With all the talk about user-generated content (UGC), marketers often overlook one of the most effective ways to exploit this concept: providing a way for your target audience to share their photos on your site. With today’s tools, photo-sharing is easier and more cost-effective than you might think.
As a non-text content, customer photographs allow marketers to tap into social media. Though only a small percentage of users submit their snapshots, these images attract more viewers and others interested in experiencing them in other ways, such as mash-ups. These images can appear on your site, your blog, or photo-sharing and other third-party sites.
The Four “A”s of User Photographs
Adding visitors’ photos to your site can help achieve the following business goals:
- Attract traffic. Adding users’ photos to your site can draw more visitors. Consumers’ hotel-room snapshots on TripAdvisor give prospective travelers a different perspective from hoteliers’ photos, for example, and provide a context for customer comments.
- Aid branding. Photos are an ideal format to convey a brand’s visual aspects. GM has tested posting photographs of its products and internal events on Flickr. Remember to monitor how your firm’s products appear on photo-sharing sites, as these images may not be in line with your brand. Check out what the search for “tide detergent” yields on Flickr.
- Augment revenues. Photography can improve sales in a variety of ways, depending on your business model:
- Subscriptions. For an annual fee, sites like SmugMug provide digital-photography-related services, such as a secure, ad-free environment to upload, share, and store photos.
- Fee products. While allowing consumers to upload and share their snapshots, sites like Kodak EasyShare Gallery, Shutterfly, and Snapfish generate revenue from offline development and photo-related products.
- Licensing fees. Sites like PictureSandbox charge licensing fees, helping professionals tap into the commercial photography market.
- Advertising. You can add ads to photo galleries in a variety of ways.
- Affiliate revenues. Increase revenue with affiliate revenue from photo sites.
- Add User-Generated Content (UGC). Photographs are a great way to extend event coverage or engage visitors, since users can easily participate without having to compose their thoughts. Architectural Record added a professionally edited photo gallery to its site. From the architects’ perspective, having their photographs posted is an endorsement and raises their visibility.
Extend the Impact of User Photos
Though a picture is worth a thousand words, adding photos to a Web site may not yield the same results if the picture isn’t put in the right context. Extend the impact of customers’ photos to achieve your own marketing objectives:
- Connect content with the photos. It’s critical to make the images searchable, as most search engines only understand text. Search marketing expert Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit believes this aspect of posting photographs online is underutilized. To be found, images must be associated with the following:
- Tags. These terms should be in line with the keywords used in your search marketing strategy.
- Associated text to describe the image. Make the content keyword rich, yet understandable, to humans.
- URLs. To aid searchability, incorporate relevant URLs in the description, particularly when photos appear on another site.
- Attract the appropriate target segment. Think about photographic content in advance. Outline how photos will be edited, what’s appropriate, and whether there’s a professional selection process.
- Promote the photo section to create an audience for it. Tactics include:
- Leverage existing on- and offline marketing.
- Issue a press release. Craft a keyword-rich release, including a link to the photo section.
- Include viral tools. Make it easy for readers to forward to a friend, bookmark, print, and add to social bookmark sites.
- Facilitate viewing. For galleries where content is added at discrete points in time, add e-mail, RSS feeds, or both to drive visitors back to your site. These vehicles can be monetized through advertising.
- Build a house file. Collect photographers’ information as part of the upload process; you may need to contact them later. Ensure they have rights to the photos they post.
- Consider IP implications. Check with legal to ensure you’re protected regarding rights to the images and how they can be used. Use extra care if photos portray children.
As with any marketing strategy, measure progress toward your goals. Major metrics to watch include:
- Uploads. Track the number of customers who upload photos and the number of photos per user. Since users took time for this task, they’re more involved.
- Pageviews. Monitor the number of pageviews. Track which pictures are viewed most and their relevance to your interest areas.
- Time spent. As a proxy for engagement, calculate how adding photos contributes to this indicator. If photos are clustered in a gallery, check the time spent for this section compared to non-photo sections.
- Costs. Assess the upfront investment. Also consider the marginal cost for each upload going forward. When measuring costs, include expenses for promoting the area.
- Revenues. Measure sales associated with your photograph posting efforts based on your business model.
Marketers have a variety of options for adding tools that allow users to post and view photos. By taking advantage of this hot trend, you can attain your business objectives by driving traffic, building brand awareness, and increasing sales.