Richard Wong (URL: http://www.rwongphoto.com) is a California-based photographer that loves to travel and enjoys the great outdoors. Not only is Richard an excellent photographer, but he is also most generous when it comes to sharing his knowledge and insights of the photographic industry. In this respect, Richard has graciously accepted to answer a few of my questions regarding the role that social media, in general, and twitter, in particular, can play in today’s photographer business strategy. Please join me in thanking Richard for sharing his thoughts with us.
1) “Field Report: The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography” is your second blog. Tell us a bit more about this project. Why do you run two blogs in parallel?
My friend, Jim Goldstein writes a lot of provocative photography industry material on his blog so I wanted an outlet for this sort of thing without alienating the non-photographers who view my site. That was my original idea anyway. But as I started thinking of a concept for the blog I kept getting reminded of the common business questions that people ask on the photography forums and all of the misconceptions out there so I thought that I would just create a resource for all of the information that would help people get started on the right track with their photography career.
Though I am a younger photographer myself, I’ve always believed in having fundamentally sound business strategies. That includes assigning proper values to your work, having integrity while out shooting, and giving back to the community. Most of what I have learned has come from photographers that I respect both professional and personally so I feel it is important to pass the same qualities onto others. There are a lot of great people in this industry that have worked hard for everything that they have.
So basically what it comes down to is that my photo blog is a travelogue for promoting my photography brand while this blog is about compiling solid photography business information. In fact, I’d be interested in having some other photographers contribute articles for the blog with the only guidelines being that they share similar business ideals.
2) With the current photography business model’s woes, social media appears to be the next best thing in photography marketing and business promotion. What’s all this social media fuss about?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that “social media” is appropriate for everyone but if you aren’t aware of what it is and how it can be leveraged then clearly you are not keeping up with current marketing strategies. My philosophy regarding social media and the internet in general is that it is about building relationships with people that you might not have had access to previously. It has really leveled the playing field in many industries, including photography. It has never been easier for people to get into the game.
When you see a renowned nature photographer like Art Wolfe start up a blog, join Photoshelter and have a Facebook fan page you start to realize that they are in the same boat as you and me; trying new things with the goal of earning a living. This is not exactly glamorous work, hence the title of my blog.
3) Twitter is the new social media kid on the block. Can twitter be an effective marketing tool for today’s nature photographer?
There is definitely a lot of mainstream buzz around Twitter given that Oprah has talked about it a lot recently as well as Ashton Kutcher, Shaq, and many other public figures with a large following. I see Twitter as being a component of a bigger marketing strategy. I think to be effective you have to balance between promoting your brand while being personal enough. Talking at people doesn’t fly anymore. People want to be engaged and this is a perfect vehicle to do that. I know for myself at least, I began using Twitter because I liked how the widget integrated into my blog. It adds another element of “human-ness” to my web site I believe. No matter how much photographers want to believe it is all about the image that is not true. You have to be likeable whether it is about serving clients or building a fan base. It goes back to the wine label test (URL: http://fieldreport.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/developing-your-photography-brand-part-vi-the-wine-label-test/) that I wrote about on the blog. Chase Jarvis is probably the photographer that does this the best. Not only is he a solid commercial photographer, other photographers absolutely love the guy. He oozes charisma.
For a traveling photographer, Twitter is especially nice because you can easily Tweet updates from your cell phone or from your laptop in the car. I realized how cool this was in 2007 when I was traveling along the California coast. I had just photographed a sea lion scaring people off by waddling along the Navy Pier in Monterey then had to burn some time before taking a personal business call so I sat in my car connected to whatever Wi-Fi connection was out there then Tweeted enthusiastically about what I had just seen. Whoever was reading my blog that day could keep up with what I was up to. Some would refer to this as micro-blogging.
4) Could you give us one or two specific examples on how Twitter can be used to look for new business opportunities?
Since Twitter is a very spontaneous venue for sharing information it can be used to deliver timely information / services to those who need it. For example, I was listening to a podcast this morning about how Twitter has made it much easier for photojournalists to track down story leads. They could set up a number of Twitter feeds for “LA drive by” within a social media monitoring program and be on top of the story ASAP.
Another idea is to set up a search for “Need a wedding photographer” and variations of that then you could check out that person’s profile to see if you want to respond to their cry for help. You never know who might be Tweeting that, perhaps Shaq, obviously that would be a huge gig to get! If you have what he needs then @Shaq him with your luxury destination wedding website. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it all.