Using Twitter to Find an Audience for Your Photos
Figure 1 (intro photo above): A simple “tweet” using the AddThis WordPress plugin led to thousands of page views for the story related to this image on my blog.
On the face of it, Twitter would not seem a particularly good vehicle for promoting photography. As you likely know, Twitter is a text-based system in which individual communications are limited to 140 characters. Many people use Twitter as a kind of blogging tool for the attention deficit generation—although, of course, Twitter is used for serious communication purposes as well. It’s reasonable to assume that there’s more than meets the eye when the United States government uses Twitter to promulgate important news, and when revolutionaries active in the Middle Eastern Renaissance use Twitter to communicate. Still, none of this stuff is visual—at best it is links to visual material such as your photos.
Obviously, Twitter is an important part of the new social media on the Internet. But how can it be used to help you find an audience for your photos? It turns out in many ways—but as I’ll explain later in this article only by accepting the community features of Twitter for what they are. I’ve interviewed some of the top Twitter users who work in photography. These practitioners of the art and craft of “tweeting” have literally hundreds of thousands of followers of their Twitter stream. Picking their brains means that I can help you to use the best practices with Twitter to find new audiences for your photos, and to increase the interest in your work among people who already know about it.
Backing up for a moment, in Finding an Audience for Your Photos I explained that the changes brought by the Internet era have altered the way photographers need to approach marketing their work. Creating an email list is an important tool for every photographer (see Using Email to Find an Audience). Rising to the top of the huge pool of imagery that Flickr provides is an important aspect of Internet marketing of photography, as I explained in Harnessing the Power of Flickr. Taking advantage of the features of Twitter to find a following, or to further engage those who are already interested in your work, is as important as these other approaches, and one of the single most important tools of Internet social media marketing.
Well-known Twitter contributor @SabrinaHenry, who tweets on her own behalf as well as maintaining the social media presence (as @CraftAndVision) for photography e-book publisher Craft and Vision [www.craftandvision.com]. She also promotes the Twitter feed of @RearCurtain, whose website [www.rearcurtain.com] focuses on storytelling in photography.
Sabrina puts the relationship between Twitter and the other social media this way: “I agree that Twitter should be part of an overall social media marketing strategy but I feel that each social media tool has a different audience and a different purpose although there is some overlap. While many people want to integrate their efforts by duplicating what they tweet on Facebook, I do not do this all the time. I do believe that you need to be consistent in your voice throughout your social media but it is not necessary to say the same thing on Twitter as you would on Facebook or on your blog. What I have found is that Twitter has been good in driving people to my blog [www.sabrinahenry.com] but the real conversation takes place on my blog rather than on Twitter.”
In other words, Twitter doesn’t work the same way for everybody, and you need to take some time to figure out what works best for your content and your social media strategy. With the tools I explain in this article, you should have what you need to build upon your strengths and use Twitter as an extremely important part of your social media strategy!
If you already “tweet”—a neologism meaning to post a message on Twitter—then you probably understood the basics of Twitter quickly. If you are new to Twitter, you’ll find that the mechanics are simple—deceptively so.
Okay, so what happens when you open the Twitter website for the first time? Not much without an account. You can search Twitter posts—for example, Figure 2 partially shows the results of a search for panoramas—but that’s about it!
Figure 2: No matter what you search for on Twitter, there are sure to be plenty of posts.
As you scroll through the Twitter posts—each is limited as previously noted to 140 characters, which leads either to a clipped quality or a Zen-like simplicity, depending on what day you ask me—you’ll notice some special idioms involving Twitter posts.
There’s really nothing too complicated here:
- Shortened URLs: Because of the requirement that Twitter posts be limited to 140 characters it makes sense to shorten hyperlinks, using one of the many services available for this purpose from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others.
- Hash tags(#): Hash tags are used to indicate the area of interest of the post, so people can find it by searching, for example, #panoramas. In other words, the hash symbol is used to mark keywords.
- @Mentions: Twitter users are mentioned by their @ handles, for example, @Harold_Davis.
- @Replies: This is a reply to a tweet.
- Retweets (RT): Tweeting to one’s followers something that someone else has tweeted.
The rubber meets the road when you create a Twitter identification and logon. Your Twitter home page will look something like that shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: A sample Twitter home page.
The key features in the Twitter home page are the text box (labeled “What’s Happening?”) where you enter those pithy and wise 140-character tweets and the Timeline tab—which shows your tweets, retweets, and the tweets of anyone you are following.
You can also navigate to see those who you are following and those who are following you (this is obviously the most important single point if you are trying to build a following).
The @Mentions tab, shown in Figure 4, show tweets that mention you.
Figure 4: The @mentions tab lists tweets that have mentioned you.
The Retweets tab shows you retweets by people you are following, retweets you have made, and your tweets that have been retweeted (this last category is probably the most interesting from the perspective of developing a following).
Lists are groupings of Twitter feeds by subjects matter and being followed in relevant lists is an important way for your Twitter feed to get known. The lists you follow and the ones that follow you are shown on one of the Twitter tabs. By the way, anyone can start a list using the Lists tab—and curating great lists is an important mechanism for getting known.
That’s about it. I should probably also add that you follow Twitter users by clicking on the user’s avatar, handle or @mention. The profile for that user will open, and you can click the Follow button (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: To follow someone, navigate to their profile and click the Follow button.
Best Practices on Twitter
It’s been observed that Facebook hands you a premade society with classmates, co-workers and so on, while with Twitter you have an empty slate that will be filled or not filled depending upon the wisdom of your pithy posts and the quality of the links therein. This isn’t quite fair—for example, Twitter will give you plenty of suggestions about who to follow—but it is true that your Twitter presence and community will be largely what you make of them.
So how do you go about building a following for your photography on Twitter? @SabrinaHenry puts it this way: “Unless you are a well-known entity before you join Twitter, you will have to build your Twitter following from the ground up. This requires you to invest in a strategy of personal engagement. Follow people who find and follow you and respond to their tweets that mention you. Give back to people. If they mention they have a new blog post up, go and read it and retweet it or leave a comment on the blog post.”
This attitude is so important that I am going to reiterate it with different words from some of the Twitter users with the biggest followings in photography. @LightStalking, with several hundred thousand followers, says, “Give. Give. Give. You have to be the helpful one – especially in the beginning. When you help other people (by following them, retweeting, answering questions, recommending them to others) then they will start to help you. It takes a while (and usually several attempts with any single other Twitter user), but it’s basically the psychology of reciprocity. The more giving and helpful you are, the more you will receive in return. Go overboard – you can never help somebody too much on Twitter.” (You might want to check out the photography website related to @LightStalking’s Twitter stream, www.lightstalking.com .)
“Know your audience,” states Lisbeth Ortega, a writer and editor for www.photojojo.com, because that will shape the quality of your content and increase your audience. The @Photojojo Twitter stream is widely followed. Ortega continues, “For example, our readers are generally photographers who are into DIY [“Do It Yourself”] culture. Our tweets tend to take an angle of incredible projects that readers are inspired to try at home and articles that provide excellent instructions and tips. Readers recognize when you’re providing regular content that’s of value to them, and that’s where follows come from."
Ortega also says that, “When it comes to re-tweets, I like to ask myself these questions: Was this link/quote/tip amazing enough to make me to stop and notice? Is this something so unbelievably cool that I’d share it with my friends?”
So it seems that being a good Twitter citizen pays dividends when you are looking for a following. Here are some concrete pointers from some of the most successful photography tweeters there are:
- Make sure your blog readers and Facebook followers know where to find your Twitter feed (for information about adding Twitter buttons to your blog posts, see the next section). In other words, encourage your blog readers to cross pollinate by also following your Twitter stream.
- Provide quality content that people want to share via retweets or @mentions.
- Understand your audience and craft your tweets with that audience in mind.
- Make sure that each link you tweet is special, and will resonate with this audience.
- Be consistent in the quality of your tweets. If you become known as a dependable and reliable source of information about photography, or some special aspect of photography, then you will gain many followers.
- It’s okay to integrate Twitter with your blog, but treat Twitter as more than just a place to throw links to your blog: Twitter is a vehicle for developing a relationship with your audience that is unique. One tactic is to add “extras” via Twitter—content that is just too time-based or doesn’t quite fit into longer stories on your blog.
- Be persistent. As @LightStalking notes, “It takes a while to get there, but the thing about social media and websites is that followers and traffic tend to compound. You will get more followers in month 12 than you got in month 1 to 6 combined if you just consistently produce content worth looking at or reading.”
Finally, bear in mind that underneath the high-tech wrapper Twitter is really about two things that are important to all of us: people and community.
Figure 6: I used a photo of my daughter holding a copy of my new book to add human interest to my blog story about the publication, and then posted a link to the story in my Twitter feed.
In terms of people, a narrative that involves human interest is almost always more compelling than one that is about things. Even if your interest in photograph is mostly about the gadgetry, include examples of real people using the gadgets. Try and use Twitter as a novel mechanism for narration, with offsite links to the back story—including your photography. This approach will drive far more traffic than if you tell your Twitter stories without a human touch.
When it comes to community, @SabrinaHenry emphasizes that you should use Twitter as a dialog rather than a monolog. She says, “Think of Twitter as a two-way conversation. It’s very difficult to like people who are only interested in talking about themselves.”
One way or another, if you expect to garner an audience on Twitter you have to give back to the Twitter community, which takes a certain amount of time and thoughtfulness. It also helps if your Twitter posts are genuinely useful.
A final point from @SabrinaHenry that may not have occurred to you even if you are an experienced Twitter user: try to leave space for people to add their own opinions to your tweets. This increases the likelihood of being retweeted, but does mean capping your posts at no more than 120 characters—sometimes not so easy to do, but a tip that is well worth knowing if you are serious about using Twitter to find an audience.
Adding Twitter Buttons
I’ve mentioned adding buttons to your blog that allow users to easily tweet your blog stories. For most popular platforms, including WordPress and Blogger, the easiest way to do this is to add a plugin from AddThis.
For example, once you’ve installed the WordPress AddThis plugin, you can configure it to show the sharing buttons you’d like (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: AddThis will automatically add sharing buttons to all your blog posts.
The sharing buttons you’ve chosen will then appear in your blog as shown towards the bottom of the blog story in Figure 8.
Figure 8: Having buttons that allow users to share a post on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere with a single click makes it much more likely that your Twitter stream will be followed.
Figure 9: A blog story about the technique I used for adding the background to this image was more interesting to Twitter users than the image by itself would have been.
Twitter is not very complicated to use. It’s not too hard to understand the mechanics of using Twitter. However, it is a huge mistake to underestimate the power of Twitter for building an audience, particularly if it is approached as a channel for two-way communications with people who are interested in your work and also interested in the same subjects you are.
Every photographer who is serious about using Internet-era tools for finding an audience for their photos should include Twitter in their plans. But bear in mind that there’s no cookie cutter formula that will work. You’ll need to craft a solution regarding where Twitter fits into your other social marketing presences—and how to best use Twitter in light of these other resources.
This article has provided you with the tools and information you need to get started with using Twitter, and crafting a Twitter presence that works for you.
By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, I am @Harold_Davis. I’d be delighted to have you, and promise to do my best to respond to any @mentions!
In this column I’ve discussed:
- Using Twitter with your overall social media campaign to find an audience for your photos
- The mechanics of Twitter
- Hash tags (#)
- Best practices on Twitter
- Creating a two-way dialog on Twitter
- Adding Twitter buttons to your blog
Harold is the author of The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal), Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O’Reilly Digital Media) and other books. Harold gives frequent digital photography workshops, many under the auspices of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association.
Text and photos ©2011 Harold Davis.
Text and photos ©2011 Harold Davis.