Beauty and the B2B: Using Photos to Engage Your Community

by Dan Blank on March 27, 2009

I am the guy in my family who takes photos at every gathering and makes sure we get group photos at every major event. In the moment, few seem to care about taking photos; but after the fact – it becomes a treasure trove of memories.

Photos are an incredible opportunity for brands to further engage their industries.

In my personal life, I have been busy archiving my family’s photos for the past several months. Here is my process so far:

  • Organize
    I have had to organize my own digital photo collection of 30,000+ photos. The bigger process is collecting old photo albums from both sides of my family.

  • Scan
    I have scanned thousands of photos so far. Negatives went through a Nikon negative scanner. (this takes FOREVER, by the way) Prints went through a Canon photo scanner, with dust & scratch filter.

  • Archive
    Everything is saved in high resolution TIF file format. With my current camera, I now make sure all settings are on their highest levels, and I am saving up for a camera that can save files in RAW format, which offers more options for higher resolution. To store all of this, I bought a new computer that can handle the 300 GB archive of 44,000 photos I now have.

  • Manage
    I was using iPhoto for a long time, but am now using a professional photo management software package called Aperture.

  • Backup
    To protect all of this effort, I have created a backup system: one external hard drive backs up my photo library every day. This hard drive is swapped out once a month or so with another one that lives in a safety deposit box at the bank. You never know when your house will burn down, taking a lifetime of memories with it.

  • Add Context
    Working with members of the family, I am painstakingly dating photos and tagging them with information such as who is in them, and any related stories.

Which sounds arduous and obsessive. And it is. Coordinating with family members takes effort – to get the albums and to fill in the thousands of dates and details. But look at the results:

And that’s just four photos out of 44,000. I have dozens of other photo albums to collect and scan too. I am also beginning to interview family members to get an oral history on videotape. To top it off, I want to digitize and backup family movies, which date back to 1939. That’s a project for another day, though.

From My House To Your Brand

All of this has me thinking about how important images are for online news and features – that they have a huge affect in engaging readers.

In B2B media, I see a fair amount of images, but oftentimes, they are small stock photos, or images of people where you can barely make out their faces. And there are so few of them.

Especially for media brands that are focused on product coverage, this is a huge opportunity. In one of my hobbies, I spend hours online staring at photos of stereo equipment – looking at every detail, and searching for particular pieces of equipment within photos of peoples’ home systems. There is a thriving community of audio-nuts like me that post an insane amount of detail about their systems.

Why is B2B so different? These are people who have devoted their lives to a particular industry. It could be furniture or test equipment or pavers or offset printers or toys or consumer electronics or any number of product types. Going beyond products, there are the people and places that make up your industry, along with events that people spend thousands of dollars to go to, or due to budget cuts, can’t attend, but would like to.

If you want to:

  • Grow your page view performance.
  • Engage your core readers with something they are obsessed with.

Then consider putting a stronger strategy behind your photo usage. Some ideas:

  • More photos
    People love looking at photos – be it products, people or places. Be giving when it comes to how much you publish online.

  • Big photos
    People want to see details of products. Go full width of the page where you can. For shots of people, don’t create some tiny image where you can barely make out faces – the bolder the better.

  • Events
    So many opportunities here – beyond just business announcements, to show the flavor of the event. The show floor, the awards, the food, the booths, the accommodations, the people you meet, the places you go – the best and the worst of what you have experienced.
  • Archives
    You likely have decades worth of archival material, and at least a few years in digital form. Assuming you have the legal rights to publish them, consider what would make compelling galleries. Perhaps past photos of an upcoming event – or a look at the history of your industry.
  • Behind the Scenes

    You are an insider – let your industry take a peak behind the scenes of your process, and your experiences.
  • Offbeat
    When you travel, when you meet with people, when you have an oddball experience, consider ways to share it. Everyone wants to laugh and find stories they can relate to. You can even use Twitter to share photos you take from your mobile device by using a service like Twitpic.

  • Expand Your Reach
    Share these images beyond your brand, onto social photo sites like Flickr. If there is a thriving forum in your community, post some photos there to wet people’s appetite. If they have photos that you find intriguing, ask if you can post them on your site. Just be sure that when you share them, you always include a link back to your website where they can find even more photos they will enjoy.

And of course, there are many benefits to expanding your use of photos:

  • Creating a shared experience and deeper connections with those in yur industry
  • Involving readers in your coverage
  • Creating a visual history that lives on
  • Establishing an archive that can be used again and again

  • Driving page views with media that people are highly engaged with

The tools to create, edit and post photos are now available to anyone. Digital cameras are built into our phones, and high quality cameras can be had for less than $200. In the past, you might have needed experience with Photoshop to edit photos, but now there are some really great free online editors that are easy to use:

There are plenty of others, but those are two I have used. Finding and sharing photos is incredibly easy as well. Flickr is an incredible resource.

It is also easy to expand your photo skills. Check out Digital Photography School or any of the other tutorial websites and forums where experts and amateurs trade tips and photos. You might want to consider creating user groups across brands or with other people who have the same goals that you do.

Beyond Photos… The Value of Great Design

I work with a lot of editors – and I have an incredible amount of respect for what they do. But lately, I have been thinking a lot about the role of art directors and designers. For magazine brands in particular, I am fully realizing how important their role is and how those same efforts can be utilized online.

There are many benefits of great design.

  • Create a visual experience that is enjoyable. B2B readers in particular, should look forward to the online experience – this is their livelihood. Powerful imagery, and subtle nuance are just two elements of this.
  • Accessibility: ensuring that the content can be easily understood by a wide range of people.

  • Simplifying things: To explain a story instantly by seeing a graphic or image. I love the interplay between great edit and great design.
  • Storytelling: visual elements don’t exist independent of each other. Often, images and design elements are carefully linked to tell a story.

  • Lead readers online: designers help tell people what to look for, and keep them engaged in order to stay on the website a little bit longer, and click another link.
  • Creating consistency across platforms – especially between print and web. For brands that have been around for decades, this is very important to leverage the branding that has been carefully built within readers’ minds over the course of years. Branding is trust, and that trust is business. (sorry if that sounds icky.)

But mostly what I like about what they do is this:

Designers create beauty. Our world can use a bit more of that.

At their best, designers can create the most elusive of notions: grace. Highly evolved design comes from an iterative process, which is another opportunity to transition the quality of print into a digital world.

And let’s face it, print media is beautiful. I love how designers and editors can put together a cohesive package that you love to hold, that you experience, that you put on your shelf to admire. And yes, the web is different, but it can be beautiful and useful too, but perhaps in different ways.

Designers can be heroes – making editorial content go from "good" to "great" – and working on behalf of the audience to ensure content is easy to digest and enjoyable to experience. They can take things beyond an intellectual experience, to create an emotional experience.

Whether it is an article, blog entry, video, webcast, or other content type, there is a nuance that great design can bring that makes each more engaging to readers – and that helps keep people on the website and encourage them to dig even deeper.

For art directors and designers who have worked primarily in print, this is your moment of opportunity. To expand your influence, your skillset, and your value to a business. This is not to belittle print at all; but as the world moves online, this is another chance for you to shine.

Be it in print or online, the affect of great design is the same: a product that the audience will become more engaged with, and that helps them with their most critical needs.

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