Shutterstock Gets Social – Digital PR Case Study

Today I decided to draft a case study that should be especially interesting to members of this community. What makes it interesting? It’s a case study of a company who used a marketing idea from a post on this blog and is having great success from it.

Shutterstock Digital PR Case Study

A bit ago, I applauded the efforts of Shutterstock’s PR outreach to me. In that post I not only gave them kudos for a good pitch, I suggested a tip they should follow to brand themselves as the stock photography company of choice with the next generation of communications professionals and marketers. I am pleased to see Shutterstock having success both from this idea and a larger strategy they are already implementing.

In case you didn’t check out the link, essentially what happened is Shutterstock sent me a good pitch, but the action they wanted me to take wasn’t compelling for this blog (an interview with the company CEO). I countered with the suggestion that instead of an interview, they should provide me an account to test-drive Shutterstock. I told them I’ll browse the images and if I find any I like, I’ll use them in my posts/provide attribution. This all happened via email.

They setup a test account and I was using the images in no time (see this post to see how I’m using their images regularly on this blog).

After using their product a bit, I decided it was worth posting the story publicly.  Since I knew they would be reading (they pitched me after all) I figured I should return the favor of free images  beyond just attribution and offer them a quick suggestion.

Here’s a summary of it:

A quick idea for Shutterstock

  • Scale what they did for me (letting me test drive their service) for around 50 or even 100 other quality sites through a blog partnership program.
  • Invite quality bloggers who frequently use images in their content (this should be simple enough, Chris Brogan, Louis Gray, Darren Rowse all do, just off the top of my head) and make the offer to take the Pepsi challenge vs Flickr.

Access to ultra-high quality, professional images to make posts stand out is a really compelling offer that would be difficult to turn down, especially when there are good people behind the product and marketing. It is win-win, because Shutterstock gets exposure for their service, and bloggers get high quality images.

Note that Shutterstock is a paid service, so this would have to come out of their budget. With that said it’s really worth it for them to consider taking a little bit out of the ad budget to give popular bloggers subscriptions. Seems like huge return for a minimal in-kind cost to get their content featured front and center, in the editorial parts of well-trafficked sites.

Everyone is guaranteed to see each image, plus the credit – even in RSS as it is part of the content.

I’m pleased to see they not only implemented this suggestion, but they are experiencing positive reactions and results. Let’s look at just a few bloggers that are involved in Shutterstock’s blog partner program. Note the high quality of these blogs, and the fact that Shutterstock is successfully building relationships with key people:

David Meerman Scott now uses Shutterstock images on Web Ink Now

Jason Falls now uses Shutterstock images on Social Media Explorer

But it goes beyond popular content producers merely using images, crediting and providing name recognition/traffic to Shutterstock.

They are taking things a step further by actively paying attention to how bloggers are using their service, and bringing it full circle by sharing the results with their own network.

Shutterstock sharing content from bloggers in the outreach program relevant to their community

I like this strategy a lot, as it is far more valuable to have actual relationships with bloggers and become a part of their community as opposed to simply getting a single blog post here and there through 1-1 blogger relations.

Dave Fleet now uses Shutterstock images on his marketing blog

Shutterstock sharing Dave’s content in Facebook

Shutterstock started reaching out to bloggers with this program soon after the idea was shared here at The Future Buzz. Since then they have done a great job of taking that simple idea of using their own product to market itself (good products can do that!) and integrate it as just one element in a larger social strategy.

By engaging with influencers not only are they all over the blogosphere, but their Twitter following has grown significantly – from around 170 followers to 11,476+ in about a three month period of time.

Shutterstock Twitter growth – huge trend up, surpassing competitor iStock

It’s not just influencer outreach driving those numbers, Shutterstock decided to embrace the social web inside out – when you log into your dashboard to access images, clear CTAs to join their community are present:

Shutterstock dashboard recently integrated Twitter/Facebook

More than just in their application, Shutterstock has a very popular newsletter.  Their team had been sharing my posts on Twitter, but when they reached out and asked me to contribute an article to their newsletter, I was more than happy to (the topic I chose was why images are vital to modern blogs).  Click through and you’ll notice they even allowed me to have a by-line which stated:

Adam Singer works for TopRank Online Marketing, a search engine optimization and digital marketing firm trusted by Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. and Canada, and blogs on marketing, media and PR at The Future Buzz.

So they let me share my ideas, promote my employer and my personal blog.  Seems like a win on all accounts.  Do you see what happened here?  Shutterstock let me become a part of their community.

Shutterstock newsletter brings bloggers into their mix of their marketing

From the outside looking in I can’t know if their marketing was already headed down the path of social. With that said, I would like to think their experience building a relationship with me has been a positive nudge forward.

What do I think Shutterstock’s larger strategy is?

Become known as *the* stock photography choice for decision markers in the digital media, marketing and PR industry.

Why is this such a great strategy?

Following the trend of content marketing, stock photography is only going to increase in value for digital content producers and become a standard element in future marketer’s toolboxes. By putting stakes in the ground right now, they have a huge opportunity to ride the shift in marketing trends all the way up.

Shutterstock understands the social web is influence, not ROI – and for it, they’ll win long term.

Watching their interactions, it’s clear they are making all the right moves to build those key, influential relationships.

Why were they successful?

  • Freedom/agility – their communications team is trusted to engage in social marketing on behalf of the brand.
  • Flexibility – they jumped on an idea even when it wasn’t in the initial planning.
  • Comprehension – they have clearly been analyzing how others are bridging social into their marketing and learning from it.
  • Knowing who they want to target – by engaging with web-centric marketing/communications professionals and then sharing that content, they are building a community of like-minded people which should lead to sustainable, organic growth.
  • Willing to vest the time/effort to see returns at scale – I don’t think they are doing this for direct ROI today, I happen to think they are planning long-term here to forge lasting relationships and in time own the market.

What else do I want to see from Shutterstock?

  • Why not evolve the newsletter into a blog?
  • Continue to do things to connect bloggers engaged in this program with your fans/community in interesting and useful ways.
  • Do something creative to connect all the bloggers involved in this program.  The fact that we’re all in the same niche means there are potentially interesting opportunities.
  • Provide a case study about this in your newsletter or in a Marketing trade and share stats/facts/figures or even just reactions from internally at Shutterstock.  I’d be curious to hear more feedback.

I’m going to nip the biased question before it’s asked

What’s interesting is Brian Solis, Eric Friedman and a few other notable web professionals reached out to me with questions about Shutterstock after my initial post. What was my reaction? It’s a great service, the images are high quality, and used properly can help make blog posts sticky. Brian and Eric are now Shutterstock users too.

Am I influenced by the fact that I’m getting free photos?  Not a chance – if their service was awful I would say that. I’ve publicly done so with free services in the past and will continue to do so, whether I’m paying for a service or it is free. As an independent blogger who reports to no one and does not currently monetize this site through advertising, I’m brutally honest. I’m thinking the other bloggers here would say the same, you really have to in this niche or you’ll fail fast.

Also – it would be remiss of me not to mention Felicia Morton and the Morton PR team – they are the ones who initially reached out to me and made the idea come to life.

One final note to the SEOs out there:  I’m no-following image links even though Shutterstock is providing me the content free.  I also no-follow Flickr image links because I am attributing credit, although not necessarily endorsing.  This is not paid blogging, so I can’t imagine this program would draw the ire of Google even if the links were followed – it is more parallel to a private  beta.

Additional case studies from The Future Buzz