Recently, I did several consults right in a row to help existing subscription clients plan their social media photos—and they all wanted to know the same thing: What’s the best way to plan my photos when I don’t know what I plan to say?
This is a great question, and believe it or not, there actually is an answer! And that answer is this:
If you want to post consistently on social media, even when you’re not in the middle of a launch or campaign, you want to build a photo bank.
I’ve touched on this idea in previous posts (9 Photos Every Influencer Has in Her Photo Bank; 10 Ways to Shoot Eye-Catching Photos for Instagram; and 5 Smart Habits for Building Social Influence), but I’ve yet to dive deep on the question, “What is a photo bank?” So let’s get into that first… and then I want to share 5 questions you should ask when planning your photos and content in general.
First things first: Building a Photo Bank
A photo bank is a storehouse of photos your brand can pull from pretty much any time because the photos in there aren’t post-specific.
Post-specific photos are photos you typically can only use once. When you see a sponsored post by an Instagram influencer, talking about a handbag or clean-living shampoo or some other product (usually with the hashtag #ad or #sponsored), that’s a photo which that influencer will only be using one time—which is fine, because most likely, that influencer was compensated for that image.
On the whole, though, most of us aren’t getting compensated for the photos our social posts; we’re paying for them. So we want to get us much mileage as we can out of them; we want to be able to use them when we need them, and since we don’t always know when we will need them, the photos we do take should be “flexible.”
If you work in a restaurant, your Special of the Day wouldn’t work in your photo bank, because you couldn’t use that photo again and again, or really for anything other than the Special of the Day. That doesn’t mean you can’t post your Special of the Day; it just means it shouldn’t be in your photo bank.
Better photos for a restaurant’s photo bank might be: A server whose arms are loaded up with half a dozen plates and she’s still beaming like a champ; a giant table of food surrounded by a happy family or party of friends, toasting each other before the meal; or a handsome customer sporting the company swag. Each of these tells a story on its own, but can also be paired with a variety of captions, and all of them can work at a moment’s notice if you want to make a spontaneous post.
So how do you plan what goes into your bank? Here are 5 questions to help answer just that!
Question #1: “What kind of work/people do I want to attract?”
One of the clients I met with this week is a woman who wants to fill up in-person workshops as part of her business.
As of the time we met, she had no photos on her social media that would indicate visually that she even offers workshops. So I told her: If you want generate excitement for your workshops, start posting pictures of you teaching workshops!
This might seem like an obvious idea—“show people what you have to offer”—but for many, this idea is not so intuitive. Limiting beliefs or ideas like, “I don’t have pictures from any of my workshops,” or, “My next workshop isn’t for several months” can block many people from seeing other options, like: “Workshop photos can be staged,” and, “Showing workshops on social media even when there aren’t any happening for a while can at least plant the seed that there will be workshops in the future—that this is something I offer and might be open to collaborating on.”
Your turn! How can you apply this same idea to your business? Ask yourself: What is the kind of work I want to attract, or what product am I trying to sell more of that I could be creating photos for?
Question #2: “For whom am I curating this content? How will they be able to tell?” (Community)
Every person you could possibly sell to represents one member among many larger communities. For instance, I am part of the vegetarian community; the millennial community; the female empowerment community; the Christian community; the online entrepreneur community; and many others. As such, I am drawn to and repelled by specific things.
Now, the people you serve are probably people who, by and large, are part of certain overlapping communities. If you own a coffee shop that doesn’t just recycle, but also composts, and your most loyal customers love that you compost and that’s part of why they give you their business, they might also be likely to shop at farmers’ markets (this is a community), own essential oils (also a community), and wear TOMS shoes (you guessed it—a community). The memberships of each of these communities tend to intersect, because people with similar values have similar interests and spending habits.
This kind of knowledge about your customer base can really inform the kinds of photos you take. If I know that the people I serve are largely female business owners, who are usually within 10 years’ age of each other, who value a strong social media presence both for themselves and the businesses they spend money with, who are not very materialistic but do appreciate fine things (and tend to like midcentury design), and who would like to see the world become a more beautiful place—I take photos for my social media that show people like this using the services I offer, and how those services enhance the beliefs they have and goals they’re striving for. I show my offerings in the context of their lifestyle.
Your turn! In the photos you take to sell whatever it is you sell, are you making sure to put your product or service in a context that shows the communities most of your target consumers are a part of? If you’ve never shown your product in context, how can you start doing that?
Question #3: “Can my audience implement this information quickly and get results?” (Education)
Waaaaay too many smaller business accounts on Instagram stay small because their captions try to be helpful, but they’re just too darn complicated.
If you want to share valuable education on your social platforms, particularly Instagram, you want your information to be fast and pretty much immediately actionable.
The example I like to use comes from my friend and peer, Be Well Danielle. She once shared on her Instagram that to instantly eat more nutritiously, you want to stop shopping the aisles at the grocery store, and stick to the perimeter. Why? Because all the fresh, whole foods are at the perimeter of the store—fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, and dairy—while everything containing sugar and preservatives is in the aisles—cookies, cereal, salad dressings, soda, and so on.
This tip is simple enough that anyone can understand it; and yet it can start yielding really big results right away for many people. This is the model you want to use when creating educational content for your own social platforms.
What does this mean for your photo bank? It means you want to take photos of the simple, foundational products, services, or actions that are relevant to all your customers and clients, rather than just a few:
If every person in your gym should learn proper form to get the most out of his or her membership, photos of proper form are photos are great photos to have in your bank
If all your life coaching clients complain about struggling with “not enough time,” and your answer to all of them is to start a practice of morning meditation, then having photos related to meditation are always going to be handy to have in your photo bank
If the #1 question you get at your hair salon is, “What haircut would look good for my face shape?”, having photos that reflect the most common face shapes and haircuts to match can be a good idea for your photo bank
… and so on.
So, your turn: What is the “first 10%” you can give away easily to show people you’re an expert? What can you tell them today with a picture and a caption that will get them results tomorrow? Take photos of this for your photo bank.
Question #4: “Will my audience leave better, happier, or stronger because of this post?” (Inspiration/motivation)
This might be the most versatile category when it comes to building your photo bank: Inspiration. After all, who isn’t even a little inspired by a field of flowers or a pretty sunrise? Inspirational material is everywhere! But this also the most finicky category; you want to keep your photos and inspirational material on-brand.
The people who follow TOMS Shoes are people who are inspired not only by giving, and not only by fashion, but by travel and adventure. They’re inspired when they can see someone laughing with their face turned up to the sun, dangling their legs off the back of a Jeep as it drives across the African plain. And if at the ends of those (probably lean and tanned) legs are a pair of TOMS—well, that’s part of the total and complete inspirational picture.
The people who follow Hilary Rushford are people who are inspired by a life of elegance and ease, posh and poise—regardless of budget. They want to have it all, at whatever income level or phase of life they’re at. So when they see Hilary, pairing vintage and contemporary pieces oh-just-so, and donning bright red lipstick even as she plays with her niece on the sidewalk—they’re inspired. They want a piece of that life, too.
Your turn. What inspires your audience? What does your brand embody that inspires them, makes them feel closer to the fullest, best version of themselves? If you can capture those things in photos, you want them in your photo bank.
Question #5: “Is this the kind of post that will get people talking—on and off social media?” (Behind The Scenes)
“Behind the scenes” posts are typically posts that are made in the moment, rather than planned ahead for a photo bank—but they aren’t always, and they certainly don’t have to be. If they’re the kind you plan, you want to ask this question—will this get people talking?
Many freelancers in particular are inclined to share on social media the kinds of “behind the scenes” that won’t get anyone talking. “Meeting with client @LadyJane at Smoothie Heaven!” isn’t going to get anyone talking. It is in real time, so it reminds your audience that you exist, and you’re still out there, making it happen—but it isn’t news.
The kinds of things that will get people talking are the kinds of things that get you talking, responding, taking action. For example, when a brand you admire is in pre-launch, whether that’s for a new line of clothing or it’s for an online course, they probably “tease” content to get their audience (you) talking. And by the way, when I say “talking,” I mean all of the following and more:
Commenting on your posts and talking with other community members in comments
Snapping your post or video and sharing to IG stories, or sharing and forwarding on Facebook
Talking in real life over coffee with other people who love the/your brand (“Did you see that Such-and-Such is launching a new _______?”)
Responding to your content in private messages and emails
Changing their behavior or speech to conform to what they perceive to be your values or style
When a brand “teases” content, it might do so by showing a partial or incomplete design (as in a T-shirt, logo, or website); a mood board; a screenshot or video clip from private content that will be released soon; an “in costume” shot for a scene in the episode of a show that’s coming out in the next season; and so on.
Now, those probably aren’t going to go into a photo bank (except maybe to show a chronology or do a #throwback), but things you could do for behind-the-scenes content in terms of your photo bank might include:
Shots of your workspace, if it’s “cool” or has a notable design
A typically un-shown aspect of your job that no one would expect
Part of your “process,” especially if that process applies directly to your audience
Some routine or piece of equipment that allows you to do a task that’s ordinarily time-consuming fast or en masse
How quality control works in your company
NOTE: You generally don’t want to share the “hard” or begrudging aspects of what your work is like behind the scenes—only the things that will excite people to feel like they are “in the know.”
Bonus material on this tip: Check out interviews online with Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate, and/or Jonah Berger, author of Contagious. Sally Hogshead created a system for discovering what makes the general population find a particular person or brand fascinating, and Jonah Berger did a study on what makes social content shareable.
Was this helpful? If so, pin this post so you never lose it! And if you’re looking for a way to personalize this information to your brand, email me for a consultation (or to speak at your business) at hello[at]alexisthegreek.com!
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.
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