The legendary photography training guru Scott Kelby tell us his most prized tips for growing and engaging with a community of followers of your work.
Scott Kelby runs what can best be described as a photography learning empire, publishing a string of magazines and books while offering one of the most consistently sold-out workshops out there. We’ve caught up with him to ask how he engages such a big community online, and what he does to make his workshop attendees come back for more.
Q: How can photographers raise their profile at a time when everyone is shouting down the same media channels?
A: I think one the the best ways to raise your profile on social media is to be very careful about what you post online.
I see a lot of photographers post things they are working on, saying ‘this isn’t quite where I want it to be yet’ or they’ll post photos that they would never put in their portfolio, but people judge you on what they saw last.
They don’t think ‘I know he is a good photographer but this is a horrible shot’ or ‘I know her portfolio looks great, but…’ – they judge you on what they see.
If you want to change the way people think about you and get them to pay more attention to you, you need to be much more selective about what you share online.
If you start consistently putting up good, interesting shots, more people will follow you and be interested in seeing your stuff. And you know what, I don’t think you have to work as hard as people are working on social media.
If I just take a photo that I took three years ago, stick it on there and say, ‘here’s a pretty shot from Tuscany’ I’ll get five times the amount of likes and comments that I will when I do something really thoughtful and clever, because we’re photographers and we love seeing beautiful pictures.
If you share beautiful photos, you’ll have a beautiful online presence.
You have to get out of the Facebook mindset – here’s me eating, nom nom nom’. If you’re trying to grow your presence online, become known as someone who posts beautiful pictures.
If you look at some of the biggest names on Google+ like Trey Radcliffe, what does he do? Picture, picture, picture. It’s a tried and proven way to build an audience.
Q: How important is it to stay on top of new media trends?
A: Well here’s the problem; there is a new social media trend popping up every single day. My general strategy is: if it’s something new, I sign on to it.
I lock down my name and I start to watch it. I’ve bailed out on about a dozen already, but you never know what’s going to hit.
Some of the biggest people on Google+ were there at the very beginning. And you’re taking a gamble – you invest time in a new social media thing and it might go out of business or nobody shows up.
I just re-signed up for MySpace, they’ve redesigned it and Justin Timberlake is involved, it’s absolutely beautiful. But I’m getting no traction so I’ll just let it sit.
Right now I focus my time on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, and every day I’m on all three of those.
With everything else going on in life, it’s a lot to stay on top of those three. And I see all three of those as very different media. Each one of them has its own reason to be.
Q: Do you have a social media strategy?
A: My social media strategy is this: Twitter is great for getting help. If you need help with anything, Twitter is the greatest place to go.
If you’re on a shoot and your flash goes down, go to twitter and find someone who can loan you one immediately.
Granted, it helps that I have a lot of followers, but I think the photography community is very helpful in general, and if there were someone a couple of miles from me asking for help, I’d jump in the car and shoot over there.
Facebook is a tremendously engaged community, but it’s the people you’re already engaged with. I see Facebook and Google+ as very different tools in that aspect.
Google+ is where you go to follow your interests. There is a community for any kind of photography that you might be interested in.
If you go to Facebook, that doesn’t really exist, it’s very one-on-one, but the engagement level at Facebook is the best. Facebook is where I have the least amount of followers, and my highest amount of engagement by far.
I think it’s because people are on Facebook for so many hours of the day, they see what I post immediately. I think people check Twitter, they check Google+, but they live on Facebook.
I have a 16-year-old son and he uses a completely different set of social media than I do, but the audience there are other teens.
Photographers aren’t usually trying to reach teens, we’re trying to reach people who might buy our products and services, which is not teens but their parents. And their parents are on Facebook.
Q: What are the classic business mistakes photographers make when trying to get serious with their photography?
A: Here’s some advice that you might think sounds a bit odd, but please hear me out: if your images are going online you get a certain amount of space on the screen to share it on. If you shoot in portrait mode, you get about 37% of the impact that the same photo gets when shot wide.
On a Facebook page, a tall picture is a thumbnail, whereas if it’s shot wide, you get the whole square! So if you are a photographer shooting tall, you are cutting your impact.
I talk about this on my Shoot Like a Pro tour that I’m on right now and I actually show examples on screen, and the crowd gasps.
Think about it; what creates big impact? Big size! Why do we love big prints? Because it’s big impact! I’ve completely stopped shooting tall, unless I what it to be a magazine cover.
There is another aspect to this. If you shoot in wide, it’s easy to crop to tall. If you shoot tall, and you need to crop it to go wide, you’re in big trouble.
Think about where our images are shown today, it’s mostly online, so why would you shoot tall and lose the impact?
Q: What do you do to make your workshops so popular?
A: You have to absolutely connect with your audience. I think the audience knows when they come to one of my seminars, that we’re in this together.
I think it’s perfectly fine to talk about your failures as well as your successes, because we all have failures.
A lot of people think that a professional photographer just walks up to a scene, takes a picture, and it’s fantastic.
And the more that you realise that everything is a process for everyone and that we share the same struggles, the better you feel.
I recently watched an instructor do something that chills me to the bone; he asked a question which he knew that nobody would know the answer to, so he could demonstrate that he knew it. I don’t think making your audience feel stupid will do anything to help you as a trainer.
Often when you go to a seminar, the first thing the instructor does is spend ten minutes trying to convince you that they’re qualified to teach the class.
If I came to your class, I think you’re qualified, so don’t start telling me about the awards you’ve won and the great things you’ve done, just teach me.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I’m doing a bunch of secret stuff, we have some big things coming up next year. Right now, I’m about to release a book which I’ve just sent to the publishers today.
It’s called Photoshop for Lightroom users, and instead of teaching you all of photoshop, it just teaches you what Lightroom can’t do.
Most people in my seminars have Adobe Lightroom but not many have Photoshop, and when they see me do certain things in class they go, ‘I’ve gotta get that.’
You hit a wall at some point with Lightroom, and that’s when this book comes in handy, It’s short, it’s only about 150 pages, and it gives you the scenarios I’d go to Photoshop for and how to do it.
Q: It seems like you have about 10 different jobs?
A: Yes, the frustrating thing is that holding a camera, taking a picture, is probably about 3% of what I do, and when I finally get to do it, it’s for a tutorial.
During American football season it’s maybe 5% but most of the time I don’t have time to go and shoot. I’ve got a family, I want to be with them.
I have a full-time photo assistant, a studio and all the equipment I could ever want, and I walk past it every day on my way to meetings.
I wish that photography was a bigger part of my life but as they say, you’d be amazed at how little time professional photographers spend taking pictures.
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