Taylor Davidson · Lesson 4: Connect with context and content

It’s always been about creating great content, but there’s now a larger opportunity than ever to deliver great context.
by Taylor Davidson · 22 Oct 2008

We’ve discussed in Lessons 2 and 3 about how to create, price and market great content.

The larger opportunity ahead, however, is to create great context in addition to great content. Context is a complement to content: demand for one component amplifies demand for the other.

How do you create “context”?

  • Show up: online and offline. Be a person, not just a name. And give to your fans and customers.
  • Connect: Link people together, connect like souls with shared interests. Create a hub, create a tribe and be a leader.
  • Educate: Provide knowledge and ideas to the community. Give critiques, workshops and portfolio reviews. Be a leader or an authority in your field.
  • Organize: Create niches, organize events, create workshops, combine the online and the offline experiences.
  • Share: Give to the community. Share yourself, your experiences, knowledge and images.

It’s not just about your images, it’s also about you: “what you can’t see matters”. You – your style, personal brand and legacy – plays a huge role in why people choose to pay you money for what you do and create and deliver to them. Relationships matter. People matter.

In all honesty, none of this is new. Many of these methods were possible long before the web. Information, examples, instructions and analysis about how to use the web to connect with people is easy to find, and we’re becoming increasingly familiar with the tools in our personal and professional lives.

It’s not hard, but it’s complex.

Let’s add to the complexities:


Blogs are tremendously powerful ways to increase your ranking in search engines (for the best primer and analysis of why search engine optimization is important, click here to read John Harrington’s article on search engine optimization for photographers).

But they are also a very powerful way to connect with people, to show what you are doing, to personalize yourself to your fans, to get and hold someone’s attention, and to prime people to turn attention into intention and conversion, either directly or (perhaps more powerfully) indirectly.

Using context to amplify content creates “reverse markets” that will allow you to find all the fans and buyers that should appeal to you, instead of forcing you to find them all yourself.

Why is it important to create content for people to consume without your active engagement? Because we don’t scale.

Use social media

Show who you are. Communicate with people, personalize yourself through the wide range of social media tools and mediums

Don’t know which ones to use? To use a phrase from Gary Vanderchuck, “use them all”. Sign up, learn how to use the mediums, learn about the communities and their expectations, meet people and dig in. Figure out the standards for conversations, transparency, self-promotion and spam. Figure out which communities and tools make sense for you. What do you feel comfortable using? Which ones stretch your capabilities? Which ones do your customers use? Which ones do your fans use? Which communities make sense for you? Who do you want to meet?

Often companies forget about the “social” in “social media”: don’t be afraid to let yourself shine through the mediums. How you use the mediums says a lot about you.

Social media isn’t hard, but it’s complex. Don’t underestimate the time it takes: social media typically takes longer than you think. You probably won’t see an impact until you’re ready to give up trying to reach people, for the simple reason that you’ve probably approaching social media with the wrong mindset: it’s about other people, not you. In the same way we decide to spend time on anything, people use social media to get something: how can you help give them what they want?

Deliver value to your fans and your customers

We’ve talked about “fans and customers” in past lessons. A fan is not necessarily a customer, but you can profit from both. We typically think about how we profit directly from a customer (sales), but fans are also key to create profits. Attention is a valuable asset even if it does not convert to intention and conversion. Fans are key components behind creating “social objects”.

It’s amazing to think how much attention is focused on creating platforms to manage content (images). But where are the platforms to manage context?

What we need is a fan management system, a customer management system, a system to organize fan and customer information and deliver the tools needed to connect with our fans: products, bundled content, stored live performances, email offers and the like. Even more important, we need a way to track all the data our fans and customers create through their interactions with us. It’s possible to hack together solutions using existing social networks, white-label networks such as Ning, Squarespace and Socialgo, blog and Twitter keyword search, feed subscription and readership data, link trackback monitoring, web analytics and sales data: but we lack a single solution that allows us to aggregate all of this data and truly understand what our fans and customers want from us.

We’re seeing steps: Photoshelter 2.0 (the updated Personal Archive) is a step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of opportunity to create better ways to reach and manage all our existing and potential fans and customers.

Connect passively and actively

We’ve always understood the power of networking and actively connecting with people. Relationships matter.

What’s changed is that we now have much more power and control over how we connect passively.

Passive does not equal online. Many online interactions, including email, are highly active and take direct engagement. And we’ve always “connected passively” offline through the memories stored in the heads of our past clients, agents, customers and employees.

But the infrastructure of the web offers a much more powerful base for passive engagement. Make it easy for people to:

  • Reach you and see your images.
  • Share your work or embed your images on their sites.
  • Buy and license your images and other products.
  • Know what you do and when you’re available for assignments and engagements.
  • Learn from you from your website, books, instructional videos: archived for anyone to see, anytime, easily, without having to ask you about it.

We’re well aware of the problems of depending on passive content income streams: add passive context and amplify both by connecting, promoting and producing actively.


Stealing the concept from Seth Godin,

The next frontier of marketing is in leading groups of people who are working together to get somewhere.

Who understands this and is building their tribes? Flickr, Photojojo, Photoshelter, Lightstalkers. Give to the community, solve their problems and the community will respond.

Yes, this requires you to be active. The economics of the industry is driving down the opportunities to earn passive income.

You don’t think you can lead? You don’t think you can find something to lead, somewhere? You can. We’re all overloaded with content, yet we’re constantly looking for what’s new and better. We create context when we find, organize, analyze and share “new” and “better” with our world. Technology can’t completely replace people: we’re still flawed people making flawed decisions with incomplete information. Use your platform as a leader to help people make decisions, solve their problems, give them the right information, lead better lives… and be better photographers.

Introduction: Five Lessons: How Photographers can Create New Business Models

Updated May 27, 2009: edited for content.