Yesterday an interesting thing happened to me and as a result to the 92 people who took part in my Best Photos of 2008 blog project. As to what that is you’ll have to wait to the end of this post. The “interesting thing” has to do with someone connecting to my blog and it got me thinking about the power of Social Media through connectivity…
“Social Media” is destined to be one of the most over used phrases this decade, but for good reason. Certainly there is a lot of hype around it, but the nature of the beast is an interesting one. Yes the likes of Twitter, Flickr and Facebook enable you to interact with others in your network, but the most interesting aspect of Social Media is the cascading effect of connecting with others X degrees from your personal network. We’ve all heard of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but the principle has some firm footing in scientific research (6 Degrees of Separation). The ability to electronically communicate with a large audience based on the exponential reach of ones network built upon your friend’s network and their friend’s network and so on provides those active online a unique opportunity to quickly if not immediately reach others that would have been out of reach only a couple years ago.
For some no convincing is needed to take part in Social Media and for others it takes quite a bit particularly when making an effort to quantify its impact. Ironically photographers are Social Media’s earliest adopters. I’ve yet to meet a photographer who did not want his work seen. The nature of online photo forums are a perfect example of Social Media’s nascent stage. Photo forums offered today’s Social Media skeptics a tangible metric… comments. Beyond comments if afforded a rudamentary manner for photographers to crosslink to each other on their website after establishing a relationship online. The pace at which this happens now through Social Media sites is lightning quick by comparison. For many this is perhaps a bit too impersonal and the speed at which word of mouth can spread from one network to another about ones photography, writing, etc. can be disorienting. It can also be incredibly difficult to track, as few tools exist to effectively analyze the nature of this interaction. The hype surrounding real-time search (spurred by the Twitter phenomenon) is but one of many examples where technology companies are looking to develop tools and services that will make sense of these data points.
So because you can’t quantify the impact of Social Media just yet does it mean taking part in Social Media is any less worthy of an endeavor? The answer is something that can only be answered individually. Is your metric of success revenue, business contacts, sales leads, inbound links, reputation or something else?
Personally I try to explore the impact of Social Media on my photography endeavors by:
- Monitoring the breadth of my network and audience types with in it
- The degree of engagement between my network and myself
- The nature and number of new connections made
- Monitoring revenue from iniatives tied to my Social Media activity
Why and how do I do this?
- The size of my social media network is not a bragging point. It’s an indicator of interest, trust and value. Success via Social Media, by what ever standards you define, will always be subject to these qualities of your communication with those who find you. Like all relationships interest and trust are built over time so don’t expect Social Media to yield instant results. Value is central to Social Media communication. If you’re not providing information of value (knowledge, visual interest, etc.) expect a lot of one time visits and gaining little to no traction in your online endeavors.
- Dunbar’s number is the theoretical number of people we can maintain social relationships with. It’s common for people to think only in terms of in-person relationships a la Dunbar’s number, that we consciously or sub-consciously factor into our rationalization of how we limit our use of Social Media. To this day my wife asks me if I’m meeting a friend or an online friend when I meet up with others. Does it matter? For matters of a personal nature it certainly does. I’ll always confide in long time friends differently than casual acquaintances, but for the vast majority of social interaction whether in person or online that level of interaction is less common. Social Media enables the development of more casual relationships founded on common interests, such as photography in my our case. One dimension of monitoring or measuring casual relationships are blog comments, tweets, photo comments, etc. and the conversion of these interactions to in-person contact. The more successful I am with point #1 above and the more I stay true to who I am the greater success I’ll have in engaging others online.
- While greater numbers would seemingly be a clear success metric it’s not always that straight forward. Understanding who your target audience(s) is and how to best communicate with them should be part of everyone’s Social Media strategy/marketing plan. Who you interact with and where, can quickly become complicated. In fact the numbers for different audiences can quickly fluxuate and reflect changing user behavior on different sites/communities. I monitor this by the nature of interaction on my blog or Social Media sites in addition to traditional traffic analytics. Reviewing referring URLs in ones web site log can still be quite revealing (see the end of this post for an example).
- It should be of no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I sell prints, license photography, offer consulting services, and workshops / photo tours. All of the preceding points build upon each other to create a Social Media sales funnel if you will. As you’d imagine success or progress is tracked by revenue. I’m no different than anyone else… Social Media is in many regards uncharted territory. My Social Media presence is akin to a ship at sea. I know the direction I want to travel and even the destination, but I’m subject to changing conditions and trends. How strong the currents and winds flow can just as easily push me back or propel me forward. Reaching my destination is dependent on constant attention, adjustment and time. Social Media is an opportunity not a magic bullet. That opportunity is to interact, network, develop new connections and extend word of mouth beyond traditional means.
Social Media is about connectivity and its power is something we can easily lose our appreciation for as we log online every day. It’s easy to take for granted, but every so often something will come up that is odd enough to make you rediscover the power of it.
So back to my story I started at the beginning of my post…. yesterday while checking my web site log I noticed people connecting to me through Snapple.com. If you’re like me you’re thinking “Snapple.com!? Why would anyone from Snapple be coming to my site?” It turns out Snapple.com, whose tag line is “Made from the best stuff on Earth” is running a feature on their site “The best stuff on the Internet”. One of the many sites listed in their interactive flash application on their homepage is my Best Photos of 2008 blog project post. This just goes to show you that over time you never know who will connect with you and how many people they might introduce to you… or rather introduce you to. For in this instance I don’t see traffic numbers I see opportunity to engage with others. It is this aspect of the Internet and particularly Social Media that holds the greatest promise.
So for those who might be reading this as a result of clicking through from Snapple.com…. welcome to my site and blog.
For those of you who took part in the Best Photos of 2008 blog project your network just increased.
[tags]Photography, Social Media, Snapple, Best Photos of 2008, Photos[/tags]