A new generation of landscape photographers are partnering with tourism authorities to host events designed to promote destinations through ‘user-generated content’ (photos and videos).
Seven Australian ‘digital influencers‘ – marketing-speak for popular Instagram-based professional photographers – arrived in Port Macquarie earlier this month to host an ‘Instameet’, run jointly by Destination NSW and the local council.
‘An “Instameet” is essentially a public photo walk that generally goes for a couple of hours,’ William Patino, one of the seven photographers in attendance, told ProCounter. ‘Usually the public are invited to come along and meet the visiting photographers and take photos together and just hang out and have a fun time. They’re usually very casual and are just often a small part of a multi-day trip that a photographer/influencer might be on.’
Instameets can be simple or extravagant – depending on the organiser’s budget. Tourism Tasmania ‘went big’ last year and took 60 people on a catamaran tour around Hobart, visited a wildlife park, and had a catered lunch and dessert. Port Macquarie-Hastings Council hosted a multi-day familiarisation event (aka ‘famil’) – a junket for seven photographers to tour the area – which is also on the higher-end of the extravagance scale.
Instameets appeal to national, state, and regional tourism boards as the photos – now defined as marketing content – are transmitted to an attendee’s online following. This approach is viewed as more ‘authentic’ than traditional methods of advertising. (Although the jury is still out on whether it’s more cost-effective than traditional methods of advertising!)
‘Hosting an Instameet is a great way to collate relevant user-generated content (images/gifs/videos) that you can re-share on your own channels,’ Destination NSW says in its 2017 Social Media Guidelines, which encourages tourism operators to run social media advertising campaigns and utilise user-generated content.
Destination NSW has a directory of featured photographers it recommends, as well as a list of influencers it often works with in its ‘famil program’.
Local tourism businesses often co-fund events by supplying their services free of charge – or paying a sum in exchange for marketing materials.
Marketing managers track the success of an Instameet through impressions based on the Likes and love photos receive. Organisers set a unique hashtag to keep track of the photos.
The lavish #Tasmanmeet recorded 451 photos, and was one of 11 Instameets organised by Destination Southern Tasmania during the 2015-16 financial year. Former marketer for Destination Southern Tasmania, Jared Mendham, estimates the photos reached 2.37 million people, made 5.7 million impressions, and received 215,000 likes and comments.
Gauging the ad value of social media marketing is an inexact process, but given the tax-payer funded tourism board invested just $15,000 for the 11 Instameets, not including running and administration costs, Mendham is calling it a win.
The Port Macquarie Instameet was led by Patino, who was joined by fellow influencers Larissa Dening, Melissa Findley, Matt Donovan, Natalie Sum, Robert Mulally and Daniel Tran.
‘These renowned Australian landscape and travel photographers have a social media following of between 59,400 and 165,000 each, together they have an audience of 663,300 people on Instagram alone,’ said council director, Jeffery Sharp, in a press release. ‘Social media and digital technology is now a key way for us to connect with potential visitors to our region. Having a group of social media influencers document its beauty will help us reach new markets and raise the profile of the Port Macquarie-Hastings across the country.
‘Each year (the) Council delivers a range of tourism marketing and promotions activities, including the annual public relations program, of which this visit is a part. This achieves great results and ensures we continue to grow visitor numbers in what is a very competitive tourism market.’
A landscape of success
ProCounter spoke with William Patino in 2014, after a photo he captured at Yosemite National Park, California, was selected for an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Back then he was a full-time tradesman. Capturing photos was a part-time passion, but he was on the cusp of making it a career.
‘I’ve put down my tool bag and have been working full time as a landscape photographer for close to thee years,’ he said. ‘My main business is running my photography workshops locally and abroad – Iceland, New Zealand, Patagonia and Canada – as well as selling prints. And on rare occasions shooting for tourism boards and brands. I also have two beautiful children in my life and my wife is able to stay at home to raise them and support me in what I do.’
Patino has amassed 165,000 Instagram followers. He’s led an Instameet in his hometown, Wollongong, and participated in many others around the country.
He embraced the social media platform early and built his following authentically by sharing his photos and connecting with fellow photographers.
‘I happened to download Instagram (in 2012) by accident but enjoyed using it and interacting with like-minded people,’ he said. ‘Photography helped me view the world differently and sharing my work online encouraged me to be a better photographer and to get outside and explore. Since then, social media has helped me share my work with people in every corner of the globe, it’s paved the way for me being able to work as a professional and establish myself in the industry.’
Workshops and photo tours are the main income source for many photographers, particularly in the landscape arena. But those who have built an online following, such as Patino, can leverage their audience to land commercial work for brands and tour agencies.
Social networking tricks and cheats
Instagram has changed dramatically in the last five years. It boomed in popularity, and after Facebook’s US$1 billion acquisition it was steered slowly toward commercialisation.
Nowadays, behind the scenes, many aspiring and established influencers are buying Likes and Follows to appear more popular. This ‘bought engagement’ (aka fraud) may come from a small army of low-paid workers in distant developing nations, or robots.
There’s also software that sends a user’s account on an algorithm-controlled Like and Comment spree, creating fake interaction which is designed to draw real Instagrammers back to the designated account.
Fortunately for Patino, and fellow Australian photographers such as Lauren Bath, having a knack for capturing frames, embracing Instagram in its infancy, and using a bit of strategy allowed them to side-step this ethically questionable playing field.
‘The industry is changing rapidly and it’s just a totally different arena now. Everyone demands and expects instant photos and footage from events, so the average person with a smartphone is able to deliver photos that are still good enough to get churned over in the online world,’ Patino said. ‘Even within the travel and social media industry, photos are viewed at such low resolution that even poor quality work can easily slip under the radar and people with very little photography experience and knowledge are making good money just by having a large online following and an iPhone.
‘Funnily enough, even though I am a part of the new wave of photographers and am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me over the years, I wish the industry wasn’t the way it is. I feel like quantity trumps quality at the moment and the “art” of photography is much less appreciated. As more social platforms adopt live features and technology continues to evolve I think there’ll definitely be more non-traditional photography careers emerge.’