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Is Photo Sharing a Worthwhile Marketing Exercise?

As social networking continues to become a key strategy for businesses and start-ups to promote themselves online, photo sharing is an activity which seems second nature to some but almost entirely ignored by others.  So – from a business point of view – is it worth downloading the latest photo app, snapping away at every opportunity, then posting the results to Facebook or Flickr?

Photo sharing to ‘blend in’

It’s a question which has garnered considerable discussion online recently, not least on the newly launched service Quora.  The most popular answer came from VC Simon Olson who argues that photo sharing can form the ‘base activity of the “social” pyramid’ and that ‘it is one of the most popular activities that users engage in on social networks.’  With this in mind, it then seems logical for anyone eager to establish themselves on any social network to spend some time doing what everyone else is doing, not least to align yourself with the audience you are hoping to communicate with, as well as to highlight that you know what social media is all about, i.e. sharing, not promotion.

So just how big is photo sharing online?

Photo sharing has certainly seen fantastic growth over the last few years.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook has been the key player, increasing its lead as top photo sharing site (ahead of Photobucket, Picasa and Flickr) at the end of 2008 with users now uploading more than 3 billion pictures each month.  Yet, as Facebook’s dominance may have been seen to be making life difficult for other photo hosting sites such as Flickr, whose traffic started to decline by early last year, the site now boasts five billion photos and has increased steadily at 25% over the last 12 months.

The impact of apps and technology

Of course, photo-orientated smartphone apps and the increasing number of camera phones is having a positive effect on photo sharing – and making it easier for all of us to take better looking pictures and upload them quicker than ever before.  Instagram, Hipstamatic and PhotoShop Express all allow photos to be tinted etc. without the need to upload to your desktop or laptop beforehand.  Following this, it makes even more sense that Facebook is winning the photo sharing race with more than two hundred million users accessing the site via mobile – it figures that we want to put our pictures on this network first straight from our phones.

The case for…

For some, photo sharing is a great way to naturally instigate communications on social networks (especially at the start of a SM campaign), and it is becoming an increasingly quick and easy way to do this.  But is photo sharing worthwhile for any business or start-up with a fledgling web presence?  From an online content point of view, I would add two additional reasons why it may well be: fresh content and transparency.  In simple terms, fresh content is good for keeping both your audience and Google interested in your presence.  If you are active, even with only one piece of content a day – then a photo can be a quick way to achieve that daily goal to remind everyone that you’re still there.

The latter reason, transparency, relates to the earlier point of ‘aligning yourself with the audience you are hoping to communicate with.’  One of the ways businesses and start-ups really succeed with social media is by highlighting the human side of the organization behind the corporate persona which is often presented on the website.  Simply put, evidence of staff events and non-work activities showing that your organization is a diverse bunch of real people is much easier to see in photos rather than text-based blog posts, status updates or tweets.

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