-promote. Micro influencers are Instagram users with thousands of followers, not necessarily mainstream celebrities. Find micro influencers with similar audiences who might present good cross-marketing opportunities. You can trade services or create partnerships for mutual marketing purposes.
Reverse engineer. Need inspiration? Check out photographers you admire. Follow artists in different fields who inspire you. Look at what they’re doing well and reverse engineer it. Don’t copy—but use their model as a framework to build your Insta magic.
Do it daily. How often should you post on Instagram? Daily, if you can. Form a routine and build some consistency. And don’t worry about crafting the perfect post every time. “Think about progress over perfection,” says Hyder. “Just get in the habit and build your presence.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.
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