My name is Nico, and I'm a professional urban/street photographer based in London. In this article, I will show how you too can use Twitter to get more photography jobs, develop your network, and get your work seen by the right people. At least 90% of my paid photography work, including Adidas and Amazon, has come from interactions on Twitter, and anybody with a high-quality portfolio can do the same by following my simple tips.
Twitter’s 140 character limit is the equivalent of the Elevator Pitch in the sales world. We are all time-short nowadays, and a straight-to-the-point tweet can, when carefully written, have a very big impact.
I have been an urban/street photographer for eight years now, and my background prior to that was in sales and marketing in a totally unrelated industry. This has benefited my photography career greatly as these are very transferable skills. Selling is selling, marketing is marketing… you just tweak them slightly according to who it is your target. In this article I will stick to Twitter in particular even though I do believe in (and use) other social networks. Twitter is just by far the one I have received the most return from and I know I can help you with a few of my tips.
As photographers and creatives, we are very fortunate that most people enjoy photography. This is a huge advantage over someone trying, for example, to use social media to promote his insurance company. Provided we have a vision and work hard to master the technical side, whilst at the same time being selective in the work we decide to post online, our posts will appeal to a large audience. It’s also a lot easier with photography to appear less salesy. If you post your photos on Twitter it won’t offend people (well it depends what you shoot of course!), whereas if I’m the owner of that insurance company, anything I post is likely to come across as a sales pitch.
This doesn’t mean that it’s open season for posting all your photos, even the average ones, and ONLY your photos. Always consider and give importance to the word social in social media. In “real life” how do you behave with your friends? Well… If you are my kind of person, you try to keep a balance in your interactions between how much you talk about yourself, and how much they talk about themselves. Listen to people, ask them questions about themselves.
Don’t we all know someone who likes the sound of their own voice just a little too much? People who only wait for you to finish speaking so they can then speak? It’s very boring isn’t it? The same goes for successful Twitter users, they listen to people and don’t just go on and on about how great they are. Try to obey the 9/10 rule. This means that out of ten tweets, try to makes it nine about photography. For example, sharing articles found online or maybe other photographers’ work you admire. And then once out of ten, drop a photo of yours with a link to your website.
This will benefit you in many ways.
- It will make it obvious to people that you are passionate about photography, not just your own (gorgeous) work. It will make you look more honest, and less desperate.
- You will eventually, with time, become an authority in the eyes of your followers since you will only share the very best articles you find. People want value so if by looking at your feed they find articles they would otherwise have to spend hours searching for… THIS IS VALUE.
- It may very well result in building relationships with people and companies whose work you’ve shared.
Now… a common question I get is “How did you get so many followers?” usually followed by “Did you buy any?” The answer to the first is detailed below, the answer to the second is... none. Be careful not to get swallowed up by the illusion that more followers are always better. Sure, it’s more rewarding to have 1000 rather than 10 followers, but what really matters is how targeted your audience is. How relevant they are to your need as a photographer to promote your work.
I often come across people or companies with a large following but when they tweet they hardly get any re-tweets or favourites. Why? Well either their following is badly targeted, or maybe a large proportion of their followers were bought, (even the biggest companies do it) or their tweets just aren’t at all engaging. Another reason may also be that they never interact with their most faithful followers, who given enough time will think “Why should I regularly share their work if they don’t notice mine?”
Have you looked at your Twitter Analytics yet? It's full of valuable stats on your account and the only way you can establish if what you are doing is working or not.
For example, when digging into Twitter Analytics and picking two of the many charts available, I can see where my followers are from:
And what their main interests are:
Of my 100k followers 46% are UK based and 21% are US based. 24% of all followers are based here in London where I am too, it’s my niche. 50% of my followers list one of their main interests as photography.
As a London based photographer it doesn’t get much better than that, I have a following very likely to interact as long as I engage with them in the correct way. So how do you do it? How do you increase followers and how do you target the right people?
First of all what one needs to understand is that these things take time. I’ve been using Twitter for six years, coupled with hard work and only showing my best possible photography. There is no point trying to market your photography business if you haven’t put the necessary effort and care into building a quality portfolio.
So to save time we’ll assume that’s done and you now want to get your very best work seen by the right people. You need to ask yourself what it is you wish to achieve and who these people actually are. It could be that you want to sell prints, or shoot weddings, or create social media content for top brands, or become a camera brand ambassador. Whatever it is, you need to stop and think carefully about that as each of these goals has a slightly different audience. In my case I work with a lot of top brands such as Adidas, Amazon, Peugeot, and Sony Entertainment. These companies often outsource and work closely with PR and creative agencies.
Stick with me here as it’s really key to getting paid work through Twitter.
So if I want Creative Agencies or PR agencies to discover my work how do I do it? Where am I likely to find all the PR agencies grouped together? It may very well be among the following of, for example, PR Week (@prweekuknews) who has 67k followers. How many of their followers would you say are into PR? You guessed it… lots of them! So follow these people and you’ll be surprised how many look at your work and follow back. You shoot food photography? Then follow selected followers of @foodnetwork who have millions of followers interested in… yes… FOOD! It’s all about targeting but do get real… Me and you, we’re not Beyonce. To reach large numbers of followers we normally need to follow people as well.
Another way to increase your followers is to get your work featured regularly in publications online and in print. Publications with a large reach will help you gain more followers. In my case to publish my London street photography, I target publications that deal with photography and others that deal with London news. Also consider making all your social network icons clearly visible on your photography website and cross promote them across all channels. So wherever people are, be it Facebook, Google Plus, or your Website, they have the ability to follow you easily without searching and eventually giving up.
Now let me give you a real life example of how it’s worked for me on Twitter.
It all started with Olympus cameras. I have been a passionate Olympus Micro Four Thirds user for six years or so. Therefore the logical thing to do was to post my best photos on Twitter and occasionally mention @OlympusUK in my tweets. It took a few months of doing so for Olympus to notice my photography and start engaging with me.
A typical tweet where I mention Olympus looks like this:Olympus then involved me more and more and about a year later included me in their awesome group of Olympus Visionaries featured permanently on their website. It’s a win-win situation. I get involved with lots of Olympus stuff including their latest camera tests, they’ve sponsored my exhibitions, and in return I share my true love for their cameras and show what great photos can be shot with them.
Just be careful not to cross the line which sadly a lot of people do.
There is a difference between selecting your very best shots and including X camera company in a tweet once in a while (maybe twice a week), and others who will post every single photo they have ever taken, mentioning that company every single time, ten times a day. Having their Twitter feed filled with rubbish would infuriate even the most tolerant of us.
So my advice is: Do not become a weird, needy stalker.
Another example of how Twitter has been rewarding was my solo show a year ago. I was exchanging tweets for weeks with one of the coolest hotels in London, and eventually we scheduled a meeting. The outcome of that meeting was a three month solo show of my "The Great Londoners" series for the opening of their second hotel in London, for which I had nothing to pay from my own pocket. It’s a photographer’s dream really.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself “Just how much time should I spend on Twitter?”
Although the photography itself should always remain a priority, the answer is A LOT of time needs to be spent on social media for it to bring its rewards. Nothing comes easily. Like everything in life, you get as much as you put in. I spend at least 2 hours a day on social media which may sound crazy for anyone who isn’t running a photography business, but in my case it has proven to be very rewarding when done right.
So what are my ultimate tips for Twitter?
- A large following of photographers is good, it’s your community, but they are not the people who will commission you for your photography. So follow potential clients too.
- It’s very important to sound like a real person on Twitter, let the good side of your personality shine through, don’t be a robot.
- Create Twitter lists. Lists are a great way to put together all the feeds you enjoy and share tweets easily. That way if you are regular people will come to you for the latest photography news.
- However tempting it can be, I try to never rant or have a go at people on Twitter. It is not the place for that especially for your brand image. Just be nice.
- I believe in what I call social media karma. So whenever possible I lend a helping hand to people who may need a push from me. You never know who may help you out one day.
- Reply as much as possible to interactions, or risk alienating people. I remember early in my photographic journey the disappointment when people would not reply. It’s easy even if just to drop a “Thank you” after someone took the time to say how much you are an inspiration to them or how much they like your work.
- Always add a photo to your tweets. Understandably tweets with photos get shared a lot more than those without.
- Prompt people to share your tweet by adding “Pls RT”. Don’t abuse it but it works on occasions.
- Always use a couple of relevant hashtags, don't go over the top. This way people will find your tweet in searches.
- Be regular as if you were blogging, but only here… you are micro-blogging. People will come back for more.
- Find out what are the best times to tweet, figure out when you are getting the most re-tweets. Is there a pattern you can identify? I find for example Fridays to be terrible, they’re really like a ghost town but instead Mondays are huge.
- Be your harshest critic. Twitter is no different to your photography website. Only display your very best work.
- Don’t harass people. If you don’t get interactions at all, move on and come back to it another day.
- Don’t contact strangers asking for a favour. I get that all the time from people I don’t know and wonder where good manners have gone (aka date me a little before we get engaged, don’t ask me to marry you on our first date). Sometimes it’s better to develop the relationship and see how you can help people out before you ask them to help you.
- Twitter currently allows 1000 follows a day, make use of it but try to follow the right people.
- Don’t send copy/pasted tweets. I often get people I don’t know from Adam asking me in a tweet to share to my audience their exciting new Kickstarter project. I like to help people but when it turns out looking at their feed that they have sent the exact same tweet to hundreds of people… Talk about making me feel special! Shortcuts, laziness, and impersonal spammy tweets never pay off.
Well there we are. I have barely scratched the surface of how to run a successful Twitter campaign to boost your photography business but I am sure there are tips here which everyone can benefit from. I could go on and on talking about Twitter, but the truth is I cannot summarize it all in one article. What I know is that if you follow these simple tips you will see your following increase and you will secure more opportunities for your photography. I did.
Have I missed any Twitter Tips for Photographers that you know of? Please share them with us!