Below are my favorite twenty-five images I have posted on Erudite Expressions in 2010, presented in reverse chronological order. Do click on the image to be taken to the respective photoblog entry if you want to read more about the photograph (where it was taken, why I took the photo, a description of post-processing technique, etc.).
1. Hungary’s Heroes:
2. Moon over Seville:
3. Aral Station:
4. City on a Hill:
5. Escape into Azure:
6. Happy Summer:
7. Bird Eat Bird (read the story behind this photograph):
8. The Grand Door:
10. The High Line City:
12. Memorial Day 2010:
13. Gotham City:
14. Cruise Party:
15. Waiting for a Tourist:
16. Vintage Prague:
17. Prague Corner:
18. The Veiled Bride:
19. Lilac Bloom:
20. Motion, Storm:
21. Moda (this one has a caption contest):
22. The Art of the Wait:
23. A Study in Light:
24. A Row, a Pasture:
25. Handle on Blue:
Thanks for looking!
If you want to support my photography, you can purchase a print of any of the images above directly from Erudite Expressions. I still have quite a few 50% off coupons available (see the details in this post).
I have been using Twitter for close to two years now, but I have been paying attention to it much more closely over the last six months or so. What follows below are my personal thoughts, but I always encourage discussion.
Every Friday on Twitter, I read wonderful tweets, but lately, my experience has been overshadowed with great distress. Why? Because every Friday is #FollowFriday or #FF on Twitter. In case you’re not familiar with #FollowFriday, it is a fun, engaging way to recommend Twitter users you follow to others who may not be following the user you’re recommending. #FollowFriday was started by Micah Baldwin (@micah) in January 2009, and of course, the trend has gone viral. So why do I say that Fridays cause me great distress? Because people are doing #FF wrong. In fact, I think #FollowFriday has become Twitter spam, and I hope that this post enlightens you on how to make #FollowFriday pleasant for us all.
#FollowFriday as Spam
So what do I mean by saying that #FF has become spam? It happens when a Twitter user places a bunch of Twitter handles in a single tweet, and tags the tweet with either #FF or #FollowFriday.You can do a Twitter search right now and find that you’ll find a lot of #FF tweets that look like this:
Now, honestly, do you really think that doing a #FF this way is useful? To me, seeing such #FF tweets is an absolute abomination. If I saw someone tweeting this way, my immediate thought would be: “Stop spamming my Twitter timeline.” How is seeing a bunch of Twitter handles in a single tweet useful in making me try to follow someone? Do you expect me to click on each user’s handle and press the “Follow” button? More likely, I will just gloss over those #FF tweets and follow NO ONE. While you think you’re coming across as helpful, in fact, when you recommend dozens of accounts at once, you come across as insincere, perhaps even robotic.
And even worse news if you’re doing a #FF this way? Because you’re effectively spamming my Twitter timeline, I will look at you as a candidate to be unfollowed. In fact, one of my “Twitter rules” is unfollowing someone who blatantly abuses the #FF hashtag by sending out multiple tweets in that fashion. It’s absolute garbage. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others out there who unfollow users who provide these shallow, worthless #FF recommendations. Which brings us to…
How You Should Do #FF Instead
So how should you do a #FF instead? I’ve been advocating this method for months: recommend JUST ONE person in your #FF tweet. Not ten, not five, not even two. JUST ONE person/account. And in your tweet, briefly explain your recommendation. One of the best Twitterers that gets this approach is @pourmecoffee (who gets my #FF recommendation this week for doing the #FF right). Here is one of @pourmecoffee’s #FF tweets:
Notice how only account was recommended? In this case, it’s @atlasobscura, and the explanation is succinct (odd, macabre) and absolutely noteworthy. After I saw that tweet on June 4, I went to @atlasobscura’s timeline, checked out a few recent tweets, and then hit that follow button. Simple, but effective.
Imagine what would have happened if @atlasobscura was recommended alongside a bunch of other handles? It would have been lost in the crowd. In case you are wondering, @atlasobscura gathered dozens of new followers following the #FF recommendation from @pourmecoffee:
Now, one could argue that @pourmecoffee is a “power” Twitter user, with great influence, and so anything he says will carry greater weight than any of your #FF recommendations. But my point still stands: the recommendation was worthy because it was stand-alone and it was well-explained. In fact, I’d like to argue that because you have less influence than “power users,” by doing a spammy #FF recommendations, NO ONE will be paying attention (in other words, if @pourmecoffee was recommending a bunch of users in a single tweet, some people would be paying attention and choose to follow; when you take this approach, you are just ignored). If you change it to recommending ONE person in a tweet, your #FF will carry so much more weight and influence.
My Strategy and Recommendations
I’ve been using this #FF strategy for over six months now. On Fridays, I recommend one—and only one—account to follow for the #FF. If I can’t think of anyone to recommend, I don’t send out any #FF tweets. Over the six months I have been doing #FF this way, I have kept a list of everyone that I have recommend. Months in the making, there are only fifteen accounts in my #FollowFriday list. You can be sure that for each #FF, I had a well thought-out reason for my recommendation.
What should you incorporate in your #FF tweet? You’re free to be creative here, of course, and that’s the beauty. But here are my recommendations:
- Be sincere (and thoughtful) in your recommendation. Don’t just say “#FF @username because his tweets are awesome.”
- If you’re recommending someone funny, find one or two of their funniest tweets and link to them in the #FF.
- If you’re recommending someone who has a great blog, provide the link to the blog in the #FF. If there is a particular blog post that has especially inspired you, link to that blog post in the tweet.
What About You?
However, you can change the mileage here by sending out multiple (my rule of thumb: no more than five) #FF messages per day (and don’t do it all at once; intersperse the #FF tweets throughout the day). Just make sure to only recommend ONE person/account per tweet; otherwise the whole point of your recommendation gets lost (note: you may recommend two accounts in your #FF tweet if they are highly related; for instance, if two journalists are reporting about the BP oil spill in the Gulf and you feel inclined to recommend both of them).
I’m sure others will chime in and say: Twitter is personal, and we should be free to use it any way we please. You’re probably right there (this is a topic for great discussion: who is doing Twitter wrong?). But what I have outlined in this post will make for a more wonderful experience, but only if others get this message and adopt it. I know a few users, who after reading a #FF recommendation with their name, immediately fire off a tweet to the likeness of “Thanks for the #FF @username! Right back at you!” It took me a few weeks to restrain myself from sending out such tweets, because they’re also spammy (if you want to thank someone, why not just send them a thank you by DM or an @-reply?). At the very least, the act of thinking about why you’re recommending someone for #FF is worth the effort; spewing out a bunch of Twitter handles is both mindless and, as I outlined above, ultimately unhelpful (and often worthless).
I hope this post has been elucidating (at the very least, I hope it got you thinking). I hope that your attitude toward #FF recommendations has changed toward the recommendation in my post. If your stance on #FF has changed (and you adopt this one-person per tweet #FF strategy), I want to hear back from you (feel free to leave a comment below). And I would appreciate it if you spread the word on Twitter on how your friends/followers should be doing #FollowFriday. Thanks for reading.
I haven’t posted in my prints blog in four months, so I wanted to highlight some important changes to Erudite Expressions, as well as mention a couple of reminders about prints.
1) Fotomoto recently released a “Share” button, so if you navigate to the top of a photo, you should see that option (highlighted in a screenshot below). You can share on Facebook, Twitter (though this feature could use a URL shortening by http://bit.ly), Google Buzz, or Digg:
2) I dropped the price of Wallpaper-sized images that you can download to your desktop to just $1.00 (it used to be $2.00). You can find the option to download wallpaper-sized images under the “download” link above the photo.
3) I also found out that I have a few 50% off prints coupon codes still unclaimed. If you want to take advantage of the offer, use coupon code B54D54 after clicking the “purchase a print” option above the photo and entering the coupon in the “Discount” box of the shopping cart. I’ve previously discussed Fotomoto and purchasing prints from Erudite Expressions in this post.
Thanks for your support! I plan on updating this prints blog a bit more often the rest of the year.
Earlier today, I wrote a blog post encouraging photographers to help out in the relief effort of the recent earthquake which has devastated the island nation of Haiti. If you haven’t read that post yet, please do so now.
As I outlined in that post, we photographers can help out by donating a portion of our sales proceeds (either through prints or bookings) to the charities directly working in Haiti right now.
If you want to participate in this effort revolving around the images I have been posting over the last three and a half years on my photoblog, Erudite Expressions, then please continue reading.
I’ve decided that I will do a prints sale where 50% of your order at Erudite Expressions will go to a charity of your choice. If you don’t specify a charity, then I will donate to Partners in Health (the reason? I was moved by the efforts of that organization in Haiti after reading Tracy Kidder’s beautiful work, Mountains Beyond Mountains). You can read the latest news about the efforts of Partners in Health here. Of course, if you don’t participate in this promotion, then I encourage you to give directly to Partners in Health or your charity of choice.
To answer all your questions about this print promotion, the FAQs follow.
By now, you are no doubt aware that a devastating Earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti. The situation is dire: 100,000 people are estimated dead. Almost every building in the capital city of Port-au-Prince sustained damage, and most people no longer have a home. You can see some pictures of what has transpired in Haiti in this moving Big Picture gallery from Boston.com. Tracy Kidder (whose book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about doctors working in Haiti, has touched me greatly) writes in the New York Times:
The earthquake struck mainly the capital and its environs, the most densely populated part of the country, where organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations have their headquarters. A lot of the places that could have been used for disaster relief — including the central hospital, such as it was — are now themselves disaster areas.
As you can imagine, Haiti needs a lot of help.
On January 20, 2010, all the participating companies are pledging to donate their sales for the day to a charity of their choice that benefits the Haitian relief effort. Doctors Without Borders and The Red Cross are two of the most common charities, but the developers can choose any organization they want.
Indie Relief is going to aggregate these efforts, listing the participating companies and what products they are offering (some are going to donate the sales from all their products, some might just do it for select titles) and their charities. The companies themselves will make the donation.
I applaud this effort. And I think a similar social effort can also be undertaken by photographers. I have two ideas.
- Hold a Print Sale. Many photographers sell their prints, and I think this would make for a solid campaign. Mention that a certain percentage of proceeds (say 50% to 100%) of the sale will go to a charity of either your choice or (preferably) the customer’s choice. Some notable charities include Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, OxFam, and Partners in Health.
- Donate Bookings Proceeds. If you don’t sell prints but are more of a lifestyle/portraits/wedding photographer, then instead consider donating a certain proportion of your upcoming bookings to help Haiti. Perhaps this is a more difficult campaign to organize because urgent help is required, but it’s one idea with which you can work.
I myself am still thinking about the details of holding a print sale (I’ll update this post throughout the day). I think together we photographers can make an impact in helping with the relief effort currently ongoing in Haiti. If you have any suggestions on other ways photographers can undertake to help (of course, we can always give directly to charities mentioned above) with the relief efforts in Haiti, please leave a comment.
One last thing: if you think these are good ideas, spread the word. Write about your efforts on your blog telling your readers what you’re doing to help. Together, we can make a difference.
I’m holding another prints sale, and it’s the biggest prints sale of the year!
From now until end of day on December 28, 2009 January 7, 2010 you can take 50% off prints which you may order at Erudite Expressions. Just use the “purchase a print” option located above any image, and then use coupon code “B54D54″ (no quotes) at checkout. The code is valid for all print sizes. The orders go through Fotomoto, and you can pay with your credit card (learn more about Fotomoto in this post). You can purchase with confidence.
The code is valid for the first ten (10) customers who take advantage of this offer or until end of day December 28, 2009 January 7, 2010, whichever occurs first. So act fast. It’s the biggest discount I’ve offered for prints, so I hope someone takes advantage of it. Please note that you can purchase multiple prints in a single transaction; if you just click on the “Continue Shopping” box, you can navigate to a different page, with your item(s) saved in the shopping cart. A screen shot of purchasing a print is shown below. FAQs are also presented after the screenshot.
I’ve been thinking about what to do for my latest prints giveaway for a few months now, and I’ve settled on doing a question/answer contest, curated by me.
I am giving away between two and four 8″x10″ prints which were unsold in my ongoing prints sale (as of this writing: all thirty-five prints). To enter this contest, first think about your presence on the web, as well as the presence of brands, companies, celebrities, photographers, musicians, artists, and/or other entitites you know. What I am curious about is how you interact and engage with the audience. Is there something that this entity (subject) does that invariably leads you to come back to see more and more of their work, their new product line, their blog posts, etc.? If so, can you distill what they’re doing right in a paragraph or two?
To enter this contest, leave a comment on this blog post incorporating some of the points/questions raised below:
- If you’re a devout follower of a certain brand/website/celebrity, can you explain what they’re doing that is grabbing your attention? Is it their presence on twitter? Their excellent facebook page? The way they are responding to your comments?
- To answer the question above, it may help if you leave a comment about your personal experience with one (or more, if you choose) subject (be it a person, a product, a celebrity, a website) which made you think: wow, I want to continue interacting (by interacting I mean: following/replying on Twitter, commenting on blog posts, subscribing to the RSS feed, buying products, using word-of-mouth to tell others about your experience, etc.) with this subject, because they’re totally getting me. It may have been just one experience that totally swooned you, and you became a total fan. Or it might be the continued reciprocity that you’re receiving, which leaves you coming back for more.
The reason for the open-ended question is that I’m trying to get a better idea of how people connect. I need to become better at interaction and engagement, so I think it’s a good question to ponder. The details of the free print giveaway are below in the FAQs.
Last week, I wrote a blog post “Five (5) Ways of How NOT to Run a Twitter Contest.” Today, I saw Smashing Magazine run a Twitter contest where they were giving away Google Wave invites. They posted a message on Twitter:
Win one of 25 Google Wave invites – to get one, just follow @smashingmag and retweet this msg! #smwave
So what’s wrong with running a contest this way? First, it’s a cheap way to gain followers, as I outlined in point #2 in my previous post. Second, Smashing Magazine was soliciting other users for their Google Wave invites. As one Twitter user (@DavidYell) pointed out, it appeared as though Smashing Magazine was “taking people’s google wave invites to get more follows.” While this may not necessarily be the case, the intentions of Smashing Magazine may certainly be misconstrued. And because there’s an invitation for speculation, I argue that it’s not a good way to run a Twitter contest.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. Here are 5 things you can do to run an effective (and fun!) contest on Twitter:
1) Ask for an Opinion. Do you realize that making people retweet a certain message is not only trite, but painfully boring? The propensity to run a contest this way is unoriginal. So what can you do instead? Focus on this word: engagement. For example, rather than make people retweet the same message, ask a question instead. For example, one thing that Smashing Magazine could have done is by asking readers to come up with an answer to this question: “Why do you want a Google Wave Invite? The most interesting or clever answer gets an invite!” When you’re asking a question or opinion, it allows Twitter users to come up with creative answers. And it’s so much more interesting to read through interesting responses than a barage of monotonous retweets.
2) The Trivia Contest. I think this idea has the most potential to interact with your audience. A simple approach would be to ask a trivia question on Twitter, and allow Twitter users to @reply with their answers. However, I think this approach can quickly lead to people scanning the Twitter search timeline and finding the correct results (and cheating isn’t fun; the cheaters will also dilute the whole purpose of the contest for others). So here’s a better way to engage with your audience. Ask the trivia question on Twitter, but motion users to reply with the answer on your blog. For example, a contest I held on Erudite Expressions could have been proposed on Twitter (example trivia question: Name the work in which Ernest Hemingway wrote “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour;” the answer is here), with an invitation for users to respond with their answers on the blog post. If you think that people will be able to cheat by scanning comments left by other users, do this instead: ask users to leave a comment on a blog post of their choice which doesn’t contain the answer to the trivia question. If your blog doesn’t contain a timeline of recent comments (you could turn them off temporarily if you do have this feature enabled), it may lead to a great interactive experience (and your readers may find some other interesting content you have to offer in the process as well!). The contest winner would be chosen randomly from all submissions where the correct answer to the trivia contest was provided.
3) Hashtag Frenzy. The idea here is simple. Create a unique hashtag and allow people to incorporate it in any tweet of their choice. One company that ran with this idea was Moonfruit. Another company that went with this contest idea was SquareSpace. The upside potential is huge, as the contest may go viral. The contestants don’t have to retweet a boring message, they don’t have to follow you, and they can have fun in the process. The downside of this contest idea is that if it grows viral, it can lead to spam (i.e., spammers will start using this hashtag to promote themselves, their website, or their product). My only caveat for choosing to run a contest this way: don’t let contestants get multiple “entries” by using the hashtag multiple times (because it may upset other Twitter users and/or appear as spam-like). SquareSpace did a great job and realized about this issue about halfway into their contest, and they chose to make a disclaimer that using the hashtag multiple times would not increase your chances of winning).
4) Short Timeline (and Multiple Contests). If you’re running a Twitter contest, don’t make it last more than one week. For one, people could get bored waiting that long, and two, they might forget about the contest in the first place. This is definitely a personal choice, but a shorter time-frame allows you to better manage the influx of entries for your contest. Additionally, if you find that your contest has been successful, it opens up doors to run another contest in the future. If you can repeat the contest multiple times, it also allows you increased exposure, as people will try to enter a second time if they didn’t win. SquareSpace did exactly that: they picked a winner every 24 hours.
5) Validation of Results. I see too many Twitter contests in which the winners are chosen, but I have no idea what tools the organizers of the contest used to select the winner. If I enter a contest, I want to be certain that my submission did not go in vain. In other words, I want to see a validation of the contest. Check out sites like Tweetaways, TweetsWin, and Twtaway. If you’re running a contest where #hashtags are involved, check out these tools to help in your search: CoTweet, PubliciTweet, TweetGrid, and Monitter. I personally don’t recommend using Twitter Search because it often is unreliable and/or doesn’t find tweets that are more than a few days old (but if your contest is short, as per #4 above, Twitter Search may be a good choice).
However, I want to bring the focus to what to do with the tracking. Whether you run a contest based on a trivia question, an invitation with the use of a hashtag, or something else, the validation process is critical. How do I know that I was entered into the contest? That my submission was both received and counted? This is where Random.org comes into play. From the site:
Random.org insists that it relies on true randomness (based on atmospheric patterns), and you can read more about that here (it is a fascinating read). Why do I recommend using Random.org? Because it allows you (the contest organizer) to input all valid participants into their engine, which will output a random winner (it can select multiple winners as well, if your contest is structured that way). The most appealing part is that Random.org functions as a perfect validation tool: the participants can log in (to a unique website which will be generated by Random.org for you) and see if they were entered into the contest. The unique identifier could be the participant’s email address, their twitter handle, or whatever you choose. The best part? Random.org guarantees privacy because they will not reveal people’s email address or Twitter IDs. For the purposes of running a contest on Twitter, the optimal choice is the entrant-accessible drawing in which privacy is ensured and those who want to verify their entrance into the contest can easily do so. For more information, I highly recommend checking out this video which explains the entire process.
This was a follow-up post on things NOT to do when running a Twitter contest. I hope this post gives you some great ideas on what you can do to run a great contest on Twitter (i.e., don’t do what Smashing Magazine did!). If there is one element I would recommend above any other in advancing an effective contest on Twitter, it’s my insistence on relying on the validation tool, such as that offered by Random.org. Yes, it does cost $4.99 to use their service, but if you’re running a contest with hundreds or thousands of entries, it’s a small price to pay to ensure fairness.
If you have some other ideas on how to run an awesome contest on Twitter, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments. And if you see other contests on Twitter where the organizers are making users retweet a boring message, please point them to this post.
Other helpful resources:
1) The official Guidelines for Running a Contest on Twitter (note the policy on multiple tweets; my addendum is rule #2 here)
2) Five Helpful Tips for a Rockin’ Twitter Contest (hat tip for the apps that track hashtags)
First, if you’re not familiar with Twitter, check out this easy 10 Step Guide to get started. If you’re familiar with Twitter, you know that Twitter has incredible potential for reaching out to customers, promoting products, etc. I am going to focus on holding contests on Twitter. This post highlights five ineffective ways to hold a contest via Twitter, whereas my subsequent post will give you some ideas on what I think is a good or effective way to hold a contest.
Here are five ways of how NOT to run a Twitter contest:
1) Do NOT create an account which simply advertises or promotes your contest. You will come across as spammy and people don’t want to follow spammers.
2) Do NOT make people retweet (RT) a certain message so that they enter the contest. It may be an easy thing to ask of your participants, but I think it’s a fairly cheap and non-genuine way to interact with your followers. For example: I am not a fan of contests where you have to do something like this:
RT @SomeContest: I’ve just entered my name on http://www.example.com for a chance to win a super-duper prize! Yay me!
3) Do NOT require people to follow you (or your brand) as a way of entering the contest. You know how most official contests have a guideline that no purchase is necessary (this is actually an FTC rule; more info here) to enter a sweepstakes? Same with the following. It’s not necessary. I think it’s an artificial way to bring up a following count. If people are genuinely interested in what you have to offer, they will follow you without you asking.
4) Do NOT create a contest where the winner of a contest will be an Xth follower (i.e, a follower milestone). For example, don’t declare that the contest winner will be “my 1,000th follower.” I’ve had personal experience with running a contest this way, and it doesn’t work for a few reasons.
- First, those that follow you may not necessarily be aware that you are holding a contest. So someone may follow you but may not care for the prize of your contest. This happened to me with my 600th follower, who was some kind of big-time CEO who didn’t much care for a free print.
- Second, there are spammers out there. This happened with my 500th follower, who turned out to be a spammer. I had to unfollow the spammer, then wait for a legitimate 500th follower (who also had to be aware and interested in my contest). Luckily, that turned out to be the case, but it’s not something that I want to deal with in the future.
- Third, if you have a large following base, and you declare a prize for an Xth follower, you’ll see a gradual increase in number of followers, but expect a huge spike around the Xth follower. It might be a challenge figuring out who the legitimate follower was. Do you really want to deal with that issue?
5) Do NOT make a twitter user disclose any personal information. This last point is fairly obvious, but it bears repeating: all personal details should be dealt away from Twitter (an email exhchange is ideal, though a communication via direct message is suitable as well).
I’ve outlined five ways of how NOT to run a contest on Twitter. Tune in to my next post (in about a week) to gain some insight into what I think would make for holding an awesome contest via Twitter.
Yesterday on Erudite Expressions, I posted an image of New Yankee Stadium. I captured the photo earlier in the summer, but I think it was very fitting to post it last night to commemorate the New York Yankees, as they won their 27th World Series. New York Yankees: 2009 World Series Champions. Great headline, right?
Today, I spent some time searching the web to find great images of New Yankee Stadium. I searched for photos on Google images, Yahoo! images, Bing images, Flickr, and some other places on the web. Unfortunately, I had to come to the conclusion that most of the photos of New Yankee Stadium weren’t that great – either in composition, technical merit, etc. Of course, I was judging against my picture (it is a high dynamic range image), which is shown below:
I think that all of you fans of the New York Yankees should head on over to that photoblog post and order a print of that image (there’s even a discount code you can use). But if you’re still not convinced, and you want to receive a free print of the image above, I have a challenge for you.
Search the web for the best image of New Yankee Stadium that you can find and add the link as a comment below this post. My only two stipulations: 1) The composition of the image has to be similar (i.e., it must be a picture taken from a vantage point such that you can see the entire field) and 2) The image must be iconic or memorable for some reason (for example, I think the picture above is iconic because the American flag is displayed on the HD screen). With regard to stipulation number two, you should describe or explain your thoughts/feelings in the comment.
If I agree* with your selection of an incredible image of New Yankee Stadium, I’ll send you a free 4″x6″ print of my image of New Yankee Stadium (the one pictured above). As a bonus, if more than ten people leave a comment on this post, then I’ll upgrade the offer to a free 8″x12″ print. This contest will close in one week, so make sure to submit your comment by midnight on November 13, 2009.
So, leave a comment with what you think is an incredible image of New Yankee Stadium. And spread the word (on twitter, facebook, or wherever else you want) if you want to receive the larger 8″x12″ print.
UPDATE: The contest is now closed, but if you’re so inclined, feel free to submit a comment pointing to a beautiful picture of New Yankee Stadium.
*If there is enough participation in this contest, I may choose to invite a community (example: twitter poll) to decide which picture of New Yankee Stadium is the most iconic one.