Can Facebook Fuel Your Printing Profits?

Can Facebook Fuel Your Printing Profits?

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Where have all the pictures gone? Facebook is a photographic phenomenon. With over 500 million active users worldwide, Facebook has become the global pastime. You can connect with friends, old and new; you can post your status (if anyone cares), and you can establish networks and share ideas among peers, friends, friends of friends . . . just about anyone you know, or don’t know.

But among all of the activities in which you can partake on Facebook, the number one application is right in the “wheelhouse” of our industry.

On average, more than 3 billion images are uploaded to Facebook each month. And, when people upload to Facebook, the images remain there. So, just imagine the worldwide repository of images living and breathing on the web right now. They’re being shared and viewed and enjoyed. But they’re not being printed.

Just imagine if only 1% of them were printed each month. That would be 30 million photos. You get the picture.

There’s a good chance that 70% of your customers are on Facebook. The first question is, are you?

“Customers are spending 20 to 30 minutes a day on Facebook, on average. Shame on us if we don’t do the same,” said Vahe Christianian, vice president of Sales and Business Development at LifePics. “This is where your consumers are. By spending 20 minutes a day on Facebook, you can immediately have a close, personal network that you can reach out to, anytime, for free, and tell them first and foremost about the exciting things you’re doing in your business. If you don’t understand what Facebook is all about, you’re practically throwing money away,” he added.

So then, the question becomes, how do we tap into this vast array of images, and turn them into profits for our businesses? We looked at three companies—Lucidiom, LifePics and Kodak—that are now offering solutions to help in that area.

Lucidiom’s Facebook Connect: Upload and Download
Lucidiom introduced Facebook Connect for APM. This kiosk feature allows customers to download photos from Facebook into the kiosk for ordering or to upload pictures from the kiosk to Facebook for sharing or reordering.

“Both sides of Facebook Connect are important to consumers,” said Steve Giordano, Jr., president of Lucidiom. “Uploading from a retailer’s kiosk or a web solution is important, because it is difficult to navigate Facebook’s photo transfer process. This service makes it easy, and ease is why people don’t print at home; it’s just easier to go down to Ritz Camera or Walgreens, put in a media card and order . . . and now, upload and share all at the same time. And during that same visit, they can access their Facebook accounts and pull down images from their albums to print.”

Is Facebook Image Quality an Issue?
Is the issue of image quality going to be a problem? According to Giordano, the industry has to get over their old biases about quality.

“I see that as more of a red herring,” said Giordano. “Generally, when I look at these issues in the photo industry, the rules and cautions are our own internal biases. There is a growing segment whose views of photography are much more transient in nature. To them, photos are completely creative and social. Quality is not paramount. What we have to do as an industry is look at quality from the standpoint of consumers. An image from an iPhone, for example, may not be the highest quality, but I could still make an 8×10 from it or include it in my calendar collage and, in most cases, it will look great.

“Lucidiom does have algorithms in our systems to improve the quality of imaging, and I think there’s room for companies out there—like Noritsu with their AccuSmart and Athentech with its blemish remover, and others as well—to improve the quality of imaging online. But remember, quality is not the number one factor for consumers,” Giordano added. “It just isn’t. Consumers care about the message the photo or product sends—that it tells their story, their way. And quality has a value in the equation with the customer, but it is not the predominant value. The predominant value is being able to communicate the memory in a visual and creative way.

“The beauty of being able to access a Facebook image from the kiosk is that once it is pulled in, it is just another image. At Ritz, consumers have made prints, posters, collages, folded greeting cards, calendars, photo books and wrapping paper—just about every product available,” said Giordano. “They grab their Facebook photos, put in a media card from a camera and everything becomes one giant library of photos they can use to tell their stories.”

Lucidiom tracked impressive usage in the first months. “It has been used every day in every store. In fact, every fifth order in the systems that have the Facebook Connect feature is a Facebook order. Of all of those orders, one-third are uploads and two-thirds are downloads. If you think of it from the retailer’s point of view, those are found images the consumer never would have brought into the store before; they had no good way to do it.”

More than anything, Giordano sees the opportunity for photo retailers to become a center of expertise for media convergence, with Facebook being just a piece of the puzzle and the kiosk becoming the tool that brings it all together.

“Our goal with the kiosk and web is to allow more connectivity and easier convergence. This is the future of imaging,” he said. “I think our current photo stores are going to be less local photo shops and more and more going to be places where different media converge.

“Imagine in the future customers are coming into shops—not even to print pictures,” Giordano said. “They’re coming in to get all the images from their iPhones and their SLRs and their husband’s BlackBerry together to make a photo book. The only place they’re going to be able to do that is at retail, because retailers will have the unique ability to provide the tools and expertise to pull the media together to start a project.” lucidiom.com

LifePics: Connecting Retailers to Images
LifePics sees the same future for photo retailers, no matter what their size.

“Today, consumers do not simply go to one website to upload an order. They upload to Facebook, Flickr, Shutterfly, their favorite retailer; however, that’s still kind of a barrier,” said LifePics’ Christianian. “So, Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg. The photo retailer has to be the center of the imaging universe. Whether a customer has their images on Facebook, Flickr, Shutterfly or a media card, they should be able to access those images all in one place.”

LifePics’ Facebook app enables Facebook users to send their images, including images the user is tagged in, directly to any retailer on LifePics’ vast retailer network, which consists of over 20,000 locations.

“We want to connect every retailer to every image via any and every application that does anything pertaining to imaging,” said Christianian. “You should have the ability to offer one-click pickup at your local retailer via GPS positioning. If your customers are on Facebook, they can go through the LifePics network and pick up their prints at any place they want, while you leverage the true capabilities of retail—experience, expertise, proximity, convenience and guess what, value and price, because customers avoid shipping fees for these services. So, when you break it down, consumers are saving 30%–40% by conveniently placing the order and picking it up next door.” lifepics.com

Kodak: Being Where the Pictures Are
Kodak also sees Facebook as an incredible opportunity for photo retailers. “The sharing on Facebook is a force you just can’t deny or go against. So how do you leverage and benefit from that?” asked Rolando Martinez, Kiosk SPG manager for Kodak.

“With Facebook, we found an opportunity to transform that planned purchase into an impulse purchase, so once you’re at retail you can do more projects. Even though they like to create new products—photo books, etc.—customers sometimes feel they don’t have the right images with them. Hence they’ll do them at home, where they have the pictures available and accessible.

“Now, with Kodak’s online applications at retail, they can do premium projects and have access to this large repository of images that they’ve uploaded to Facebook,” added Martinez, “and that helps close one of the big barriers to completing a project—the absence of their own images.”

Kodak has gone further, at the kiosk and online, and they are cognizant of security issues. Using a Kodak Picture Kiosk, a customer can go to their Facebook account, and the software will download all of their Facebook photos and sort them by albums. “We only download the account holder’s pictures. If you’re tagged by a friend, you won’t see them, but we’re testing whether you can see your friends’ pictures if you’re tagged. Once you pick your pictures, it will download them, it will disconnect, and it will not store any passwords or images.”

And the interface is very user-friendly. If the customer wants to create a photo book, they can view all of their images from Facebook, and the application shows a thumbnail; then they can select an image and it’s downloaded.

In addition to Facebook, Kodak’s in-store Picture Kiosks allow customers to pull in images from Google’s Picasa, Kodak Gallery, mobile phones and, of course, memory cards.

“We need to be where the pictures are,” continued Martinez. “If the images are at the kiosk, we can transform planned products into an impulse purchase. So our Kodak kiosks now assist the consumer in having more images accessible while they’re working on their projects.”

Kodak’s Facebook application has been available at Target since late summer, as well as at some local and regional retailers, including Bartell’s in Seattle. So, how is it going?

“We’ve seen an uptick in printing from Facebook, and the trend continues to grow. They’re printing 4×6 prints and also photo books and collages, and during the holiday season, we were surprised by the amount of greeting cards created from images coming from Facebook,” said Martinez.

Kodak is also offering a collaborative Facebook photo album online. Kodak’s Social Albums app, which can be accessed through the Kodak fan page, allows friends to aggregate and create a social album collectively. For example, if Jane goes to a party/reunion, she can have her classmates upload to a common Facebook album; it’s all segregated, but with this application, Jane can create one album of the event and invite others to join in, and post pictures to the album.

Now with Kodak’s Facebook application, customers can connect to that album and create a collaborative photo book, then save it as their own album, ready for printing. kodak.com

Promote, Promote, Promote

The Facebook phenomenon is not going away anytime soon, so it’s imperative that retailers jump on this opportunity and shout it from the rooftops—and from the countertops as well.

“If you walk into 80% of the retailers across the country, most of them won’t have any mention anywhere within their stores that they are online,” said LifePics’ Christianian. “Just something as simple as a sign as you walk in that says, ‘Check out our website at www . . .’ or ‘Print Your Facebook Pictures Here,’ would drive traffic to the web. There’s still a fear of the Internet and a lack of understanding about it. Retailers are comfortable with what they’re doing, but very few of them are doing it well.”

Christianian also suggested tapping into Facebook’s friends’ lists to create your own network.

“Be pragmatic. Reach out to 20 or 30 of your family and friends and you have an immediate group. Tell them about what’s exciting about your business. For example, during the holidays tell these people about the holiday greeting cards you are promoting. Friends or family who want to support you might not even know you offer those services. And then build your army by reaching out to your friends and giving them incentives. Ask them to reach out to their own networks and disseminate this information. You’d be surprised how quickly your network will multiply,” Christianian added.

Giordano looks at it another way, too. “If a customer uploads a set of pictures from a kiosk to a Facebook album, the message posted on her wall, and viewable by all her friends, will say: ‘Uploaded at Bob’s Camera.’ According to Facebook, the average number of friends per user is 130. So, a retailer with 1,000 customers uploading photos has the potential to be exposed to 130,000 consumers. And, we’re averaging 55 feedbacks per share, so we know the post and the retailer’s name are not only being viewed but are moving viewers to comment. That says something about the draw to photo and the popularity of posting albums. As well, every time somebody clicks into the uploaded album, it says: ‘Uploaded at Bob’s Camera.’ These posts, comments and retailer references are not only free advertising for your store, but, by virtue of the fact that it is a service used by the viewer’s friend, they are valuable as a personal recommendation for your business. To top it off, all these viewers are people who, by the way, have images on Facebook ready to be printed.”

“The challenge for retailers is to let consumers know they can access Facebook,” said Kodak’s Martinez. “It’s unexpected from a consumer’s standpoint, so communications in the store, combined with assistance from the clerks, will immediately translate into sales and more kiosk activity. If you can get them to the kiosk, they’re very willing to try to download pictures. It’s a great opportunity to create and try new products.”

Kodak is also leading the way in training. “The smaller retailers have the opportunity to provide personalized services,” said Martinez. “For larger retailers, we’re providing tools and working with them to train their staffs. We also provide programs for retailers to help clerks test the new services.”

“Your employees need to be your best advocate,” said Christianian. “If your staff is not using your services, fire them and replace them with people who do. They are paid representatives of your business and they need to do the best job of promoting your business. And chances are, your employees are on Facebook. Encourage them to leverage their Facebook and social networks to promote your company’s services. If we don’t teach our employees and our staffs how to use our services, and represent our services, then we’re missing our biggest opportunity to create sales.”

The Facebook opportunity is out there, and as an industry, we need to seize those images and print them. The first concrete step is raising awareness among your customer base that you can print their Facebook images. And the second is using the marketing power of Facebook to help you become an online presence. You can go from a local/regional retailer to a national one, with some new technology, a commitment to marketing and training, and a little help from your (Facebook) friends.

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