Social Media Mania

Social Media Mania

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Consumers are talking about and getting involved with photography in record numbers. Quite frankly, it’s never been a bigger deal to them than it is today…right now.

However, if you’re a photo retailer you might be left with the feeling that there’s a party going on, in your house no less, and you weren’t invited. Worse yet, they’re all in there talking about you behind your back.

We’re referring to the social media craze that is blazing across the country (and the world) and the prominent role photography is playing within this phenomenon. Images play a vital role in how consumers are communicating within these social networks and the numbers of images currently residing in this space has reached the billions.

Just a few numbers regarding the remarkable volume of images that are being uploaded to and stored on these sites: FaceBook – over 14 million photos uploaded daily and over 10 billion images currently reside on the site; MySpace – over 8 million photos are uploaded daily and over 6 billion are stored on the site; Photobucket also has over 5 billion images stored on the site; Flickr – over 2 billion images on the site. You get the picture…no pun intended.

“When you think about the fact that retailing is truly a social business, then it really becomes a no-brainer that a site like Facebook needs to be part of the marketing plan,” began Martha Refik, a former Connecticut retailer turned consultant. “Such a large percentage of the millions on Facebook, or any other social site for that matter, are pretty passionate about their photos and they are talking about them all the time. Connecting with this in some manner can be powerful stuff.”

A perfect example of that power is evident when you chat with some of your customers who begin and end every one of their days on a site like Facebook.

“I’m relatively new to the social media craze,” began Gail Suskind, a 38-year-old working mom from Titusville, Fla. “But as time has gone on, it has become a huge part of my life. I’m finding that I’m taking a lot more photos since I signed on as they are a big part of how I’m communicating with my friends list. It also has me reaching for old photos as people have come back into my life from years ago and we’re reliving some old times.”

The Social On-Ramp
Seems logical that a place that was home to this kind of photo activity might be a place photo retail would want to spend some time in – and a few smart retailers are beginning to do exactly that.

Mitch Goldstone of 30 Minute Photos Etc. in Irvine, Ca., has been experimenting with ways to tap into online social networking.

“We’ve made an occasional offer where we do free scanning – you pay $19.95 for the shipping – but the only requirement is that you post a review on your Facebook page or blog,” he explained. “I think that kind of thing makes customers feel like they’ve latched on to the new high-tech company.”

Goldstone says he believes embracing each new tech trend as it comes along is the secret to staying lithe and profitable each year. “Anything that encourages people to take more pictures is alright with me,” he added.

So while Goldstone is essentially hanging around the periphery of the social network scene, other imaging retailers we’ve spoken with have dived right in. In a recent exchange with Bill McCurry on his online newsletter, McCurry Marketing Idea Exchange, Gabe Cano of Specialty Color Services in Santa Barbara, Ca., defended Facebook after McCurry had taken a somewhat unfavorable view of what has perhaps become the social network kingpin. We’ve excerpted Cano’s response to McCurry here.

“I’ve been on Facebook for almost a year now. I’ve created a page for the photo lab that my business partner and I own. I can’t tell you what an important aspect of our business this is becoming. It’s hugely significant to our business today. Many of our clients are Facebook users.

Among those users we’ve found an incredible mix of baby boomers, Jennifers, Gen X and Gen Y people that happen to be our customers. As of today we have enlisted 104 people to sign up as fans of our company’s page on Facebook. That’s 104 evangelists for our photo lab,” Cano explained.

Cano added that he has never felt more connected to his clients as he does now because of the way they have embraced Facebook. “If I were giving someone advice on how to better connect with their clients, or maybe even something a little more ambitious like reaching out to new clients, I would certainly mention Facebook as a possible vehicle,” he added.

Rules of the Social Game

So then, what might be some “best practices” for those retailers considering taking a dip in the social media marketing pool?

“Social media is hot, just take a look at Google Trends to see the comparison between topics like ‘search marketing’ being eclipsed by ‘social media’ in terms of search volume and news references,” wrote Lee Odden on a recent blog for TopRankMarket ing.com. Along with all that ‘hotness’, there’s good and bad when it comes to the way companies are beginning to engage social media channels.

Odden added that many marketers are still not exactly sure what constitutes best and worst practices when it comes to participation in social networks where, as he puts it, “intentions are commercially motivated.” Odden admits that the newness of marketing in this arena makes clearly identifying best and worst practices a work in progress but admits, “It’s best to start out with the basics that will hold true regardless of these changes.”

Glynn Lavender is a professional photographer from Melbourne, Australia, who will tell you firsthand the power of social media when it comes to imaging retail.

When he worked as operations manager at Melbourne’s Camera Action Camera House, he cleverly hooked up with a Flickr group of over 3,000 Melbourne photographers who shoot, as he explains it, “nothing but the downtown area of the city.”

His first move to get involved with this group, “was to offer to sponsor their monthly photo competition to the value of $50 of photo processing. At the time we had just launched a new store in a quieter part of our city and we made the voucher for the prize redeemable only at our new store. This way for the cost of a few dollars a month we exposed the new store to over 3,000 avid photographers.”

That kind of viral marketing power is at the heart of what makes the Web such a valuable promotional vehicle. Harnessing that power can produce profitable results and with imaging playing such a prominent role in the social media game, this industry would appear to have a leg up on the rest of the world.

“It’s about developing a deeper relationship with your customers,” Refik added. “Any vehicle that allows you to do that is well worth investigating.” yy

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