Understanding Photography on Instagram

rs80923_001_dp_173-asset-_1_

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.

14880343964_5bc246d71b_k

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.

Walk This Way Beauty Tight Crop Web

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?

How Men and Women Differ Online

I am not sure writing about this is a good idea, but after reading Pew Internet’s report breaking down how women and men use social media in different ways, I could not help myself. As the above statistics show — though there are drastic standouts — generally, men and women use the same networks at roughly the same pace.

BUT, one obvious conclusion after looking at these is that women gravitate more towards visual networks, with higher percentages of women using Instagram and Pinterest. Meanwhile, men prefer more, shall we say, martial networks (cliche alert) like Twitter and reddit where there is more sparring and contested debate.

Pew offered this analysis, “…online discussion forums are especially popular among men.” My personal take is that people use social media regardless of gender, with men preferring to spout off online, and women digest a wider array of richer and diverse information types.

Further, outside of Pinterest every type of network has at least a 1/3 to 2/3 ration showing that gender usage is pretty evenly distributed. With the Pinterest exception, it’s safe to say that one gender doesn’t dominate any particular type of network or medium.

So How Do Men and Women Differ?

4008165356_81f910d565_o
1960s vintage photo by Christian Montone

So what is the difference between men and women on social media? Ask a psychiatrist. LOL.

Perhaps they differ in the same ways that men and women face cancer. While their are difference between the way men face colon cancer and women face breast cancer, when they have a similar type of cancer (for example, lung cancer) both genders cope in the same ways.

Want a social media example? If you were following stereotypes, you’d say women are more likely to touch up their photos. In reality, men touch up their photos as much as women do, according to a study by PicMonkey.

PicMonkey

The above graphic shows which types of pic genders are most likely to touch-up. Seems pretty evenly distributed to me. Exceptions, guys who post photos of themselves working-out (so much to say) touch up their photos much more then women. Add some shadows, deepen that muscle tone, son! Women are more likely to touch up their baby photos. Hmmm.

For the record I compulsively touch up every photo that I post now. It’s a bad habit. But I digress.

I think we all know men and women differ. But outside of the drastic lean towards Pinterest, I see few statistical studies that show many hard differences on actual usage. More than likely, it’s just in the way that each man and woman uses it.

What do you think?

You Don’t Need an Instagram Strategy

You don’t need an Instagram strategy. Or a Snapchat strategy. Or a Facebook strategy. At least not yet. Instead, figure out what makes you or your brand remarkable to that specific audience group and then make sure you convey your message in a way that will resonate.

Go ahead, answer the question, “What makes you remarkable?”

This is a reoccurring problem in social media. Brands optimize community management and native ad spend network by network. They use data to hit the right audience, the correct time slots, and then drive more traffic.

But the content and conversation is lame, or as Ann Handley says just good enough. The whole initiative suffers for it. More than 90% of the problem cases I examine boil down to bland over-messaged content and social network “conversations”.

A Snapchat Strategy In Play

SnapChat

In some cases content created haphazardly for social networks feels awkward, lacking context and meaning. Just yesterday I was looking at the general Washington, DC feed on SnapChat, and in the midst of the updates Jim Beam ads ran, ten seconds each. The ads featured the new brand’s new apple flavored bourbon spots.

The product is designed for millennials, but the spots were the usual high gloss ads you might see during a football game or on ESPN.com. They seemed so out of place compared to the raw user generated videos of DC hipsters. The Jim Beam ads felt like a complete intrusion. So, there you have it. A SnapChat strategy targeting the right audience in the right place with almost no relevance.

Differentiation Requires More

growth strategies

Here’s a message to the marketers of the world trying to reach hip social media audiences. If you want to differentiate and stand-out in an increasingly competitive and noisy marketplace, reach deeper than “me, too” social media strategies and ads.

Think I’m off on this? Check out the top approaches CMOs are looking at for growth over the next twelve months, according to the CMO Survey. Market penetration is the only category that’s expected to shrink while diversification is the area targeted for the most growth.

Every marketer and every agency is under great pressure to create strategies that will leverage new media. I’ve been there, too. It’s so important to take the time, pull back, and do it right. Use all of that data to inform and build better content and conversations that people will actually care about.

Social media is a method to reach people, but throwing unremarkable junk out there to meet a data-centric strategy that points to where the right audience is won’t work well. You need to engage (let’s not go too far down this 2008-esque thread). And you need a remarkable story to compel audiences to engage back. The content is just the vessel. If your offering is not remarkable, if you don’t have a conversation, then expect mediocre results.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. If you have a strategy to leverage a tool instead of a valuable and interesting reason to talk with your customers — regardless of medium — then success will be hard to achieve.

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.

20020378975_7f8fa1f9ce_k

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.

19399414223_d7ee7c4b45_k

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

19833745909_1b30a92e19_k

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

19383299063_4e5bde4531_k

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.

18704180989_a8cc7ac1bd_h

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

20012574652_949d60158c_k

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.

20012608572_ce0702bedd_k

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

19397733524_f6ce0826ca_k

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.

19832893248_0a4814a848_k

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

19583871509_ba2fe0185e_k

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.

19397719494_14295069db_h

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.

Flickr 4.0: PR Hype versus Reality

Flickr 4.0 launched 11 days to much hype and fanfare in the consumer tech media. Some pubs went so far as to say that Flickr was now relevant again, ironic for a photo sharing social network that consistently ranks in the top 10 networks.

The new interface certainly is beautiful. But as well hyped as the new Flickr 4.0 is, it suffers on a few levels. For starters, the new interface seems to stifle interaction. I have noticed a 25% decline in favorites and comments on my photos.

Perhaps I am in a slump. I have been posting fewer landscapes and cityscapes, which tend to perform better for my following. But at the same time, when I have posted decent landscapes — landscapes that perform well on 500 Pixels and Instagram — they still garner quite a few less favorites and comments on Flickr than in the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the slump began the day the new interface launched.

As a viewer, I find it harder to favorite and comment on Flickr 4.0, too. The mobile apps are clunky. If someone publishes a series of photos, to comment you have to tap on a photo twice.

The traditional web version suffers as well. It gets stuck and fails to show you past favorites. In some cases, the responsive design prevented me from even seeing the favorite and comment icons on photos like on this image from Jan de Corte.

Responsive Fail

The new Uploadr has been wonky, timing out periodically. Flickr has acknowledged this new feature has issues and is working on repairing it.

Flickr 4.0 is not all bad. Some of the new features are great, like Camera Roll. Now I can view my photos chronologically, which is a pretty cool way to see how your work is progressing over time. It’s also a great way to get a timeline view of your life. This new feature also lets you organize your photos by type, e.g. landscape, portrait, etc.

Competitive Balance

17141815604_c89567fbb6_k

Flickr launched its new version to make it more competitive in the mobile era. In some ways, this makes Flickr more consumer-oriented, allowing people to store thousands of mobile photos automatically as they go.

In the context of Instagram versus Flickr, I really see Instagram as a more valuable consumer network. The land of selfies is fluid and dynamic, allowing for quick and easy feedback. Friends see how their lives are evolving in the moment. In comparison, Flickr 4.0 makes quick and easy feedback a bit harder.

As a photo storage site, it works (when the Uploadr is functioning). However, if people struggle to interact with your photos then you are publishing strictly to keep the images in the cloud.

17786565256_668c0c58c4_h

Similarly, 500 Pixels benefits from a strong critical group of professional and serious amateur photographers who only like the best images. While this can create homogenous photographer pool where certain images do better than others (think landscapes and pictures of models), 500 Pixels makes it very easy to like, love and comment on photos. Exploring popular images on 500 Pixels is also much easier, with segmentation by image type.

For a work-validation standpoint, I have been as reliant on Flickr as I have been on 500 Pixels to see what other photographers thought of my work. Now I am leaning towards 500 Pixels more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Flickr, always have, and won’t abandon the network. I just wonder if in its attempts to become a consumer photo network, Flickr shunned its existing power users.

In my mind, Flickr owned a niche as a photography site that catered to both pros and amateurs. The stream was good. It become a resource for many who searched for great images to fill out their stories. While adding mobility is a natural evolution, sacrificing interactivity and function to get there may become a long-term weakness compared to more specific-use oriented photo networks like Instagram and 500 Pixels.

What do you think of the new Flickr?

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

traditional-media1

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

socialtv1

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

youtube-redbull

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

pinterest-nordstrom
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

instagram-chobani
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

facebook-medtronic2

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

twittercard1

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

slideshare-dell

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

linkedin-showcasepage

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

10) Flickr

Flickr

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

vine-burberry

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

nontraditional-conferences1
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.