Photo sharing sites like Instagram are the fastest growing segment of social media. Mobile devices are controlling more of our attention every day. That’s why Facebook spent billions on Whatsapp and Instagram. The internet has essentially become a distribution channel for photos. From family snapshots to porn, the internet is awash in photos. Tiny screens suck for reading but are awesome for looking at pix.
I believe there are two reasons for the explosive growth. One is the penetration of smartphones has reached a tipping point. No matter what business you’re in, you have to assume that every customer has a high definition camera and high speed internet connection in their pocket.
If your store isn’t clean, if your restaurant serves bad food, if you can’t provide excellent customer service, the customer will document the results and share it with their friends instantly. That’s the bad news. The good news is if your store is clean, your food is excellent and your customer service rocks, your customers will share those facts just as fast.
So the question you have to ask yourself is this. Knowing that everybody has a camera in their pocket, does your business give them something to take picture of? Did you spend the time and money to design the business location as a photo destination? Is your merchandising photo ready? Big destination stores like the kind found on Michigan Avenue in Chicago are a great example of making the store a picture-taking place. Could you do a better job of encouraging photo sharing inside your business?
A simple example would be a hair salon. Put the salon logo on every mirror but put it on backwards. Then when the stylist is finished with the haircut, have the customer pose for a selfie in the mirror and share it with her friends. The salon just got a free ad on social media and a recommendation for the price of a sticker on a mirror.
Make your business picture worthy. Encourage people to share the photos. It’s worth the time and money plus you get to work in cool place everyday.
The second reason for the growth of photo sharing is it’s easy, too easy sometimes. Nobody cares about what you had for lunch. We don’t need a picture of it.
Unlike writing which is hard. Years ago, people who had something to say would attempt the great American novel. When they realized how hard it was to write something profound and get it published, they turned to screenplays. At just 120 pages, screenplays seemed more manageable and you could fill most of the pages with silly dialogue. When those didn’t sell, they turned to blogging. As most of the readers of this page will know, starting a blog and maintaining a blog are two very different things. Most people run out of ideas in a about a month. Then they begin to repurpose other blogs and articles, and then they give up.
But photo taking is easy. Just snap and share. And bing! You have an audience! So now we take photos of any and everything. 700 million photos were uploaded to Facebook on New Year’s Eve. 70 billion were uploaded in the last year!
You don’t have to write anything but a caption. Your photos can be silly, artsy, sexy, heartwarming, however you’re feeling at the moment. It’s like a photo mood ring. How are you today? Look at the photos you’ve posted recently.
So what’s an advertiser to do? This trend has left the station and is picking up steam. Get on board or get left behind. Get your business photo ready, make beautiful products, show people how your service makes their lives better. Can you do it with a just a picture and a caption? You better be able to do just that. If you need a 12 page brochure or a 20 minute YouTube video to explain your product, you have bigger problems than how to take a cool photo on Instagram.
And just what makes for a cool photo on Instagram? The same thing that makes for cool photos anywhere. Subject and lighting. Since subjects will vary greatly, let’s talk about lighting first. Unless you’re a professional, stop using the flash on your camera immediately! Find a place to take the picture that gives your subject beautiful lighting. Use a lamp in the room, buy one of those 3-sided Ebay photo booths, go outside. I shot Michelob beer bottles in ice for a TV commercial using nothing but natural sunlight. Take the time to light the subject and your photos get better. Take more than one shot so you have options.
To shoot better photos you need to think about what you’re trying to say in your photo. What are you trying to capture?
What you should be trying to capture is emotion. A story that connects with people. You only get one frame to tell your story so think about what you need in the picture to capture the story and the emotion. In the time takes someone to swipe their way to next image on their phone, you have to grab them and make them want to stay and even share your photo.
So you better be making the best photos you can.
A few months ago photographer Jeremy Cowart wrote about an experience he had shooting for a TV promo. He was asked to photograph the cast of the show “The Haves and the Have nots.” One of the stars is John Schnieder of “Dukes of Hazard” fame. After the shoot, John asked Jeremy to shoot some more photos of him. It turned out that John’s father had died an hour ago and John had just found out while they were on a lunch break. John wanted to capture the emotions he was feeling. The result is a very moving series of photos of man ready, willing and able to put in all on the table. You can read the whole story here.
Can your photos capture your company’s values? Only if you clearly know what your values are and are willing to stand behind them. If you can articulate your core values into words, a skilled photographer should be able to interpret those values into an image. And those images can become iconic.
That all sounds great if you’re in fashion, media, entertainment or some other “sexy” business. But what if you manufacture auto parts? Most of them aren’t very photogenic. But the cars they go into can be very photogenic. I know you really want to show your new high performance carburetor and talk about all the new features. But what does the viewer want? Like all advertising they want the benefit. So take a photo of car launching off starting line. It’s a much better picture than a gray lump of metal.
On the other hand, a true master can make anything look beautiful. Irving Penn made frozen vegetables and cigarette butts into art. But be prepared to spend some cash. This kind of talent doesn’t come cheap.
My friend and professional photographer, Jon Keeling of Keeling Photography in Cincinnati uses technology to capture beautiful images for clients like P&G, Tabasco and many others.
Technology doesn’t make a good photographer. A professional photographer learns how to use technology and uses it as another tool to capture the image. A professional photographer is trained to understand composition, color, texture, and lighting. Point-and-shoot cameras and iPhones can capture some fantastic images, there’s no doubt. And professionals have iPhones in their toolbox. But the difference is the training and experience behind the lens
If you make a beautiful product, by all means shoot the heck out of it. Make people drool over it. Sometimes the design of a product is it’s best selling point.
When in doubt, show a face. A human face. Study after study has proven that we respond to faces. All kinds of faces. Pretty ones, ugly ones, cute ones it doesn’t matter. Look at any magazine cover, what do you see? Faces.
Filters. Instagram filters are great when taking a photo with your phone. I recommend the app Snapseed to make changes to your photos. It’s quick and easy. It allows you make way more adjustments to the photo and you can still throw an Instagram filter on top of what you’ve done.
Photo sharing is exploding across the globe not just the U.S. So it makes sense to master this channel as quickly as possible. Photos have no language barrier. Photos capture moments in time and now we can preserve them online with one click.
Photos represent our lives and memories. At every funeral I’ve attended recently I’ve noticed a big photo board of the deceased or slide show playing on a TV. Photos are language all their own. Spend the time to make pictures, not just take pictures and share them with people you care about including your customers.
Nike, GoPro, National Geographic, Michael Kors and Red Bull are just a few of the large brands that use Instagram really well. They connect with theirs followers organically which leads to great engagement. They use hashtags to organize the content and boost the reach of the posts. For more localized reach you can connect with other Instagramers in your area by the handle @igersPLACE. For instance @igers_neworleans will connect you with 4,000 other Instagramers in The Big Easy.
Alongside Instagram stands the other giant of photo sharing, Pinterest. And no, it’s not just for wedding scrapbooks and cookie recipes. I admit when I first joined Pinterest, their weren’t too many male oriented pins or pages. But with 70 million users and 750 million boards, things are changing fast. The University of Minnesota study found that male users have doubled in the past year. 20 Terabytes of data are generated every day on Pinterest.
While Instagram is more like a photo dairy, Pinterest is more like a scrapbook or bulletin board. Instagramers tend to share one photo at a time while Pinners create “boards” with a common theme. Instagram users tends to be more International while PInterest users are mostly in the U.S.
One odd fact is images with faces get repined less than images with faces. I believe this is unique to Pinterest and the mainly female audience. Shopping cart and online catalogues don’t use faces because women have trouble objectifying the image if a face is included.
Last year, J Crew posted its entire fall line on Pinterest. They gave their followers a chance to pre-order items before the printed catalog arrived in the mail. While it created some social media buzz, it also gave JCrew some idea about which items would hot for the holidays.
Pinterest is a great way to curate your brand image. Combine multiple images to create an overall look and feel that tells the brand story. Give your audience a chance to see behind the curtain and get to know you.
Pinterest can also serve as a visual search engine. Tagging images makes them easy to find. In fact, I was working on a creative assignment recently that targeted women over 50 years old. Pinterest was a very valuable resource for finding wardrobe and styling cues that worked for that demographic. It was a treasure trove of stylish outfits and accessories appropriate for the market.
Like any other social media, the key is not to be a bore. Pinning and begging for repins without engaging with your audience is waste of your time. Build relationships, pin photos of something other than yourself or your product. Reply kindly when someone repins you. In short, be a mensch.