Like many of us I am acutely aware of the importance of being far more visible online and making sense of and using social networking to gain a regular audience, retain it and ultimately generate more work and income from it. This whole subject raises more questions than answer and I’m not sure if anyone can answer these questions with a high degree of certainty. It is most likely that our web and social media presence will play an increasingly important role in whether we win or lose commissions.
The power of our virtual presence cannot be underestimated; it is the web that, as a friend put it, “represents us in our physical absence” to share with others our work, thoughts and feelings, along with following our career and, sometimes, life journeys. Corporate giant Ernst & Young’s final decision to choose me from a short list of photographers was in part decided from their reading of my articles for this blog. They understood my passion for photography, the way I shoot, my workflow and working principles and felt that while I would be sensitive when working with different cultures around the world I would also deliver. In effect, by sharing the stories and experiences of previous projects, both personal and professional, I had given them a glimpse of how I would work for them.
What Ernst & Young did was no different to many of us when making a serious purchase. We want to learn as much as possible about a product or service and be in a position to know all the available facts so we can make an informed purchasing decision. With the advent of the smartphone and, more recently, the iPad, our web and social media presence is quite literally at the tip of our prospective followers’ fingers and the world is moving increasingly towards delivering media on demand. Even the humble TV is now a mixed media device with not just Freeview and Sky, but iPlayer, Demand Five, LOVEFiLM, YouTube, I could go on. So it’s clear that the web is more important than ever and there has never previously been a time when we could communicate in so many different ways to an almost unlimited audience so easily and instantly. There may be billions of conversations taking place at any given moment and yet it will always be the content that will make us stand apart from the competition. With this in mind I have started a project of my own to create a far stronger web presence. No matter how beautifully designed a gallery of pictures or films may be, it’s no longer enough and our followers are always hungry for more and more information. It all started as a blog and I suppose the site will be loosely based on this concept as I aim to update it at least two to three times a month. Whenever I try to explain this project to friends and colleagues I fail to come up with a name. Obviously it’s a website, gallery,blog and my presence online, a place where I can share my thoughts, experiences, learning, opinions and views, articles, pictures and films. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter will be conduits to it but not the site itself. Ultimately I would like to invite guests to collaborate and contribute and through this process link my site to theirs and vice versa. Being referred is a hugely important aspect of creating awareness and one that keeps me looking at my Google Analytics account nearly every day. As well as a window on new projects, my aim is to edit work carefully from the past five years into relevant and interesting chunks for easy consumption. The food analogy is a good one as a successful website, blog and Twitter/Facebook account should have a following with a perpetual appetite and taste for our own particular dishes of pictorial, written or moving media. In all good restaurants the menu will change and it is the same for the website. Here is where the biggest challenge will come for most of us; if we are going to attract a following, then we are going to want to keep that following and even increase it. Gone are the days of designing an online portfolio and then updating it every few months when we
Gone are the days of designing an online portfolio and then updating it every few months when we find the time and have the energy. Our website is now a constant companion, a mouth that needs regular feeding.
find the time and have the energy. Our website is now a constant companion, a mouth that needs regular feeding. Maybe a better way of looking at it is as a conversation taking place each day between us and our followers. Rather than our viewers, listeners and readers growing bored of the subject matter, it’s up to us to keep them stimulated and wanting to come back for more. We have somehow to make time for this and so our website will require our input on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. As the adage goes, the more we put in, the more we get out, but we must make sure that what we put in is going to be relevant, representative, and above, all interesting. I have deliberately stood back from social networking and have been, for the most part, a sceptic, finding little or no interest in what often seems like a sea of meaningless nonsense that once published is there for all to see and, even worse, is there forever. As with all forms of media and communication, it is of course a tool and not an end in itself and so as long as we have something interesting to say then people will listen and continue to follow. Personally I am not a fan of Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn and yet I now see them as essential for creating instant awareness of a new project or posting on the site. Many photographers are tweeting on a project•by•project basis announcing, “Follow this shoot or that shoot” as they head off around the world; a great way to generate interest and also share learning and experiences. This investment of time could pay dividends in all manner of new ways and need not be a one way street. With an informed following we could find that a simple tweet or blog posting with a technical question could well be answered instantaneously. In effect we could ultimately be carrying the intellectual property of hundreds or even thousands of colleagues in our pockets. Many of you will be far ahead of me on the web based, virtual presence and social media learning curve and yet there is someone who has been pushing every boundary both creatively and technically for more than a decade. Nick Knight launched SHOWstudio.com in November 2000 and the site’s groundbreaking projects have defined the manner in which fashion is presented via the internet: Live fashion shoots, radio broadcasts, streaming TV, collaborations and contributions from designers, film makers, actors, models, musicians, scientists and chefs all interacting with a global community of dedicated viewers. I am very fortunate to have worked with both Nick Knight and SHOWstudio since 2006 and the experience has taught me much, not least to be confident in what I do and share what I’ve learnt and my experiences; in other words, give it away. In fact, without this learning and willingness to be transparent I would not be writing this blog. It’s like a form of karma; what goes around comes around. It’s a big picture view and can often unlock the door to opportunities that had once seemed impossible. Knight says: “SHOWstudio is based on the belief that showing the entire creative process, from conception to completion, is beneficial for the artist, the audience and the art itself.” I’m not suggesting we all run and set up our own online magazines, but a great deal can be learned from examples like SHOWstudio and we can all take something away with us from such an open, rich and free source of ideas. For me it’s still early days but over the next few months I aim to share my findings, learning and experiences of building a better online web and social media presence, from concept, content and design through to the nuts and bolts of software choice and third part plugins and services.
Before I wrote this article my friend Andy Watt, a brand/marketing consultant with more than 20 years’ experience, particularly with automotive manufacturers, gave me this advice… How often do you receive a business email imploring you to check out a new website, become a Facebook friend or subscribe to a Twitter feed? Too often, what these requests have in common is that they are evidence of a business ‘doing marketing’ with a broad justification of improved visibility and customer consideration. Virtual brand experiences differ little from real ones. As you might expect, the approach I advocate is about sticking to the basics. Marketing is about generating awareness, interest and sales leads. This is potentially much less engaging than investing time on a new website: on benchmarking, trend research, image selection and site design. How do you ensure, as a friend quoted to me the other day, that you aren’t “in the thick of thin things” busy creating a new online presence without a clear business outcome in mind? That’s a hobby not a business necessity. For me the critical elements of a marketing strategy can be applied equally to a handwritten advert in a post office window or iPadmready webzine: Who am I speaking to?, What is the message they should take away?, Is there a call to action?, What outcome am I looking for?, What am I going to do next? Your marketing materials, social media and web presence are now the cornerstones of your communications strategy. This is your commercial and artistic CV. How long will a potential client linger? How would you judge your brand from your own print, email and website, and would you know what to do next? Many businesses are investing in ever more complex websites and social media pages, often just to be there rather than to be competitive. Using this technology does not ensure tangible benefit, nor does it offer added value to anyone interacting this way. Every online brand•touch should be consciously managed for it to add business value. If you are blogging, plan your entries as if they are commissioned articles. If you are sharing opinion or advice, make it relevant. If you have ambitions to increase the breadth of what you offer, ensure a demonstrable shift in your portfolio. The time Clive spent on brand definition in 2009 established a clear direction for his work and business. To promote his business he has had to demonstrate both his capabilities and aspirations. He has continued to use a traditional portfolio but now, when the idea of a ‘book’ is fast disappearing, it is equally likely to be a conversation around an iPad gallery or one generated by an immersive web experience. His new approach should ensure clients can remotely research his work and capabilities but also understand a little of his personality and methodology as well. In common with any good brand site, he is creating a compelling look and feel that demands closer inspection and, most importantly, consistently represents who he is and what he does. In the ever•advancing virtual world, where the line between information and overload is constantly shifting, my advice remains the same: question why you are investing time and effort in your online presence, think about how this fits in with how your business communicates and crucially, consider exactly who is listening.