How brands use photography on social media should be an indication on how to monetize photography on social media. By now, most of them are fully aware that having a presence on social media is an absolute must. Minimum, the big three, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Since the buzz recently has been strong about Pinterest bringing in the most traffic conversion, although not entirely correct, it has also joined the mix. According to the CMO survey by Duke University companies currently spend 7.4% of their marketing budgets on social media, and that’s expected to grow to 18.1% in the next five years.
Brands are also fully aware that on social media, the key to successful engagement is photography. Sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram ( and Twitter to a lesser extent) were built and credit their successful growth on photo sharing. On Twitter, a social media site not specifically built around photography sharing, tweets with images get 150% more retweets. Modeled around the example of top brands like Coca Cola or Apple, most, if not all, wish to create a strong lifestyle experience around their product and services, in order to better integrate in the lives of their customers. What could be a better tool than social media which has taken residence at the center of people’s everyday lives.
Surfing the image wave
However, with close to a 1 billion images shared each day on the top social media sites, it is not an easy task to leverage this potential. Creating or targeting the right images to either convey a message or engage viewers to purchase is an enormous and nightmarish brain teaser . The vast majority of those images are completely random, extremely limited in their reach, and have very, very short shelf lives. Thus finding the nuggets – the very rare and few images that will have massive viewership – is almost impossible and mostly futile as they will probably not relate to the brand. Thus surfing the UGC image sharing waves seems to be a failed proposition. The alternative for brands is creating their own waves. After all, top brands have already succeeded in achieving their global reach via very successful image campaigns and are masters at creating powerful photography. At least for traditional media. So why not apply this expertise to social media ?
Some do, actually, but more by accident then reflective initiative. Hiring a top photographer for a campaign can result in massive social media sharing, even if those images were never posted on social media in the first place. And that can work well for top brands with high budget ( and a very effective creative team). Which is not the case of 99% of companies.
There are two rewards photography on social media can bring to a brand. Awareness and purchases. Awareness will help define a brand definition and helps it to find a position in people’s lives. Purchase will increase sales. Trying to combine the two within one photograph give very poor results, especially if the same image is posted on all the social networks. How do they know that ? By observing how people interact with social media. The most successful users never post the same items across all medium, as they know it is neither the same public, as well as not the same attention.
High yield photography
How can the tech industry provide the right tools to satisfy this immense unsatisfied demand ? For now, most companies are focused on delivering analytics, helping curate content or convert photos into storefronts. But none have yet to go to the core of photography and help create the right images for the right audience, and most importantly, the right reaction. That part is still a guessing game even thought it is at the root of everything else we do with photography. While some studies are starting to emerge relating dominant colors to reactions, we are still very far away from the ability to successfully create a photograph for a specific result. Just imagine if we could feed into a computer all the parameters and it would come out with the perfect image. For example, a clothing company with a new pair of jeans would be able to input something like “ I want to have all girls from 18-35 in the Northwest USA in winter with a disposable income of $50,000 on Pinterest and Instagram between 3 and 5 PM to by this pair of jeans” and it would produce a selection of perfect photographs for them to post. Of course, for avoidance of repetition and complete boredom, it would have to have some brand specific elements. But with visual trends changing over time, there would certainly be room for change.
Of course, this depict an almost Orwellian answer to creating photography for social media. But the underlying idea here is to progress significantly into why photographs are such a powerful tool and start harvesting it for specific results. Social Media companies are certainly working on it ( Snapchat, Facebook have research dept with psychologists and experts) so that they can keep control and better understand their audience. But it is not necessary that they should be the only ones offering those tools to brands. Understanding and creating higher conversion rate in photography has to become a primary goal of tech companies who seems currently too focused on trying to scale the existing ones. In fact, those who succeed in creating valuable opportunities for brands using high yielding photography will have the best chance of truly competing with the existing social media network who are currently only focused on massively scaling poor engagement rates. The answer, in other words, is in making sense of photography and taking full advantage of its high impact rather than exploiting its comatose ubiquity.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.