The Social Photo Wars And You

by , Dec 11, 2012, 3:14 AM
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In case you missed it, there’s a war a-brewing for control of our photographic lives—a war being waged between Facebook and Twitter. Once half-jokingly dubbed “a photo sharing site with some chat attached” by noted VC Fred Wilson, Facebook stands as the reigning photographic champion, having gobbled up mobile photo champion Instagram in this year’s purported billion-dollar acquisition. Standing as the David to Facebook/Instagram’s Goliath would appear to be none other than Twitter, who is rumored to be close to launching photo features of its own

If you’re a travel marketer, you may have watched border skirmishes between these two with only passing interest. Now that Instagram has disabled photo viewing in Twitter, however, it may be time to pay a bit more attention. 

Photos are the lingua franca of social media. They transcend language, capture emotion, and root us to a social network unlike any other content. Study after study finds that photos generate 2x to 3x the amount of likes and shares of text-based content. And for that reason, they are digital gold to Facebook and Twitter—the holy grail of online content that increases user engagement, drives new visitor traffic, and builds user loyalty.

The latest shot in the photographic turf war between Facebook and Twitter seems innocuous at first glance. Facebook’s Instagram now no longer supports photo viewing within Twitter. Instead, when a user tweets a photo via Instagram, it will appear as a link that followers will need to click in order to view the photo on Instagram. No big whoop, right? 

Not so fast. Instagram’s move, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch argues, is not in the best interests of users who want seamless photo sharing regardless of platform. Instead, it is a move driven solely by Facebook’s financial interests and desire to drive more traffic to its site. Twitter’s making similar moves. And so, we may be in the waning days of seamless, social media platform sharing with 2013 shaping up to be the year of the walled, social garden.

The net impact of this shift is significant for travel marketers in numerous ways:

  1. Photographs will continue to drive social media engagement behind the walled gardens. This means that, as a travel marketer, photography must be part and parcel of your ongoing content marketing efforts. There’s a reason Facebook paid a billion dollars for Instagram—photos drive engagement. Look at your web properties, third-party properties, and your own social media sites. Are you empowering your staff, your guests, your own professional photographers to post photos to maximize usefulness and distribution? If not, you may be ceding that territory to competitors or third-party aggregators.

  2. Social audiences will segment themselves. To put it another way, different photos will resonate in different ways as each social network gravitates toward certain audience segments. I know of some clients who see great engagement on Facebook anytime they post something about their company culture or “behind-the-scenes” photos. Those same photos don’t see much engagement on Twitter. As the walls grow in size amongst the social networks, the audiences will perform differently—best to start monitoring that trend now and optimizing your efforts around the platforms that generate your best ROI.

  3. Social Media Management Platforms will become “must haves” not just “nice to haves.” When Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and others don’t play well together, marketers are going to have to look to third-party platforms to provide “create once, publish everywhere” tools for photos and more. That’s not to say you’ll publish the same content everywhere, but you will have to monitor, publish, and engage from a single platform if you want to cut down on the time to maintain your multi-platform social media presence. 

  4. The free rides will get fewer and farther between. We’ve already seen this with Facebook offering to sell your own fans back to you in the form of promoted posts. With the mounting pressure from investors to monetize their platforms, I suspect we’ll see once-free services find ways to reach into the pockets of brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just a change marketers will need to prepare for by putting as much effort into building their proprietary audiences (website, email, photographic and other media) as their social ones. 

For all our lightning-fast, digital photography, it strikes me as oddly apropos that the picture of social media today is developing slowly, somewhat murkily like 35 millimeter film. If only we had Ken Burns narrating these social photo wars, we might be able to fast-forward to the end to see how they turn out. But, alas, we’re the marketing generation that has to wade through them and smile as our pictures are taken. 

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