Understanding Photography on Instagram

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United Kingdom-based Digital Photographer Magazine interviewed me for their current edition (Magazine Issue #173) on Instagram best practices for photographers. The article is titled “Market Yourself on Instagram”, but it is gated, unfortunately. However, I did keep a copy of my answers, which you can find below.

DP: Do you use Instagram to post the same content as your other social media sites?

GL: When it comes to photography, yes, for the most part. I find that crossover between social networks – 500 Pixels to Facebook to Flickr to Instagram to Twitter – is minimal. Each network has its own audiences.

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Some photos don’t translate well due to the format, which almost forces you to be literal about the rule of thirds. For example, I love this Super Moon photo with the Washington Monument in the lower left for foreground (above), but it breaks the rules. It would never work in Instagram. The photo would be cropped either as another full moon photo, or a Washington Monument pic. Extended in a wide format it would be too small. So I wouldn’t post it in Instagram.

DP: How do you think the platform helps emerging photographers reach new audiences?

Nice of Kendall Jenner @kendalljenner to humor me with a selfie. #whcd #nerdprom

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on


Me shamelessly promoting myself at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

GL: I think Instagram has become much more mainstream in the past two years, and is in many ways is starting to replace Twitter. So it’s a good place to brand yourself, regardless of your type of photography. But, for many of us that’s where it ends.

Portrait and wedding photographers could use it for lead generation, but it would require them to actually network with other people, like and comment. It would not work to just post pics for most. Instagram also has additional potential for photojournalists.

DP: Does Instagram’s limited format enhance or impinge creativity?

GL: I wrote four years ago about my dislike for most of the images, and I still don’t like it. LOL. What many of us would consider dodging or burning or adding a bit more yellow to the temperature is replaced with filters. And as a result, bad images are glossed over.

But for the average point and click person, it improves their efforts. And for all intents and purposes, that’s what smartphones have become, point and click cameras.

Most importantly, though, Instagram allows people to share their lives in a visual manner. Everyone uses visual media to communicate about their lives. Because of this viral social network, many more people are falling in love with photography. That’s a good thing.

Over time I have come to realize that Instagram makes good photography stand out that much more. It’s kind of like a Pultizer Prize caliber writer clearly distinguishes himself in an email correspondence compared to the average office worker’s prose. People can see which folks know how to communicate with a lens, and that’s where photographers start to brand themselves.

DP: How do you use hashtags and geotagging to increase your reach?

Misty Morning #blackandwhite #monochrome #forest #woods #mist #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: I try to use at least five hashtags per pic, and geotag the photos with location. The reality is that this increases reach by 20-30% per pic. It exposes your work to people who search by topical area, news trend, and location. In my mind, that’s just smart marketing.

DP: In your opinion, what are its biggest drawbacks and advantages?

Walk this way. Featuring Fana Lv. #model #asian #asianmodel #walk #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: The power of Instagram as its own type of social photography is both its biggest drawback and its greatest advantage. Instagram is life stream/photoblogging in my mind. Like blogging it can create a sense of expertise for inexperienced smartphone heroes. Within their medium they are just that.

But outside of Instagram, their photography may not be as strong. To successfully expand their skills, they may need more practice, or need to learn about lighting to take their photography to the next level, or might simply need to learn manual camera basics like ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

For an Instagram hero, this might be extraordinarily frustrating. They may simply retreat rather than grow and become the photographer they probably could be. This happened with many bloggers who were good writers, but could not conquer other media like magazines, books and traditional journalism.

A champion on one level is a neophyte on another.

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The same could be said for pro photographers who post their outstanding work on the network, and find it undiscovered. They are neophytes in social media and in particular, Instagram. So perhaps they walk away.

When these two worlds collide — the point and click heroes with the tried and true photography experts — is when photography grows and becomes a wider, more appreciated art form.

I came to photography ten years ago through blogging and social media, the need for original images was critical. But I would not be the photographer I am today if it were not for 1) a passion for creating visual art and 2) the expert photographers who took me under their wing, and showed me how to realize more of my potential. We need each other in this digital world.

And now my question to you, the reader: What do you think of Instagram from a pure photography standpoint?

SnapChat Is Social Media’s Ultimate Revenge

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Watching the social media marketing world talk about SnapChat has offered quite a few laughs. Most marketers hate it. They just don’t know what to do with it. They paint SnapChat as a way to talk to “young people” or millennials, perhaps a sign on how much the original generation of social media voices has aged.

Snapchat is pure and unaccountable. It’s really what social media was meant to be, a real goofy conversation between people. In that sense, perhaps SnapChat is social media’s ultimate revenge on businesses.

There are no parents, no employers, no tracking algorithms available to the common user or even most of the brands participating online. If someone wants to post private media to select followers, they can bypass their story and go dark. And, if someone doesn’t want to view your content, they simply don’t. Even if you pay to get your content featured in the Discover or Live areas, people have to opt in.

In my mind, Snapchat is almost pure, (yes, there are those paid content channels) uninhibited social media. That’s why it does not compute to those who want to track mentions, push brand messaging, and sell product.

It’s about people sharing experiences — silly, inane, and/or serious — with one another. Overt messaging usually fails here. That’s why corporate communicators would rather throw their hands down and quit, writing SnapChat off as a silly Millennial network.

The Untrackable Defies the Analytics Age

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Perhaps the most confounding aspect of SnapChat is its lack of analytics and accountability for small and medium-based business marketers. In essence, the network is a walled garden.

Sure, you can advertise and get better analytics. But right now, you’d better bring a cool half million to the table for your entrance fee. Even getting a geofenced overlay can cost a pretty penny when compared to a Facebook boost or a Twitter ad.

The thing that SnapChat has going for it is its dark nature. Protecting customer integrity and their ability to post really interesting and generally (but not always) private social content is a huge differentiator.

Consider this. You can bash most brands on SnapChat and they will probably never find the complaint. Literally someone would have to screen capture it and send it to the social media manager. On Twitter, you’ll get stalked by someone trying to get you into private message land. If the complaint gets loud enough on Facebook, though less likely, you’ll probably have a customer service rep show up.

Then there’s the whole parental/employer thing. How many of you readers have decided not to post something because others would see it?

See, when social media is untrackable, it gives users a sense of ease about what they are posting. This free feeling is false. We all know what’s posted digitally can be picked up and sent anywhere, but nevertheless SnapChat has made it difficult. So analytics be damned, [young] people love their SnapChat.

Perhaps SnapChat really is the domain of the intern, as some older marketers would have it. At least the intern, won’t try to insert the brand in every post!

What do you think?

LinkedIn Is What It Is: Personal, Employer, Business

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I opened the new LinkedIn Android app the other day and saw an unexpected message, “The One Stop Shop to Manage Your Personal Brand.” Because of my own hang-ups about the term “personal brand” I was taken aback. But like it or not, LinkedIn has become the place to manage your professional reputation.

It has also become much more than that. LinkedIn offers brands an ideal platform for employee communications — future (e.g. recruitment), present, and past. The social networks also provides B2B brands a great place to market.

For those that are still stuck in the Twitter and Facebook for brands universe (and maybe, just maybe Instagram, too), please keep in mind how big LinkedIn has become. More than 400,000 million people are using the social network to talk about their professional life. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three forms of communication on LinkedIn; personal, employer and business.

Personal Marketing

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With most people looking for work online today, LinkedIn has become a nexus to build a personal profile and network. There are many ways to stand out on LinkedIn and strengthen your presence.

LinkedIn profiles serve as a place for potential employers to check out your history. In many ways, the profile has become the modern resume. In addition, potential contracts and speaking opportunities can come through LinkedIn.

Attracting people to and making your profile stand out are the primary means of personal marketing on LinkedIn. Here are a few methods:

This latter point may seem obvious, but don’t post your cute dog pic on LinkedIn. If social media made a level of uncouth personality acceptable on the Internet, then LinkedIn became the social media place where the old school mindset of act in a professional manner still reigns. Many people and brands are relieved about that, too. Save the personal posts for Instagram, and button it up on LinkedIn.

Employee Communications

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I remember when LinkedIn launched in the early 2000s. It was hyped as a place to network and find new jobs. After a period of time, employers started using LinkedIn for recruitment purposes.

Then LinkedIn built company profiles. Networking became smarter and you could identify past and present employees through search. The algorithms began sourcing news about company x, particularly when there was a clear tie between an employee and corporate page.

The reality for most brands is that employee communications should begin inside their physical and virtual walls and on their web site. It begins with culture in direct communications up and down the ladder. Another reality exists: Many conversations are occurring about brands out of those domains, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and GlassDoor.

With so many people talking about work and their future on LinkedIn, it can become the central hub of an HR and recruitment social media strategy. Here are some quick tactics to help facilitate that:

Market Your Corporate Brand

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Not only has LinkedIn made itself a great place to engage in employee communications, it has also become a fantastic marketing venue for B2B marketing. Conversations and content galore on professional topics ranging from IT security to digital marketing are everywhere.

Businesses that offer some sort of B2B offering — product or service — need to experiment with LinkedIn as a means to brand and generate initial content leads. Here are some ideas for your efforts:

  • Build an engaging corporate profile page that shows what the company does, and how it helps the industry and your customers). Use Showcase pages to highlight particular product areas and include calls-to-action to drive traffic to your site.
  • Use LinkedIn’s advertising platform (sponsored updates) to communicate with customers. This is a good way to extend the reach of your corporate profile.
  • Pulse Articles are also a great way for a brand to show thought leadership. Find spokespersons who are willing to use their profiles and publish articles, then promote them on your company profile page.
  • Consider LinkedIn sister brand SlideShare as a means to create content that engages prospective customers. You can integrate SlideShare into your page.
  • Manage a group to build subject matter expertise for your company

    . LinkedIn is in the midst of revamping its groups for better functionality and results.

What LinkedIn marketing tips would you add to these lists?

Sunsetting the Tenacity5 Brand

I am publishing this post with a profound sense of sadness. Over the past six months, Tenacity5 experienced a lovely spike in growth. It was followed by an epic collapse while I was in Africa, creating a challenging situation.

Some of the issues had to do with client acquisitions and reorganizations, but I would be lying if I didn’t note that some of our own mistakes contributed to this situation. Though they have been corrected, we have been grinding through the current slump for several months. Now I have decided to sunset the brand at the end of the year.

My decision to do this lies in three factors:

1) We’re not making great money.
2) The work we are getting is tactical and not highly engaging (social media community management, blogs, white papers).
3) The amount of effort needed to turn the company around is extremely demanding for a middle-aged man with a family.

Frankly, any one of these reasons would not be enough to stop me. Even two might be worth grinding through. All three, however, have forced some deep introspection and a decision to return to independent strategy consulting short term; some photojournalism work; and a new, more enjoyable challenge long term. I guess tenaciousness has its limits.

Erin Feldman will inherit our remaining content marketing accounts and execute on them through the rest of the year (and hopefully beyond). She is a fantastic marketing program creator and writer. I want to thank her for all of her hard work over the past two years. Erin is literally the best employee I have ever had, and a tremendous team player. My hat is off to you, “Write Right”.

We will keep the Tenacity5 site up for any residual leads. Peace to those who have supported us during the past two years. I am grateful for our experiences together.

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Mark Schaefer Breaks Down the Content Code

Mark Schaefer authored The Content Code to resolve the very real challenges of brands addressing the current digital marketing environment. With a glut of too much content, attention deficit disorder, and murky evolving SEO rules, communicators find their articles, presentations and other information lying fallow. We asked Mark to keynote xPotomac 2015 to shed light on what it takes to resolve these challenges.

The following is an interview conducted with Mark on behalf of xPotomac. Don’t miss his xPotomac keynote on August 27th, which is designed for experienced digital marketers. (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). And you can buy The Content Code on Amazon. Any typos or errors are mine, not his.

GL: I love that The Content Code is BADASS. How did you come up with this cheeky acronym?

MS: As I was developing the six strategies that became the backbone of the book, I wondered if there was some natural acronym that I could come up with to help people remember the ideas. I wrote the six on a whiteboard and stared them down. BADASS emerged. Probably one of the best moments of my life. Afterall, how many people literally write a BADASS book?

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GL:: You mention the importance of sharing or transmission of content as the critical difference between success and failure. Why do most brands struggle to get their content shared?

MS: I don’t think they are aware of the problem. Right now, the marketing conversation is focused on 1) creating content and 2) building an audience. But neither one of those factors matters unless the content MOVES. The content must be seen, be shared. It must connect. The economic value of content that does not move is exactly zero.

The economics of sharing are powerful. Most Americans say their purchase decision is affected by what is shared on the web. The act of sharing content is an intimate experience that creates advocacy for our brands. I am convinced that there is no metric that is more important right now than the sharing of content.

And getting that content to move in an increasingly information-dense world is getting harder and harder to do. This suggests that marketers need to understand how and why content moves. We need to develop an entirely new competency around that factor. And that what The Content Code book is about. I think this is a such a critical topic. We need to change the conversation now.

GL: xPotomac co-founder Shonali Burke is noted as a member of you Alpha Audience. What is “Alpha Audience” and what makes them so important?

MS: So if you’re with me that the sharing of content is both strategically and economically important, the people who actually share your content are truly the bedrock of your business. Those are the people who are actually advocating you through this generous and emotional act of sharing. These are the most important people in your audience — your Alpha Audience.

I used Shonali as an example in the book because she has been an amazing supporter of my content for years. Through her story, I demonstrate the importance of building trust, not traffic, as the cornerstone of a modern marketing strategy.

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Mark is pictured here at SXSW with Tamsen Webster.

GL:: In The Content Code, you mention analytics in several areas and it is clear that brand-specific data informs much of your ethos about where to share content. What tips do you have for brands grappling with data analysis?

MS: I can certainly sympathize with those grappling with analytics. Part of the problem is that many analytics packages are not sufficient to manage our marketing efforts today. We are not going to get any earth-shaking insights from looking at averages, mentions, and sentiment. It’s likely that the real value is going to come from the strong small signals from the people who really love you, from measures that can lead you to better content ignition.

Does your analytics plan include a way to discover and nurture your strongest advocates? Probably not. Does it tell you how effective your content is compared to competitors? No. That is a a big disconnect in the marketplace.

I have been working on a new company that can actually measure a brand’s ability to ignite content. We’ve developed a 50-point statistical analysis that quantifies content marketing effectiveness. I think that will help get us at least part of the way there toward more meaningful metrics!

GL: You close the book by recommending that brands build an ignition competency. What does that look like for a brand with several team members?

MS: First, I must say that I’m impressed that you read the book to the end. Thanks for that!

I think it is this simple. If you identify a resource on your team, hand them The Content Code book, and tell them to “do that,” you will have a competitive advantage. No question. Even if a business does a little every month, there will be results.

A focus on content transmission is the new marketing edge and there will be benefits to those who understand that and respond first.

Why Yik Yak Makes Sense to Me and Snapchat Doesn’t

Yik Yak has received a lot of media attention as of late, most of it negative from fearful adults. One psychiatrist [on Fox News] called it the most dangerous form of social media.

Funny. Yik Yak offers the most obvious form of social media to me, much more so than other youth-driven apps like Snapchat. Yes, the critics are right. It allows people to be as mean as they want to be without repercussion, and that’s why everyone is afraid of it. But it also let’s people show their barest souls.

I’ve been on Yik Yak for less than a week, and I have seen some incredibly sad and beautiful and funny updates. It’s touching, a reminder of what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel called Naked Conversations during the blogging era (think 2006-7).

Oh, by the way, Yik Yak expressly states in its rules that people aren’t allowed to troll. Further, really nasty updates can get voted off the island. I noticed the fear mongering articles didn’t mention that.

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Conversations is what social media was supposed to be about. Not providing the optimal social marketing expertise, nor was social meida meant to create personal branding platforms to generate influence (which was a movement that arose in 2008). Social media was supposed to be about people interacting with others in a transparent authentic fashion.

And Then There Is SnapChat

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Yik Yak offers honesty where the more popular Snapchat network offers naughtiness and the potential for public spectacle. Snapchat’s value lies around the promise that you won’t be able to see content ever again, that it won’t exist. People love the thrill of the momentary content, some of which is wacky, weird, naughty and/or crazy.

Some brands are capitalizing on this platform, both individuals and corporate (Taco Bell pictured above). Yet, the opportunity is a fleeting one in my mind. Is Snapchat a zeitgeist, a reaction to the over-indexing of Twitter and Instagram by companies and data spiders? Or is it a network that will stand the test of time?

Personally, I find Snapchat to be absurd. I don’t understand why people would post content under their own name only to have it disappear. Maybe that’s the writer/photographer in me speaking.

Nevertheless… So you want to post something mischievous or naughty. People will still remember you posted it. And I hate breaking it to all the sexting youth of America on Snapchat, people can still make a record of those pics and updates.

So why not post it elsewhere where it is public and the content remains? I just don’t get it (cranky old man).

If I have to choose between entertainment or relating in my social media, I’m always going to lean towards the relatable. With its forced anonymity, Yik Yak offers both. But if you are going to opt for entertainment via spectacle, at least you can’t take credit for it or shame yourself for a few shout-outs.

Maybe anonymity makes Yik Yak a lot less exciting to marketers. But it sure makes for a better user experience.

What do you think of Yik Yak?