Being close and personal with our customers has always been #1 for us at SmugMug. We’ve been engaging with friends, family and our fans for over 10 years, initially through our Support Heroes and online forums, then through Twitter, Facebook and Google+. We love getting to know you! But despite the growth (and explosion) of social media, not all photographers and creatives have embraced the idea of putting themselves on the internet.
We gathered up five of the most commonly-heard myths about social media and chatted with our majorly tech savvy photo-friend, Colby Brown, as well as a round table of our seasoned in-house pro photographers. We didn’t necessarily debunk these myths because we know that everyone’s got different values and goals, but we did lay all the cards on the table. Read on and decide for yourself.
Myth #1: All the social media services are the same.
Matt’s on Facebook, Laurie’s on Twitter, Andrew loves Google+. I should be there, too, right?
Maybe. Social media is a fantastic (and free!) way to advertise your business and share your personality with past, current and future clients, but this doesn’t mean you should be there just to be there.
It’s a great environment to publicize your work and to demonstrate that you have personality. This is especially important for small businesses, where personality is key. And it’s great for you, too, so that the type of clients that you’d actually enjoy working with find and contact you. Similarly, posting examples of what you can do boosts the confidence of your past clients… leading them to refer their friends to you.
What you should do: Ask the question, “What do I want out of social media?” What you’re looking to get out of the experience will dictate what types of services you should target and use, because each platform has different demographics and feature sets. Find which works best for you.
Myth #2: People will steal your work.
This is true, in the sense that any photo you upload and post on the internet has a chance of being downloaded or used by someone else, without you knowing. The real question you have to ask is: When should you care?
There are as many opinions about watermarking as their are watermarks in the web. There are obstructive watermarks and subtle watermarks, big ones and small ones and pretty ones and ugly ones. They are all designed to ensure that the artist’s name stays with the image, and we’ve always said that use of watermarked images means free advertising for you. And let’s not forget the fact that some social networks strip your files’ metatdata on upload, so a watermark may be your only recourse to establishing copyright.
But many folks still believe that no matter what the size, they’re distracting. And even if you do watermark, there are sneaky ways to crop around them or even remove them via a photo editor.
Consider the different types of theft: If Joe Whoever saves your image for their personal collection of inspiring photos, do you get an ulcer? What about a mega-corporate chain using your image on their homepage, without your permission? In which situation would you actually send a bill?
What you should do: Think about whether or not the kind of unauthorized use of your images is something that keeps you up at night, and formulate a plan. Note that if an image is not registered with the US Copyright Office, it will be difficult to prove infringement when your images are used in a for-profit manner. If you choose to watermark, SmugMug’s watermarking feature is completely non-destructive, which means that they’re applied to your display copies only, and any legally purchased prints will print clean. Our Publish to Facebook feature will also allow you to export watermarked display copies to Facebook, saving you time.
Myth #3: Don’t show your unfinished or unprocessed shots.
Trade secrets, ahh! In the creative world there are plenty of good reasons to worry about protecting what makes your style unique, and with photography a good chunk of that is in the way your process your images. Plus, do your clients really care how bland the in-camera image was, as long as you delivered a beautiful, perfectly-balanced photo? Will they start to worry that they’re paying you for smoke and mirrors?
Unprocessed photos aren’t always the scary, client-repelling skeletons in the closet you think they are. Depending on your niche and who you’re catering to, before/after comparisons can be what drives them out the door… or what drives people in. In the landscape and fine art genre, teaching and photo education has become a huge market that inspires and endears fans all over the globe. A great photographer who shows – and shares – what he or she did to get the shot becomes that much more valuable to the people who follow them on social media. They hang on to you, hungry for more. This can help your followers relate to you in a personal way because you’re willing to let down your guard and show that, just like everyone else, your images aren’t magically amazing on their own.
What you should do: Consider the type of photography you do, or what you aspire to do. Are you an event or wedding photographer who shoots and delivers one-shot deals? Or do you want to create a fan base who keeps coming back for more? You’ve got to decide if delivering a perfect image –and only a perfect image – is what your clients care about, or if you’re looking to build great relationships with aspiring photographers over time.
Myth #4: Never share your shoot or location information.
Like the above, it’s understandable to keep a gorgeous and dramatic place under wraps, otherwise people will copy what you do. And in the case of a protected or pristine location, you may want to keep the name particularly secret in order to keep it clean as long as possible.
But in the age of the internet (and GPS coordinates in your camera), chances are that if you don’t tell people where the image was shot, someone else will. Go ahead and raise the bar for great photos in a famous location. Show the world how you skillfully brought a fresh perspective on a well-known place! Doing so speaks volumes for your abilities, and inspires a whole new generation of photographers. Plus, public venues will love you for making their space look great.
What you should do: Decide if inspiring photographers and standard views is a challenge that you’re willing and eager to take. Plus, are you ready to say no to your fans and risk the backlash of withholding tasty information?
Myth #5: Social network companies will sell your photos.
This one is hot stuff in the media lately, and with good reason. Is there really a dark side to all the great things free social network companies do for you?
The truth of the matter is, once you put something on the internet, it’s out there. There’s no 100% guarantee that it won’t or can’t get taken and used by someone else, even though there are measures you can take to be sure that your name stays associated with the work. In fact, the only way to assure that nothing ever gets stolen is to never post anything on the web.
Even though you should take time to read the Terms of Service on the different sites you use, remember that these companies (SmugMug included!) are required to have these terms so that they can display the images you upload to different users, often at different sizes and resolutions. And that’s the whole point of you using those services, right? Plus, big companies have a lot on the line, which means they’re not likely to risk selling your images without your consent.
What you should do: Only share what you’re willing to have taken, and read the fine print on any services you use. When it comes to SmugMug, you can always watermark your images as described above before sharing, to be sure you get credit.
We hope these discussions helped ease any concerns that you may have had about sharing your photos online. Do you have any other scary monsters lurking in the back of your head? Let us know!