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?

Living through the Lens Challenge

Two and a half weeks ago I launched the Living through the Lens weekly challenge on Flickr. The Challenge was in response to Jeff Cutler‘s request, a weekly effort that lets people participate in whatever I may be photographing during the week. I reposted Jeff’s idea on Facebook, and many people liked the idea and wanted to participate, too.

So here we are. I have been super impressed with the incredible quality of photos that people have submitted. The first challenge was “foliage.” Here are some of the notable photos that people submitted.

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Teresa Thomas submitted the cover image “Fields of Glory” for the Foliage Gallery collection.

The next challenge was bridges. And sure enough people who participated offered some fantastic photos. Here is the gallery of notable bridge pics.

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Jane Kaye submitted the cover image for the Bridges Gallery, a piece called “The Forth Bridge.”

It’s been great seeing what people have come up with, particularly those that see the challenge, take it, and go produce their own interpretation of the subject. The world is a beautiful place. So many people can use cameras today — smartphone to medium format — to offer their own perspectives. I appreciate people sharing their views of the world with me.

This Week’s Challenge

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This Blue Hour shot was taken on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

This week’s Living through the Lens Challenge is taking a photo during the blue hour(s), that precious period of about 45 minutes before the sunrise or after the sunset. There is a whole site with blue hour photography tips here, if you are curious. Join the fun and submit here: www.flickr.com/groups/livinglens/.

The weekly challenge ends on Thursday afternoon. At the end of the business day, I breeze through the weekly suggestions and curate my favorites in a notables gallery.

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This is a photo I took of the Charleston Market in South Carolina.

By the way, I never include my own pictures in the notables gallery. I figure as curator its not really fair to do that, plus I am biased. And on top of that, I already post my pics everywhere throughout the week. It’s time to highlight some other people’s work. Instead, I use one of my pictures to introduce the weekly challenge, for example the bridge picture that leads this post or the above pics for the blue hour.

If you are curious about the suggestions/rules. I will post the challenge in the group on Thursday evening or Friday morning, and then repost across networks. People are encouraged to post new pictures, not old ones published three years ago. It’s a photo challenge, not a recollection of past glory ;)

Folks are limited to two pics per week. So make them your best shots!

Also please comment and favorite the photos you see from your peers. Don’t be a grinch and just post and run. That’s weak!

So there is the challenge. What do you think?

Meet Joseph Mwakima, the Ultimate Community Manager

In online circles we believe a community manager is someone who cultivates and activates a group or a brand following on a social network. In Africa I met the ultimate community manager, Joseph Mwakima, a fellow busy activating his community and inspiring change in Kenya’s Kasigau Corrdidor REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) Project area through word of mouth.

But unlike his American counterparts, Joseph doesn’t use a Facebook Group, Instagram or Twitter as primary tools of his job (though he is on those Wildlife Works community relations officer, he regularly meets with people engaged in projects throughout the region.

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Joseph could have gotten a job in the city. He has a wife and baby, and could easily justify seeking more bountiful land. He’s also college educated, speaks fluent English, and is well travelled. But he instead came back to the region he calls home to make a difference. His community needs him, as does the overall Wildlife Works effort.

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A variety of issues are impacting the region, including rapid deforestation through slash and burn farming and charcoal harvesting, a lack of jobs in the community, and disappearing wildlife. The REDD+ Project Joseph is part of seeks to counteract challenges with a sustainable community development program that creates jobs and protects the forest.

Joseph Talikng to Us

I got to see Joseph at work, thanks to working with Audi as part of its documentary project produced by VIVA Creative (you can see Joseph talking to the VIVA team above). Audi supports Wildlife Works as part of its carbon offset program that compensates drivers for the manufacturing and first 50,000 gas-driven miles of the new A3 e-tron being released this fall.

Widespread Community Activation

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Nestled between Kenya’s Tsavo East and West National Parks, the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project is widely considered to be a leader in sustainable carbon offsets. Wildlife Works applies a wide set of innovative market-based solutions to the conservation of biodiversity.

Joseph works in the community to socialize the solutions and encourage adoption of them. Here is what I witnessed Joseph doing:

World Environment Day

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Marasi Primary School hosted a World Environment Day celebration the day after we (the documentary team) arrived. It acknowledged many of the positive changes that have occurred as a result of the community’s fight to stop deforestation. There, I watched Joseph help a child plant a tree, speak with children, and converse with many of the community leaders in attendance.

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The school in many ways symbolizes the future of the corridor. In total, Wildlife Works pays for the school fees of more than 3,000 students in the area, including partial scholarships for some college students. Most people who work for Wildlife Works reinvest their wages in their children’s education.

Rangers

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In this picture below you can see Joseph talking with several Wildlife Works Rangers. The rangers are an 80+ person ranger corps that protects wildlife throughout the corridor’s 500,000 acres from poachers seeking ivory. They also stop people from slash and burn farming or from simply cutting down trees for charcoal. So part of Joseph’s job is explaining to them why the rangers are stopping them from using the forestland, and what alternatives they have.

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We spent seven days in the company of Joseph and Evans and Bernard, two of the Wildlife Works Rangers. I was impressed by their work, their passion for the wildlife in the Project area, and the danger they face from poachers. A poaching incident occurred on my last day in Kenya, and the pain was evident on their faces. You can see the rangers at work in the Animal Planet reality TV show “Ivory Wars.”

Eco-charcoal

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Instead of slash and burn farming and chopping down forests for charcoal production, Wildlife Works offers new alternatives to citizens. These include job opportunities, smarter farming education, and alternative methods of creating charcoal. This latter effort — the creation of eco-charcoal — offers an innovative, yet pragmatic approach to fuel.

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Joseph showed us how the eco-charcoal is created. Teams clip small branches, collect fallen tree limbs, and burn them. The ash is then mixed with a pasty substance, and poured into casts for eco-charcoal bricks. The end result is a brick that burns longer and better than the charcoal most Kenyans make when cutting down trees.

Women’s Groups

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Joseph introduced us to three different women’s groups in the region. The loosely knit associations of women engage in entrepreneurial activities like producing arts and crafts that are sold in the U.S. and Europe through Wildlife Works. In all, there are 26 registered women’s groups in the Corridor, touching 550 women, or four percent of the total population.

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The women use the resulting money to build clean water tanks, buy solar lights and clean cook stoves for their households, and provide an education for their children. Husbands see the positive impact on their households and are encouraging their wives’ newfound roles in the Kasigau community.

Joseph Small

These are just some of the programs that Joseph supports in the community. Wildlife Works engages in other economic development actions such as textile production, better farming practices and more to build a sustainable future for Kasigua Corridor REDD+ Project Area.

This type of community management shows the real-world impact that such a role can have in the right situation. When local people like Joseph interact with the community and serve as a liaison for Wildlife Works, adoption of sustainability programs increases, and ultimately transforms the entire region for the better.

Disclosure: Audi paid for me to visit Africa and capture content as part of a larger documentary that will be released this fall.

The Delicate Art of Letting Sacred Cows Go

Forced change is one of the hardest aspects of communications today. With consistent technological evolution and its impact on the Internet and media, change we must. Often change requires letting go of sacred cows, meaning those marketing and communications initiatives that are important to us or the company yet we know their not working.

Why would a company continue efforts that produce little or no results? Precious “must have” initiatives can pale in comparison to other efforts when it comes to delivering actual results. Still internal stakeholders feel these programs are the way business should be done.

External perception and trends can provide as much if not more peer pressure. You need look no further than the perception that every business and nonprofit should be active on Facebook.

This is where data can offer a great marinade, the evidence that helps spur a conversation about change. But you need to have that conversation, probably many of them to get an organization to let go of its sacred cows. The process of helping people move beyond set beliefs also requires a deft hand that allows them to save face.

Begin with Clarity

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Every organization should have a mission that helps the company or nonprofit determine its communications goals. When you understand where you are going, you can build key performance indicators (KPIs) that clearly show whether or not a particular tactic or initiative is meeting its goals.

KPIs are a black and white type of measurement, specific in their intent. You may even want to break goals into types of actions. Consider some of these possible KPIs:

  • Engagement will be determined by the amount of website traffic referred from each social network (branding). A successful social network post will yield 5% click through.
  • Successful website content will be determined by a) amount of shares, totaling 10% of visitors (branding) and/or b) amount of email sign ups, a goal of 5% (lead gen)
  • Successful social network communities worth investing in will produce lead identification through email sign-ups, online chats and contact forms. Five percent is the target for all social networks (lead gen).
  • Eventually customers should be produced by identified leads. We expect a 10% conversion rate for identified leads (ROI)

It’s fairly easy to set up these types of goals with a combination of web analytics and CRM. Almost every marketing automation system empowers this type of tracking.

However, the real yield in these efforts is gaining clarity about your customers. While your sales people may understand customer profiles in general, data yields exact profiles. For example, they work in mid-cap companies and are either directors or vice presidents. They tend to work in technology or security concerned industries. You may be able to determine gender and age. Sixty eight percent are women aged 30-49.

In addition, you can map customer behavior. They interact with us on Twitter, but share our content on LinkedIn, too. Those that like our page on Facebook never share the content, nor do they click through.

What Your Data Allows You to Do

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Suddenly, you have a clear picture of how your customer interacts with you and who they are. It is important to identify what is working and what may be failing, including your sacred cows.

I think its critical to look at the data with an attitude of discovery. If you go in and say this isn’t working, then people act out of fear. Covering up and saving face becomes more important than changing. This is the conversation to have: Look at what this data is showing. Maybe we can better meet our KPIs if we tweak our current outreach. What do you think? Make it a safe conversation where everyone has a voice.

Don’t push to cut things unless everyone or a majority of your team is in agreement. You may need to go through a cycle or two in your program before prescribed change is agreed upon.

Perform an audit of your communications and content. Experiment to see if you can get more yield on social networks, email, ads, etc. Instead of generic content, you can now drill down and offer specific content that may be more compelling (e.g. contextual). For example, instead of offering photos of men at work, show pictures of women at work. Perhaps offer custom content for your top industries as the reward for signing up for emails.

If getting authorization to experiment is difficult, data should help to justify A/B tests. Try it once and see if the results are different. What CMO won’t give something a one-time try to see if they can get more engagement, leads, and potential customers?

As you experiment, you learn more about the role of each medium in your networks. Poorly performing sacred cows continue to stink. Each time you present the data about which actions are meeting KPIs and which ones aren’t, it becomes clearer that some initiatives must go. The question may be changed to should we cut this? And then when should we cut this?

The process of experimentation helped vested internal stakeholders see the poor performance, try to save it, and realize it was simply no longer a viable communications path or method. You may have known through this whole process that your sacred cow needed to be cut. Going through the process was necessary to create palatable change within your organization.

Usually, we see change as a moment in time. But in reality change is often an evolutionary process. This was the case when Tenacity5 announced its stance towards Facebook marketing last week. We experimented and changed approach a couple of times before letting the overhwelming and consistent data inform our decision.

What do you think?

12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance

Tenacity5 Media released a new eBook this morning, Visual Media: The New Content Marketing Landscape. My colleague Erin Feldman is the primary author with a co-author credit to me. You can download it for free with no requirement to provide any personal information.

The eBook discusses the visual media era as whole, then seeks to help marketers adapt best practices. Generally, there is one overarching rule: Go mobile or perish. While the desktop is still used, its use is limited to particular tasks. To reach more people, think mobile first, desktop second.

Included in the paper are 12 tips for best practices across a variety of media types and social networks. You can see them in the above slideshare or simply scroll below.

1) Media

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Traditional media is not dead, but it does need to be supplemented with digital assets. Engage journalists by augmenting pitches with photos, videos and other visual resources.

2) Social TV

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Social TV is not synonymous with newsjacking, but the tactic is relevant, particularly when capitalizing on the social furor surrounding live events such as sporting ones or the Grammy’s. Follow current events and programs, then share timely brand-related updates and images.

3) YouTube

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YouTube isn’t replacing traditional TV viewing, but it is being consumed in larger and larger numbers. Brands seeking to create a YouTube presence need to think unique content rather than copy what they do on more traditional video platforms.
Aim to create high-quality, engaging content rather than just another television ad.

4) Pinterest

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Pinterest offers a captive, active audience. Tap into their interests by sharing images that they’ll love to “like” and re-pin. Pin images that depict your brand’s story and character.

5) Instagram

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Instagram is ideal for user generated content (UGC). Give your audience a chance to tell the story, and they typically will. Grow your Instagram community by asking them to share photos of your product in action.

6) Facebook

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Facebook is alive and well, but it’s increasingly visual. Ensure your placement in your fans’ news feeds by tapping into their visual interests. For increased Facebook engagement, post multiple photos rather than a single one.

7) Twitter

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Twitter has gone the way of visuals, too. Make sure your work is noticed by using Twitter Cards to feature images and other information, such as a sign-up form.
Use Twitter Cards to feature full-sized images in the news stream.

8) SlideShare

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SlideShare is not an online PowerPoint presentation. Other content can be uploaded to the site. In addition, it features robust search optimization capabilities. The presentation’s important, but don’t forget to optimize for search.

9) LinkedIn

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LinkedIn is visual, too. Present your company’s story and standout from your competition with Showcase Pages.

10) Flickr

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Flickr may be popular because of its storage and archiving possibilities, but the site gets plenty of traffic from people seeking licensed images for their own work. Capitalize on their needs by licensing your work. To increase awareness, license your photos so that people can share and use them.

11)Vine

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Vine is home to short video, so it’s not the place to tell your brand’s life story. Aim for sharing highlights and personality. Use your six seconds to let your brand’s personality shine.

12) Non-Traditional Conferences

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Nontraditional conferences are the way of the future. Blend your traditional event with digital for an increased return on investment. Use visual and digital media to generate stories before, during, and after an event.

Download Visual Media: The New Content Marketing Landscape for free with no requirement to provide any personal information.

Want more? Read 7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era.

Can Data Control Provide Ease of Mind?

Most Internet users have significant privacy concerns when it comes to their personal information and location data. There is good reason: An incredible 82 percent of apps access user data, and 80 percent can share location data.

In a bid to get more people to use their sites, app providers and websites are providing new control mechanisms. This next generation of apps address the lack of safety presented by open data. Will it work?

The privacy problem is typified by the wildly successful Tinder dating app. The secret behind Tinder’s success is its simplicity, but the app has stated a roadmap where Tinder users can locate each other in the same room. Further complicating matters is Tinder’s ability to send user data (gleaned from Facebook) to third parties, including sexual preferences.

Other dating apps like SinglesAroundMe are giving end-users control through new features like Position-Shift. Position-Shift lets people show where they are, hide themselves, or even shift their location to mask their exact whereabouts.

Facebook launched its own location app last week; the Nearby Friends service. Like many new apps on the market, Nearby Friends lets users locate their connections via mobile phone. To ease stalking concerns, Facebook is touting a double opt-in, and forces users to select a level of friends from small custom groups to friends. Friends of friends and public listings are not an option.

Life360 offers a different take on location, allowing people to share information with select small groups. The ideal user group is families. The application developer is so security focused calls itself a red state app offering. The company has successfully garnered more account sign-ps than most of its competitors, but does not report active users.

Will Self Regulation Be Enough?

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While apps are moving towards empowering users with more privacy control, it may not be enough. Location and personal data conerns have attracted attention in Congress. Senator Al Franken reintroduced his Location Privacy Protection Act to close legal loopholes that allow stalking applications to exist on smartphones.

A different set of app developers are creating mechanisms to alert smartphone users when an app is rooting their phone for data. Even enigmatic tech tycoon John McAfee released DCentral1, an app that lets you audit the permissions on your Android phone, and monitor how your data is being leaked.

These new “privacy control-only” apps reveal significant weaknesses in the iOS and Android platforms. In the end, the apps may force smartphone operating system developers Apple and Google to give stronger controls to the end-user.

It seems fair to say that the days of simple check-in apps like Foursquare are ending, at least beyond a very basic public level. As more application developers provide different levels of privacy control, users will become aware of not only the available security measures, but also the general public’s vulnerability to data leaks.

How app users respond to these developments remains to be seen. The more personal the app is, the more likely end-users will demand robust data security.

What do you think?