Saturday, September 15, 2012

On Social Media Feedback and Winning

Loungewerks 2 over the course of a few weeks

The following is a question from an former private workshop photographer.

Q: Are the likes and shares you get on tumblr and Facebook something that built up for you over time with a fan base or if you just always had a lot of strong positive feedback based solely on the quality of your images? Occasionally on my tumblr I'll have an image that hits 100 notes or so (my highest is something like 450 notes), but on average I only get something like 2 or 4 notes (or likes on FB). Not sure if I should be interpreting that as my images suck or just aren't provocative enough (which I don't think is the case because I feel like I have a decent grasp on quality) or if maybe I just don't have enough followers or my name isn't out there maybe if I had 3,000 friends things would be different. It can just be discouraging at times.

A: On average I probably get something like 100 (but it ranges as you can see from 60 to 6,000) notes on tumblr and about 100-150 likes on Facebook. No doubt a result of having 5,000 friends on FB and 1,700 followers on tumblr. And no, it wasn't always like that. I started out at 0 just like everyone else.

Just checked and the above image above of Jordan now has 7,200 notes on tumblr.

I blogged about this a little while ago on my post called "Litmus Test".

So to answer your question. Yes, it's partially a result of having a larger fan base. How one gets a larger fan base is really part of a larger question of branding, marketing, style, etc.

Yes, it's a function of the quality of the imagery. There's a flow-through sequence for my work. Most of it winds up on flickr, some of it winds up on tumblr, less of it winds up on FB, and almost none of it winds up on my website. People should only see your best work.

And don't inundate them with images. You want people to pay attention when you post but if you're posting 5x a day, it's like the boy who cried wolf.

Then there's the nudity factor. Also a part of a larger conversation. In short, sex sells. I wouldn't be where I am today without the type of imagery I create. Especially on tumblr, the audience there seems drawn to images with more nudity. Though that's really an apple and oranges comparison since you aren't allowed to post nudity on FB.

My advice to you is this: The metrics of how people respond is the result of a black box experiment that I call marketing for lack of a better word. You will do what you will and the audience will interpret it the way they want and react the way they want. You won't know exactly why. You won't know if the metrics are even accurate. For example, for every like/reblog/note/retweet/etc. there's probably a multiple of people following you and watching your work discreetly. And why one picture gets 7,000 notes while another picture gets 7? Who knows? It could be something as simple as the time of day? A reblog by a bigger and more followed blogger? Or maybe you really struck a chord with the masses?

Hence, black box experiment. You can rattle that box next to your ear and shine a flashlight through it but you'll never know how it works. All you know is what comes out of the box. But you'll never know why.

Should you care that much? Probably not. It is but a single metric at the end of the day that is no more or no less important than anything else. People are fickle. The value of Facebook likes and tumblr reblogs is the equivalent of a monkey throwing darts at a poster-board full of your images to see which one is better. For us to benchmark our work by random responses is absurd. You're much better off benchmarking your work on gross revenue. As I always say, money doesn't lie. Nor does it make mistakes. People can talk all they want but your true value in the marketplace comes down to good old-fashioned greenbacks. If you've got more than the next person then you're what Charlie Sheen calls, "Winning".

That's why social media feedback is a litmus test and not a report card or entrance exam or a definitive benchmark of your work. It's certainly not the end all to how I interpret my work. The more I do what I do, the less I give a shit what other people say. For example, I haven't looked at my Google Analytics page in months. In fact I couldn't remember what Google Analytics was even called for about 10 seconds there. Hell, I haven't looked at the metrics for any of my sites including but not limited to Vimeo, blogger, tumblr, or flickr since maybe February. All I know is I have been booked pretty consistently on private workshops and paid tests. Enough to not worry about what the other numbers say.

Is all social media shit? No. Not at all. Do I care how people respond. Sure I do. But it shouldn't be the focus of your efforts. Remember: Winning is the goal. Positive social media feedback? That's just the byproduct of winning.

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