You’re so vain, you probably think this article is about you.
Let’s admit we can all have a bit of internet vanity at times. As we share our photography, post to social media, or send an email to our list we wonder how it landed. Did they see it? Did they like it? Did they hit that icon to say so?
Some of it might be vanity, but it can also be useful to know what’s resonating with our crowd.
That said, photographers need to be careful not to get sucked into obsession over numbers that, ultimately, don’t make any meaningful difference to our photography ventures. Let’s look at a couple examples of online metrics and how to focus on what really matters.
Apple Mail Privacy Protection and Email Open Rates
With this week’s release of iOS 15, Apple Mail users can opt into a new Mail Privacy Protection feature that, among other things, blocks tracking pixels used by most email service providers. These tracking pixels allow the person sending the messages to know who opened the email (and sometimes from where or how many times). As someone who uses an email list to routinely share interesting things with photographers, in the past I’ve been able to use this for an approximation1 of how many folks were opening my message. This is the email open rate.
With the new Mail Privacy Protection feature, anyone using Apple Mail as their email client (regardless of which service you use for email itself) will no longer accurate report open rate. Open rate will rapidly become a useless metric for most folks with an email list.
Let’s not get hung up on open rates. It’s an intermediate signal, but not a significant metric for our businesses.
Online Metrics: Followers vs. Engagement
Another intermediate metric that often gets over-hyped is follower counts on various social media platforms. Whether it’s Instagram or Twitter followers, Facebook friends or page likes, or LinkedIn connections, the number attached to our network is an easy thing to point at and believe it correlates with success in our photo ventures.
Surely 1,000 Instagram followers is better than 500, right? And 300 LinkedIn connections means more than if I only had 100, doesn’t it?
Not really. There are two reasons why comparing social media follower numbers isn’t a helpful exercise:
- Not all followers are of equal quality. Some folks will be really engaged with your work. Others might be totally bogus spam accounts. Many are in between these extremes. A smaller number of truly engaged fans is worth far more than a large number of disengaged followers.
- Influence isn’t about raw numbers but is about being influential in a certain crowd. A commercial photographer who is followed by 10 significant agencies will likely get more from those 10 connections than a maternity photographer who is followed by 100 random members of the community, even though there’s a 10x difference in the number of folks. It’s about the right connections as opposed to the volume of connections.
Having a number of followers doesn’t necessarily mean those followers can help your photography ventures… it’s about who they are.
Do your followers engage with your social media presence? If not, the problem likely isn’t that you don’t have enough of them… it’s likely that you don’t have the right ones based on what you’re sharing. Engagement is a more useful online metric than a raw follower count.
It’s About Conversion
Instead of being overly concerned with email open rates or social media followers, consider that you ought to be focused on conversions at or close to the sales point as the leading metric for your online effort. A conversion can be different things depending on someone’s relationship with you, but it means the prospect is making a significant step in becoming a client.
It could be them making a phone call and getting more details from you or asking about availability for a date. It could be setting up a pre-shoot consultation meeting. It could be them booking an appointment online. It could be you sending them a contract to, as they say, sign on the line which is dotted.2
There can be other conversion points along someone’s journey to becoming your client, and Imagely recently highlighted several of them but I’d encourage you to pay attention to the ones that matter most. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if none of them are hiring you to make photos. It doesn’t matter how your SEO is doing if nobody is buying your products. And it doesn’t matter how many folks open your email if none of them are enrolling in your courses.
Look across your business and its online metrics, but put the emphasis on the most important parts. If you’re not getting conversions into clients, work backwards. There might be something for which another statistic can be helpful… but too often we look at the visible numbers on our social media profiles or our email dashboards and get distracted.
Engage the right folks, at the right time, with the right media.
- Even prior to Apple’s new feature, the open rate was a rough metric that could be influenced by other things. Although it wasn’t exact, it was helpful to understand a given message in comparison to others. ↩
- Incidentally, that speech by Alex Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross is all about conversions. In that case, real estate leads. In our case, photography sales. ↩
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