Social Media Marketing Tips: Fstoppers Interviews Olga Tenyanin

Olga Tenyanin is a boudoir photographer based out of Vancouver, Washington, but she’s also been a social media manager for years, and she’s got a few tips to help photographers tame the social media monster.

As refugees from the communism of post-Soviet Russia, Tenyanin’s family emigrated to the United States in the early 1990s looking for a safer life. Tenyanin was only four years old at the time, but learned English as a second language and became a de facto translator for her parents. Like many children of the 80s and early 90s, Tenyanin was a latchkey kid, and found herself in front of a computer screen as a way to pass the time. This combination of experiences led Tenyanin to be both tech savvy and extremely observant of language and human interaction, which are fantastic qualities for a social media marketer to have.

Like many budding photographers of her generation, it was the explosion of MySpace first that motivated Tenyanin to pick up a camera and make content. But it wasn’t till a friend introduced her to boudoir photography, where she has been a mainstay in the Portland/Vancouver area for years, that Tenyanin found her niche and began winning awards. The combination of her photographic skill and ability to market herself has kept her platform active, even during the Coronavirus Pandemic, but it’s her desire to push boundaries and question what makes nudity and sensuality so controversial that motivates her to pick up a camera.

Image shared with permission of Olga Tenyanin

While much of her paid work comes from clients, where the goal is to help them see themselves as desirable, the rest is created with models for Patreon where the goal is to challenge the status quo of what makes sexually provocative images so controversial. Tenyanin says she’s fascinated by what society deems acceptable vs what’s not, and tries to walk that fine line while guiding viewers toward the normalization of sensuality and their own bodies. “It really bugs me that in the United States you can see all this war and fighting and brutality, but yet you can’t show a woman’s nipple. What sense does that make?”

Unfortunately, the pandemic effectively shut down Tenyanin’s ability to make money purely from photography, so being a social media marketing brand manager has kept her afloat, and it’s here her experience becomes particularly useful to other photographers who need to maintain a strong and effective online presence. 

When I asked her what advice she had for photographers who want to use social media marketing successfully, Tenyanin said that it is important to stay in the public eye through what is referred to as Top of Mind Awareness. For those who’ve never encountered the term, top of mind awareness is a form of brand awareness that involves putting the brand name in front of an audience consistently enough that, when the audience thinks of a service, the brand’s name comes to mind first. This is why well known companies such as Coca Cola or McDonalds still actively advertise.

Image shared with permission of Olga Tenyanin

For photographers who find it difficult to market consistently, Tenyanin suggests setting aside time to schedule posts that align with the brand message in advance. Then after the post is live, the photographer only needs to respond to comments as necessary. This is especially effective right now, Tenyanin says, because so many people are spending their time home online, and that means more eyes on the content. Attention is where the money is.

The entire game of marketing and advertising is gaining and keeping attention long enough to funnel people toward a desired goal, such as hiring or making a purchase. In the past, advertisers followed the “rule of 7,” which meant consumers needed to “hear” the brand’s message at least seven times before making a purchase. But, that was before the digital age, where there is infinitely more noise to contend with. Now, the amount of “touches” or contacts a consumer has with a brand before Top of Mind becomes successful is likely much higher. Bottom line? Get your message out consistently in as many forms as possible, and do it every day if you can.

So, with so much competition for eyes, how can photographers keep the attention of their target audience? The content has to be interesting and engaging, and Tenyanin says the way to do that is to tap into how the brand relates to their customers. For one of her current clients, the key to audience engagement is humor and irreverence because quirkiness is a huge part of the brand’s identity. Tenyanin also mentioned that there is a general trend toward more authentic, raw, less produced material that makes the audience feel more comfortable and connected with the brand. “They want to know that there’s a real person behind these words.”

Image shared with permission of Olga Tenyanin

When dealing with current events and how they affect brand messaging, Tenyanin said photographer’s have to be careful to approach things in the right way. “It’s always obvious when people are doing something with the wrong intent and just trying to make money vs. actually caring.” Even where sales or charity are concerned, she said the brand needs to be pure and transparent about their intent, or people will notice the disingenuousness and be turned off.

Knowing that, how should photographers build social media marketing pieces? Tenyanin says they should first understand what makes their business or product different from the competition, and know why potential customers should hire them. 

The next part is to include something to catch attention, through imagery or video, because most people skim when they read but find it much harder to ignore an eye-catching image. Then, have a purpose behind each marketing piece, whether it’s to test engagement or to get people to click through to a website or product page, so photographers can look at the metrics to measure its success. Tenyanin urges photographers to pay attention to the analytics to find out who is engaging with their content and how they’re engaging. To that end, it’s important to include a call to action and give the audience a reason to click. But for any of that to work, photographers first need to know who their target audience is.

Image shared with permission of Olga Tenyanin

Tenyanin says there is a difference between a network and an audience, and if that difference isn’t clear, photographers could end up targeting advertisements at the wrong people. “The audience will buy, the network will set you up for business partnerships, or get you to do workshops or whatever, that’s your network. And your audience will be the people who are like, ‘I want your stuff, I will give you monies for your stuff.’”

Both groups are important but serve different purposes, but where marketing is concerned, if photographers target their network instead of their audience, they will likely be wasting their money. 

No matter which way one approaches business, though, Tenyanin said the most important part is to realize that businesses have to stay up to date with the way things are changing and make adjustments if they want to survive. “It’s hard to keep up with the times, but you have to sink or swim, no matter what, that’s what you have to do.” And with more and more of our lives moving online for safety and sustainability, Tenyanin sees much of her business following that direction so people can consume the content safely and on their own time. She also sees diversifying as essential so that when one aspect of money making is affected...say by a pandemic, the other other aspects of the business can pick up the slack.

Image shared with permission of Olga Tenyanin

While the interview was clearly full of helpful information and insights, my favorite part of my conversation with Tenyanin was the end when all semblance of serious conversation evaporated in a cloud of silliness and baskets woven of human hair, full of diversified eggs and plungers. I know it sounds confusing but if you watch the interview to the end it will all make perfect sense. Or it won’t. But you’ll probably get a laugh out of it, either way.

To see more of Olga Tenyanin’s work, check out her website, or follow her on Instagram. And if you’ve used any of the marketing techniques she mentioned, let us know in the comments section how they’ve worked for you.

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16 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

photo dark & muzzy!

David Love's picture

I don't want to be a troll but when you're posting boudoir pics and half naked girls and still under 7k on Instagram, maybe not give social media advice. I mean look at most of the popular people here on this site, either landscape or half naked models. It isn't rocket science that when it comes to boudoir or nudes, most will like the image based off the model than the photograph itself.

Landscape on the other hand means somebody had to drag equipment to some hard to get to place and wait in the rain, heat or cold for the perfect lighting and we all know there's no way we would get up that early to do it. Respect.

Nicole York's picture

"I don't want to be a troll, BUT" ...proceeds to be a troll.

David Love's picture

So troll = any comment not agreeing with the article?

Nicole York's picture

No, just when the comment is completely unhelpful and off topic and is insulting to the person being interviewed.
If you have to preface your comment by saying, "I don't want to be a troll BUT" you probably are, in fact, trolling.

Jeremy Wong's picture

Social media isn't just about followings. Having a 30k+ following but barely any real engagement doesn't mean much either. Posting "naked girls" that are potentially just stranger/clients - not models with klout, and having that as an extension of one's marketing effort sounds like a sound marketing plan. Marketing at the end of the day is about ROI, and if that meaningful engagement creates real connection and clients, job well done.

Someone that lead by saying "don't want to be... but" probably shouldn't give any advice either. To feel superior over others on the internet is probably a bad look for any professionals too - another marketing no-no.

But what do I know? I only have 1.7k followers and I don't take any landscape photos.

David Love's picture

Most people don't engage with photography pages, they like or look and leave. Most people are more likely to look for the link to the model and go follow her page instead. Sure some people might see the work and want to book you which is why I treat it as another portfolio on the web and not a social hub. We aren't selling hair dryers here. People take photographers for granted on the web and most will download your pic and make it a wallpaper for their phone without giving you a second thought. The people I see with more likes than me in my line of photography post sexier images. I don't and I don't care about likes.

The how to win at social is a lost battle from the start as long as social sites restrict reach and boost certain people over others for ad revenue. Look at the recommended videos you get on youtube. They are all super popular vids because youtube makes the most money there. Facebook is dead, they bought Instagram, ruined it and now you have tik tok. That's not trolling, that's facts.

Jeremy Wong's picture

So should we care about followings and likes then? I'm confused. We shouldn't listen to her because she's only around 7k, but "the fact" is the platform is rigged and we shouldn't care for likes and followers. Haha

Anyways, enough trolling for me for one day.

David Love's picture

No we shouldn't care because it's a rigged system therefore articles talking about how to boost social make no sense.

Nicole York's picture

Then why did you feel the need to reply, man? I'm honestly confused about the purpose of this entire exchange.

David Love's picture

Comment sections are debates and conversations. If you just want "great article" comments you might want to rethink it.

David Love's picture

Can someone ban the spammer?

Jose Barrios's picture

Social media is a very important element for your SEO efforts if you want your photography website for your business to get any traction. When search engine sites like Google look at your website they also check for social media profiles and engagement.
If your social media interaction is lackluster, chances are your website will also come up short. I had to learn this the hard way, so now I'm on a social media blitz, but even this effort will take months to show results.

Nicole York's picture

You're right, it takes a long time to bear fruit and it can be hard to stick it out, but marketing is always a long game!

German Simonson's picture

Her name is Olga, not Tenyanin. Why is she referred to by her second name throughout the article?

Nicole York's picture

Because it's common editorial practice to use the last name ;)