Rosh Sillars, The Rosh Group Inc.

Wednesday, June 16 by Angela Kryhul,

Posted in: Industry Interviews

Guest interviewer Angela Kryhul speaks with Rosh Sillars, a Detroit-based photographer, instructor and co-author of the new book: The Linked Photographers' Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media. Rosh travels the U.S. sharing social media and Internet marketing ideas with photographers and creative professionals.

  • Social media as a networking tool
  • How to manage time spent on social media activities
  • Twitter strategy for photographers
  • Why share images on Flickr?
  • The importance of Search Engine Optimization

Interview Transcript

This is an edited transcript of Angela Kryhul's interview with Rosh Sillars, a Detroit-based photographer, social media expert and co-author of new book The Linked Photographers' Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media.

Angela Kryhul:

Okay, welcome Rosh. Rosh, you're well known for being very active in social media and for sharing your knowledge with other photographers and creative professionals. I just wanted to start by talking about the specific social media channels you're active in?

Rosh Sillars:

Well, I think the foundation for my work is the blog. Blog is excellent social media. I'm able to provide great information content and get reactions from my community. So, I like to use my blog as the centerpoint of what I call my social media solar system and from there YouTube, Flickr... Flickr is more of a new edition for me. I mean, I've been using it but not as heavily as I have recently, for a number of reasons, but it's been very helpful in building my community.

And then Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn - a lot of the basics, really where I focus. But, you know, I dabble in just about everything from some of the newer platforms... a lot of the teens, high school students, like Formspring.me - that's very popular right now. You'd be surprised... it's a very high percentage of high-school students who use Formspring, and a lot of us haven't even heard of it.

So, I like to keep involved in just about everything at least so I know what is going on and to see if there's a new avenue for my photography or to sharing my message. Sometimes, something pops up that surprises me, that really works well.

Angela:

So, your main website is www.roshsillars.com?

Rosh:

Correct. I, also, have www.rosh.com and they're always forming and shaping. I have a rep firm called The Rosh Group and I've been trying to decide... I commandeered that site for my own stuff and switched it over to another site and I'm going back and forth. I think, actually, I may keep Rosh as my Rosh Group site and yeah, www.roshsillars.com for my portfolio, www.newmediaphotographer.com is my main blog.

Angela:

When I was doing a bit of research and exploring where you are on the Net, it was a little overwhelming because there seems to be so many places that you are...

Rosh:

Yes.

Angela:

... and that's one of the things I wanted to explore... how you came to decide on the channels that you're using? How you manage them? It sounds like you're also playing a lot as well with what's out there.

Rosh:

Yeah and I have to. If I'm going to proclaim my blog NewMediaPhotographer.com in sharing what is out there, I have to test it. I have to see what is out there, what's working, what's not, at least from my opinion - and that's all I can offer - and it's just a matter... that really is the number one question: How do I find the time? The reality is it's about priorities. It works for me.

I've gained a lot of wonderful opportunities due to social media. And so I make it a part of my plan, a part of my workflow and it doesn't take as much time as you might think. I think the biggest time consuming element of social media, for me, is the writing part. That does take time. But, you know, working on Facebook or Twitter or making a comment here and there on another blog - that doesn't necessarily take a lot of time. It takes a moment here, a moment there, when I have a little downtime.

Angela:

So, it sounds like you've come a place where, you know, it's not cast in stone that you have to have the blog, the website, the Facebook page. But it sounds like you're able to be very flexible in terms of trying stuff out and moving things around?

Rosh:

Certainly. Certainly.

Angela:

Right. Now, I just wanted to talk about some of the specific areas that you're in. So, you talked about Flickr, which I think is interesting. How does a photographer use Flickr today?

Rosh:

Well, I use an interesting method. Well, I certainly use it as a group place to share... New Media Photographer... people can get together and share their images. Then, I also more recently have used it to share some of my outtakes. And...

Angela:

So, you're sharing outtakes on Flickr, okay.

Rosh:

Yeah, sharing outtakes on Flickrr and the reason I do that is I use the creative comments and these are some things that I've resisted in the past and I think a lot of professionals resist because, "Oh my gosh... I don't want people to take my photography. I don't want it to be used in a way I don't want it to be used."

Well, there's something called the Link Economy. My sites are placed very high in Google. I receive a lot of work because of that and part of that is because a lot of people link to my website and consider me an expert.

And one way to get those links is to take some outtakes - images that I'm probably not going to resell but would put in the creative comments, say, on Flickr. In other words, allow other people to use them... they can't use them commercially, but they can use them on their blog. And if they do so, then they have to link back to my site and I tell them which one. So, if it's an interior photograph, they have to link back to my interior page. If it's of food... the food page. People... people page. And that helps strengthen my site

And so, these are images that would be sitting on a CD or a hard drive not earning me, really, anything. And so, this gives me another opportunity to increase my visibility and the opportunity to earn more money.

Angela:

So, it sounds like ... you're mining your content, getting the most you can out of it?

Rosh:

Yes.

Angela:

How do creative professionals that you've come across feel about that whole idea of giving a little so that you get something back?

Rosh:

A lot of people resist it. I don't force anybody to do that. But I often encourage it. Just like people ask me, you know, why are you giving photographers business ideas? And you know what? I can't force you to understand how that works but I can tell you I have always found the more I give, the more I share... the more I get back. It's not always from the same source and can't explain it to you, won't even try.

But I'll tell you it does work. And so that's what I do. I share and the name recognition gets out there. The reality is a lot of people are not going to find their "good" hiding everything in a basement. If they're not sharing, they're not gaining.

Angela:

You're in a lot of places - you've got a podcast, you're writing a column, you've got your blog, you're LinkedIn, Facebook etc., etc. It seems really overwhelming to me. Do you have the core channels that you're using?

Rosh:

The core is certainly the blog, by far, and then the podcast. I've been very interested in audio since the early days. I've been podcasting before there really was podcasting, since 1999. I would share business ideas on my www.rosh.com website back then using the Real Player system at the time and it just evolved and grew. Now, we have what we call traditional podcasting, which is wonderful. As the technology grew, people are able to subscribe, I was able to keep track of it, better ways to present the audio and I love it. So that's certainly one of my core. And actually I started the New Media Photographer blog with a podcast, just with that idea in mind that that is certainly a core of what I like to do. As far as some of the new traditional social media, Twitter by far is one of my favorite just because I get such a large amount of traffic from Twitter...

Angela:

So, how do you use Twitter actually? Who are you reaching and how do you use it strategically?

Rosh:

Well, Twitter is a media stream. It's not about chatting and I've been on Twitter a long time. I've been on Twitter since June of 2007 and quite honestly in their early days... we honestly didn't know what to do with it, you know. Even some people today, the big social media gurus who were on at the same time, I remember them saying "I don't want more than say, 30, 40 people to follow me or to follow them because I can't keep track of them all." And I was feeling the same way for actually the first year and a half on Twitter.

We just kept it close knit and then eventually we realized, it's just a media stream and it's not about keeping track of every single person that's following you or you're following. It's like the people's AP [Associated Press] wire. I often [ask] "do you have cable?" And most people say "yes." I say "are you watching it right now?" The answer is usually "no" because they're talking with me. And I say "well, when you're watching a TV show, are you watching all of those TV shows at once?" ... of course not.

Well... why then are you paying for all that? Because, you can't see it all at once and you can't see everything going on at Twitter all at once or Facebook. So, get over the fact that you have to keep up with everything because that will drive you crazy, just like you can't watch all of the cable TV shows at once. Just accept the media that comes through, the stuff that you catch and appreciate that and don't worry about what you're missing.

And so, let it flow. Let it run and that's what I do and if I catch something I find interesting, I will re-tweet it and share it. But I often hear people say "you know what, I hate Twitter because all it is, it's about celebrity gossip and just awful stuff"... I often pause and I say "well, who are you following? Because if you don't like what you see on Twitter or any social media, fire the editor." Because you're the editor and what you see in social media is totally based on what you are interested in.

So, personally for me I mostly follow photographers. So, most of my media stream is all photography and social media-related stuff. So, the real...

Angela:

... So, is it more ...

Rosh:

Go ahead.

Angela:

...information sharing with other photographers or are you reaching out to potential clients through Twitter?

Rosh:

Mostly information-sharing on Twitter and the reality is you can get some business. You know, my book - that came through relationships with Twitter. A lot of my [public] speaking and I've even had photography opportunities through Twitter. But that has not been my main focus. I have friends who are wedding photographers. They've done okay with Twitter but they have more luck with Facebook. Facebook is a better place for that.

So, each social media channel has its use. Twitter, you really need to think of it as just a good information source and sharing source. If you make a connection, which you often do, and it develops into a business relationship - that's a bonus. I like to give this example. I listen to the radio all the time and if I hear of a new business opening, on the radio, say on the other side of town... and I call that person and I get that job because they needed some new promotion, was it because of the radio or is it because I took some good information off of the radio and took action on it?

So, there are a lot actionable ideas that you can find on Twitter that can lead to work but you don't necessarily go there to hard sell and promote yourself.

Angela:

I think that what really gets a lot of people is that they say "okay, I'll give Twitter a try," or they will create a blog or Facebook page. Then, they get sucked into this black hole of content creation where they really don't have the time to feed these beasts and I wondered how you decided which channels were right for you and how you balance the amount of time and effort that's needed to feed the channels?

Rosh:

Sure. Well, I look at say Facebook... I don't use it so much for promotion for my photography. I mostly use it for family and friends and share a few ideas. But a lot of the people following me on Facebook, I haven't talked to them in 20 years. And so, I figure, they can wait a couple more days for an update. So, I'm not on there every single day. I will feed some stuff in there.

I'm very traditional with social media. I don't like to automate many things. Recently, I started automating a couple of things such as my 365 blog. I found that, every single day, because I have family and friends... a 365 project to take in a photograph every single day and posting it to the Web. And I found myself posting that every single day to Facebook to share with family and friends. And so I decided okay, this is a reasonable thing to feed right in to Facebook. So, I use it to share and keep up.

Twitter, I use literally, three, four, five times a day and you don't have to be down there every minute or every hour on Twitter. Just, you know, put good quality information up there, champion other people. Use those lists wisely. For example, I have a list of Detroit people. I have a list of community people - people who champion me. So, I make sure I can return the favor of championing them and sharing their stuff back.

Angela:

When you say champion you mean sharing some of their ideas or their resources?

Rosh:

Yeah, champion them. Let other people know that this is a great person. And, that they have good content. So, my blog I would say... well, I think the most important thing overall is that... when you come right down to it ... why do I do the things that I do? Why do I choose these channels? Because, ultimately, I want to earn more money as a photographer and the number one way to get there, for me, in the way I get a lot of my work, is through my website. Okay?

Angela:

Mm-hmm.

Rosh:

And so, I need to rank very well in the search engines: good search engine optimization. And social media helps me gain those links, gain that credibility, to ultimately move those sites up in the ranking. So, what do I do? I take time on Twitter to share a few ideas and once in a while I'll share some stuff from my site but I don't push it. But, I share good information.

I'll do the same thing on Facebook, attracting more links, more awareness to my website. I'll do that on LinkedIn. I will create a video blog. I will create maybe even a video portfolio, or a podcast. Ultimately, all these things in the end go back to my photography although in a soft way, not in a hard sell.

Angela:

Do you find out there that people kind of want that silver bullet, you know, "I twittered and I didn't get any business..."

Rosh:

Right.

Angela:

... or "I blogged and nobody is commenting." But what you're saying is there's no direct, there's no straight line. It's more that these things are all working together?

Rosh:

There can be a straight line but that's not the way I approach it. I don't look at it that way because I know what my goal is. My goal is SEO - search engine optimization. That's my personal goal. Now, there are photographers on Facebook that do a tremendous job. You know, 30% or 40% of their business comes from Facebook and referrals. It's about networking.

There are two types of marketing. There's hard marketing and soft marketing. Hard marketing is your display ads, Google Adwords, commercials. That's hard marketing. Soft marketing is public relations and that's what social media is all about, and it's networking. When I think about my social network, I think about my networking in person.

I built my company by networking, going out shaking hands. And I use the same principles. If I walked into a room and handed my card out to a bunch of people and walked out of the room, what was I doing? I was just handing out a bunch of cards. I wasn't developing any relationships. I wasn't even networking. I was purely just handing out business cards and that's useless. I would have been much better off taking the time, getting to know people and sharing my story with them in a way that they would, hopefully, repeat it and share it with other people to develop referrals.

So, if a photographer or any businessperson goes online, especially in social media, to directly sell to their community. In other words, the people that follow them on Twitter and Facebook... I think it's a mistake because those people are already sold. Those people already think you're a good person, that you offer something of value. So, your real job is to educate them on how to find more referral sources and how to find clients for you. That's a better way to go about it. Educate them. Don't sell to them.

Angela:

So, how do you manage it all? Do you have a publication sked, like an editorial sked?

Rosh:

Yeah, I often create editorial calendars for myself, general plans. Facebook, Twitter - no. But I have it kind of in my head, what I'm going to generally do. In the morning I'll go through and look for some highlights that I want to share from, say, my community. Some people posted some good stuff, maybe go on a few blogs. The only thing I really have set in stone is my podcast. That's posted every Monday and the rest of it is pretty flexible.

I have a plan of say two to four blog posts during the week and then I just tweet and use Facebook and LinkedIn as I feel necessary. If I don't feel like I have something valid to say then, you know, I try not to share anything because I don't want to waste people's time.

I spend a lot of time in boardrooms for companies large and small, and one of the first things we do is develop a media calendar because the last thing you want to do is get through a month and then say "Now what? Now, what do I do?"

You don't want to be worrying about what is next. You just want to be thinking about new content and developing that, and just knowing ... hey, next month I'm going to focus on this theme, maybe. And the month after that is this theme. So, if you see something, you can just put in a file, mark it, and say "okay, this will be great" for the month or the timeframe in which I'm going to focus on these topics.

Angela:

So, when you encounter creative professionals who really want to make a commitment to social media and get going with it... Do you recommend that they dabble in certain channels just to get started. And do you have an estimated amount of time that they should spend on it every week?

Rosh:

Sure. I usually say start with a blog, especially to share your imagery, your photographs. Get them out there and, you know, you don't have to write a lot but you do have to write about your photographs because Google cannot see the thousand words that your photograph represents. So, you need to describe it. And I often recommend sharing names, as many names as possible related to the photograph, locations, anything you can.

You can even create a set format if you wish... All you have to do is fill in the blanks each time you blog. You can set it up yourself based on the things that are important to you. That way it doesn't take as much time as you might think. Then I often say, you know, today Facebook is mandatory. Twitter is not mandatory. Some people latch-on well to it, some do not. If you understand that, again, it's just a media stream... people follow you who feel the information that you are offering is valuable and you follow the people that you find valuable information from... Great!

If you get that, then Twitter will be wonderful. It's a great source of traffic to your site. Those are the main ones. But also look for forums. Don't forget: forums are social media. YouTube is a great place to... again, [I'm] spending a lot of time in the small business boardrooms... the big talk is video because video can help really describe who you are and demonstrate what you're about and what you have to offer in a dynamic way.

So, then, the future is truly going to be niche social media and there are a lot of new sites popping up that are geared to specific industries and hobbies. So, those are going to be the social media of the future. We're all going to have one or two of those that we belong to, so we can really be a part of a tight-knit community. And I think that will continue to grow and there'll be more and more sites out there. So, it's continuously keeping an eye out, see what works.

If you see something that's interesting, sign up, usually it doesn't cost anything and you have a marker there for you. You saved your name in that space and if it starts to take off and seems to prove valuable then, you're already there and you can, you know, you have a history and you can develop that - kind of the way Twitter worked for myself.

Angela:

So, do you spend any money on social media? Is it mainly the time that you put into it?

Rosh:

Yeah, Yes. It's mostly time. I mean, that's the currency. You can either purchase your advertising or you can use your time as the currency. There are a number of ways to go about it. I often say do what works. Do what works for you. Social media does not replace anything. All it is, is just another form of communication.

Angela:

And, when you're advising companies, do they hire ghostwriters or other people who are playing in that space?

Rosh:

Right. Well, I don't use ghostwriters. I certainly use editors to help me out when I write stuff. I like to keep it as clean as possible, so I enlist people that I know - my wife specifically who does a great job. But ghostwriting, ghost tweeting... I strongly recommend that they don't do that. Some companies...

Angela:

Sort of takes the authenticity out of it?

Rosh:

Absolutely. And nobody can tell your story better than you. So, when you say you don't have time. You know, the reality is we've been looking for the opportunity to share our story with people on a continuous basis. For a photographer... we often go to, say, see an art director and show our book. And then, we leave. And then who's coming in behind us? Another photographer. I was thinking "boy, if only we could show them a little bit deeper than that five-minute superficial meeting that we had, and that I can keep them updated on what I'm doing without being a pest. If only I have that opportunity just to keep top of mind."

Well, here it is: Social media. And the first thing we hear is "I don't have time for that." Wait a minute, we've been looking for this for years and here it is. So, it's about priorities. It's about, yes, set up a schedule. Set up the time. Set up something that works in your workflow and make it from you and from your heart because just as we're discussing, ghostwriting, ghost tweeting...

Even scheduling. I don't even like scheduling my tweets. You know, some people do and that's fine. I can see some value in that. But I like to keep it as real as possible and I have very few things automated and it's all me.

Angela:

Why don't you talk a little bit about your new book, which you wrote with Lindsay Renee Adler. I wondered what prompted you to write the book? What sort of need did you see in the photographer community for this book?

Rosh:

Well, you know, I started writing this, my version, of the book last summer and ... there are a lot of people out there ... after traveling, I just understood the questions people had ... different people consume media differently. And that's why it's important to have a podcast, video blog, in the different channels. And some people aren't ready for those channels yet. And so, a book is a great place, the traditional book is a great place to reach them. To share how do you use this [social media] stuff? Because they're quite often just confused and not sure what to do. And so, the book is for the people that really are not highly engaged in the social media space yet.

So, I spent the time writing over the summer. I went to PhotoPlus Expo last October... and I met Lindsay in person. And, she is somebody that I had met on Twitter and we kind of connected there. We talked. She's really nice.

And then a few weeks later she emailed me and asked if she could interview me for her book. I'm thinking wait a minute. I asked questions and it sounded like oh, this is the book I was writing. And so, I was kind of bummed, and she already had a publisher. And I said well, you know, all I can do is encourage her and support her. You know, she has a publisher. She's going down this road. She's there and so I said "yeah, I'll be a part of your book," and, you know, I kind of had mine on the shelf anyway. I'd written what I wanted to write but there are some areas I didn't want to focus on so much.

So, the beginning of, or the end of December, she tweeted me again and said "what are you doing for the next two months ... would you be my co-author for this book?" I gladly accepted and I was actually thrilled.

It's in five sections. First is: Why? How to set up your ... solar system. And then we get into blogging and search engine optimization and Adwords. And then we get into the details of, in the third section, into Facebook and Twitter. And that's where Lindsay really excels, getting into details of those sites. And then we shared, in the fourth section, our story and our followers' stories.

So, we have our story - how we got into social media, how Lindsay got in, how I got in. And then we interviewed people such as Chase Jarvis and Jack Hollingsworth and, you know, The Strobist and ... just going down the list, including some people, you know, you may not even know. And then, our fifth and last section is a reference section of all the different types of sites that you might want to consider. So, that's the rundown.

Angela:

It's interesting that you mentioned PhotoPlus Expo. I just wondered as you're traveling and speaking to other photographers about social media, what are some of the typical concerns and questions that they put you? What's on their minds right now?

Rosh:

The biggest concern, as the theme today, has certainly been time. How do you find the time? As I say, it's just about developing the priority. Privacy issues are certainly an issue and something you need to be concerned of. Always read the terms of service at any site you go to. Honestly, all the sites just automatically put in "We own everything." It's just automatic. They don't know better. A lawyer told them to do it or they just took a standard form somewhere and a lot of these people are tech people. They don't know the issues the photographers have with that.

And then, how do you display your images without worrying about them being taken. And I'll say, you know, anybody's can be taken. I can take them from your website and they'll tell me no I can't and I'll say give me a computer I'll take your photo in five minutes. You know, it's not that hard.

So, you need to consider watermarking your images, making sure you're safe and don't put up images you're worried about losing control of. If you're really worried about losing control of it then don't put it up there, especially if it's a client's image. Don't share client's images before they've seen them, things like that. Those are important considerations.

You know, I'm just taking the philosophy... I've loosened up over the years and said okay, if they're going to steal my image at least my watermark is on it and they're advertising for me. You know, that's the best I can do.

And then, others like the outtakes that I share on Flickr. I just accept the fact that those ones are going to be used. Some people are going to do what I asked - link to me - and some will not. I just have to accept that fact, that I'm going to put it out for that.

Angela:

So, photographers shouldn't be too uptight about putting some of their images out there. But, they should be doing it strategically?

Rosh:

Exactly, very well put.

Angela:

Okay. Let me circle back around to another question that I asked before and that's how to measure your success in the media channels. You know, at what point do you say okay, this is working for me and at what point do you say, okay, this is not working for me so I'll let that one go?

Rosh:

Well, I think there are a couple of things you can do. Start off by creating a baseline. Where are you in search engine optimization with keywords that you wish to be well known for? Then, also go to sites like www.socialmention.com. It's a place where you can monitor your progress and the conversation about you. A lot of people - going back to what people ask - people will ask "Why would I want to put my stuff out there? Why would I want to create a blog? People will say bad things... I don't want the opportunity for people to say all this bad stuff in the social media."

The reality is the conversation's happening with or without you. So, you might as well create the platform where you can measure it and see what's happening and keep track of people and what's being said about you or your product and service in the social media.

And so, using a site like Social Mention will put your name in there, put your website in there and see what the baseline is. And then you can measure it from there. You can see if the conversation is improving, if your SEO is improving and of course, when you receive opportunity through the social media. Whether it's a referral ... and most likely it will be a referral. I have not ... other than say maybe the book and you know I've sold CDs and I have followers that purchase things directly. But generally, when it comes to photography, it's a referral.

Angela:

Rosh, that's great advice. Thanks so much for spending the time with me today.

Rosh:

Hey, thanks for having me on.

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