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There are those among us who believe that all things Internet are reserved for their private enjoyment, and that nobody, no company, no institution and no individual should be allowed to use anything Internet related for marketing purposes. Clearly, I am not one of those people.

Since I actually live in the real world, where commerce is the engine that makes things move, I believe in the Internet as a marketing medium. I believe it has other value, but I also believe photographers would be remiss if they don’t take advantage of the online tools that exist to market their work.

Here are just a few ways you can use Twitter as a marketing tool…

a. Use Twitter to replace e-mail. Think about it. If you run a Twitter client in the background like I do (Tweetie) then you’re in effect, always available via Twitter. If someone who follows you wants to send you a message they can do it at least as quickly (if not quicker) than they can via e-mail.

This week, I released my new Master Gallery Print Three Moose. The first person to buy it sent me a Tweet expressing interest, rather than an e-mail. I responded via Twitter and eventually we did move the conversation to e-mail. But the fact that it started on Twitter was not lost on me. None other than well-known computer columnist John C. Dvorak was just last week talking about Twitter as a tool to replace e-mail. He may be onto something.

b. Use Twitter to replace RSS. No offense to Dave Winer, but RSS isn’t the most efficient of Internet break-throughs. While I have (and will continue to have) RSS feeds on my blogs and podcasts, I have noticed a significant change in the number of people relying on the RSS feed to notify them of new Photofocus.com posts compared with the number of people who typically ask me to just let them know what I am doing via Twitter.

When we post something new to the RSS feed, and to Twitter at the same time, depending on the time of day and day of the week, we can see that the Twitter audience is hitting the site harder than the RSS audience. It’s something to take note of if you use blogs or podcasts to promote or market your photography.

c. Showing the work is the most basic marketing activity a photographer can do. And while Twitter is still not the most photo-friendly place, you can use it to link directly to photos. Some photographers are building nice, organic followings by simply linking to a photo every day. Twitter marketing doesn’t have to be fancy, just effective.

d. Contests/giveaways are effective when done well. This is an area that I know something about :) I believe I’ve probably given away more stuff on Twitter than almost anyone else. And yes, I get followers because of that. (By the way if you’re new to the whole Twitter thing followers = audience.) But I don’t believe I KEEP followers because of that. I KEEP them by sharing real, free, valuable information like photography tips, news about new gear or firmware updates, contests or shows and free tutorials, podcasts, blog posts, etc.

I try to keep my ratio of contest/purely promotional stuff to between eight and 10 to one. On weekends when it’s slower on Twitter I’ve learned that too many posts will be interpreted as noise so my ratio is more like 12 to one on weekends.

These are just a few ideas. I don’t believe anyone is a true “social media” expert. And while I am being paid to consult with some large firms on how to use Twitter, I always make sure to preface any such engagement with the disclaimer that I, like everyone else on Twitter, am still learning. It’s a fast-paced, fast-moving environment. What worked a year ago on Twitter might not work now. What works now might not work in the future. But as with all marketing, doing SOMETHING right now is better than doing nothing. This is a chance to establish a real “tribe” as Seth Godin would say. You don’t need to get an Oprah-sized following on Twitter to be effective.

There are certainly benefits to having a large Twitter audience as there are in any media. But everyone (even Oprah) starts their journey with that first step. There was a time when I had one follower, then 100, then 1000, then 10,000 and now around 15,000. Whether it grows from here or not, I am able to accomplish some important goals with my audience and moreover, I am able to provide them with real value in exchange for following me. And THAT is the most important lesson of all for photographers. Provide something of value and the audience will follow. To paraphrase and slightly modify a line from the popular baseball movie “Field of Dreams,”

If you build it well and provide something your audience cares about – they will come.

You will face some blowback if you start using Twitter as a marketing tool. As I said in the beginning of this piece, some people believe they have a RIGHT to use the Internet free and clear of marketing. You’ll never please these people and there’s absolutely no reason to try. Ignore them. Do what you think is fair, and just and proper, and do it with a clear conscious and an open mind and with honest transparency and you’ll be fine.

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking the word FOLLOW under my name at http://www.twitter.com/scottbourne.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

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