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?

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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?

RIP Spammy Twitter Marketers (#RIPTwitter)

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A Twitter meme — #RIPTwitter — took the social network by storm over the weekend. Users complained about a rumored change from a traditional Twitter user feed to an algorithmic-sourced feed next week. The angst was inspired by this BuzzFeed post reporting the change.

The algorithm would source the most popular stories in people’s Twitter feeds. Users believed the experience would be bad enough to kill the network. The meme was so overpowering it caused founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey to make a statement and allay concerns:

But in reality, would an algorithm really kill Twitter? I don’t think so. It would probably make the experience better by eliminating bad spammy link-based Tweets usually sourced by marketers and inane ranters.

Tweets that aren’t interesting, including the overwhelming majority of tweets marketers push out every business day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., would lose priority. Without engagement, most of those tweets would fail to trigger the algorithm. They would die in the machine.

Conversely, the tweets that get the most engagement in a stream would rise to the top. I think this would be a fantastic development that would make Twitter’s stream much more competitive with Facebook, LinkedIn and to a lesser extent Google+. And it would force brands to invest in real conversations instead of simply publishing.

Further, based on Jack’s tweet, afterwards power users can simply pull down their screen or refresh their feed to get the traditional timeline. So no, Twitter algorithms won’t kill the social network. But based on the incredible amount of spammy marketing junk and bad content on the social network — even those based on popular topics and hashtags — well, an algorithm can only improve the experience.

Letting Go of 2400 Followers

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Every time I blog about Twitter losing its mojo, I receive several comments about how that’s my fault. Specifically, that I followed the people who post spam, so shame on me.

After my last post about how Twitter can improve its experience, I decided to listen to them and unfollowed 2400 Twitter users. This isn’t one of these, “I unfollowed all of you posts” that bloggers drop for attention. I actually did most of this at the beginning of last month so if I was seeking to draw attention, that would have been the time. Plus I would have dumped another 1500 out of my remaining 2000 followers.

No, this was an experiment to get rid of what Malcolm Gladwell would call weak ties on my social network. Specifically, I cut people I did not know or just had a brief acquaintance with and who are also marketers. I also unfollowed people who simply use Twitter to drop links, marketing or not).

What happened?

My experience definitely improved, not enough to make Twitter thrilling again, but the stream did seem to liven up a bit. I began engaging more, too.

The funny thing was that I did not receive one peep about the mass unfollowing either, which substantiates my belief that these people weren’t vested in being engaged in a conversation with me, at least on Twitter. About 200 people have auto unfollow bots or noticed, and unfollowed me back. The rest stuck around for whatever reason.

I may go further and drop some more followers when I get a chance. Whenever I am in the network and I see someone just dropping links or posting ridiculous spam, I unfollow them then and there. It’s adding up to a better Twitter that I actually care about again.

What do you think?

Twitter Needs Stronger Conversations, Not Longer Spam

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Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.

The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.

It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.

Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.

Is It Really News?

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Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.

The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.

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Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.

Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).

One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.

Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.

What Can Be Done?

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Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?

Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.

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I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.

I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.

The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).

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What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.

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?

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.