Interview With Shutterstock CEO Jon Oringer

About one year ago, Shutterstock’s PR team pitched me to interview CEO Jon Oringer.  At the time I wasn’t interested in interviewing their CEO as I didn’t have a relationship with the brand.  However, their PR team knew how to pitch a blogger, even to the point of taking one of my ideas and implementing it (that is pretty cool:  a company that crowdsources not just their products, but their marketing).  The idea has become an ongoing success for the brand – check out the digital PR case study if you haven’t.

After learning more about Shutterstock, using the product and discussing the service with other bloggers I was finally ready to interview their CEO.  I pinged my PR contact at Shutterstock (Felicia Morton) and she quickly connected me with Oringer for a Q&A.  So one year from their original request – I organically reached out to them for an interview.  See how that worked?

Anyway, PR pontification aside, Oringer was kind enough to answer some questions for The Future Buzz community on infinite goods, crowdsourcing and digital marketing.  Let’s get into it:

1. Shutterstock is a remarkable case study in for-profit crowdsourcing: the site has grown from 30,000 images in 2003 to more than 10 million in February 2010. Obviously that kind of growth is organic, but can you provide insight into how you set it in motion?

When I used stock photos for the businesses I started before Shutterstock, I could tell that there were problems in the stock image industry. Reasonably-priced content had grown stale, and it seemed like there was no company out there that adequately met the needs of both image buyers and sellers. So, I built a subscription-based site and put 30,000 of my own photographs up for sale. Literally within hours, photographers were asking me if I could sell their images; I realized that millions of photos were being taken every day and not being monetized. I decided to combine a subscription payment plan with user-generated content, and Shutterstock was born.

2.  Of the 10 million + pieces of content on the site, can you give us a quick percentage breakdown of how many downloads are in the tail, vs. the hits?

While we can’t release the exact data, we can say that the “hits” for our industry are the images that appear again and again, generally photographs of popular concepts or topics.

3.  What qualities do you think make up the hits vs. tail of digital content, i.e., is it about promotion, genres, keywords used, content quality or a mix?

While hits are often driven by broader or popular customer needs, many high quality images fall in the tail because of their specific use or obscurity. Since we also have a very diverse worldwide base of subscribers, who often have very specific or unique needs, and these types of images may be exactly what these buyers are looking for.

4.  There is always a fresh stream of new content added to the Shutterstock site, as is the nature of the product. Is there an SEO process when adding new content?

SEO is important, and all the images we add to our library are optimized and keyworded accordingly.

5.  It appears that Shutterstock has dove head-first into social media and is having great success as I noted in a previous thread. At what point internally did Shutterstock decide to get social, and what made you as CEO fully buy in to a social strategy?

From the beginning, we aimed to instill a strong sense of community among our subscribers and our submitters. We did this by participating in key trade shows and conferences, creating our widely used online forums, and developing our popular newsletters.  As our subscribers and submitters started to use social media platforms to communicate, it was a natural progression for them to join us once we established a presence there, as we had already developed a strong connection with our community via our internal channels.

In early 2009, we developed some unique initiatives to further promote a strong sense of community on our existing social media channels. For example, on Twitter, we created a service called “Shuttertweet,” which enables our subscribers to automatically send out tweets alerting their followers when their images are approved or downloaded. We also just launched a similar service last week called Facebook Connect. In addition, we just celebrated our 10 millionth image with a successful promotion on Twitter. We are always thinking up new creative ways to engage our community via social media.

Last year, we really began encouraging our subscribers and submitters to join us on Facebook. We truly interact with our fans throughout the day by commenting on their posts, answering their questions, sharing our latest news, highlighting new celebrity photos from our Shutterstock on the Red Carpet program, or just updating the page with fun, relevant trivia. In fact, you’ll see me check in a lot and comment on things that our fans have posted.

What we’re doing is resonating with our global submitter and subscriber base, and our fans and followers continue to grow. We look forward to more interactions with them.

6.  As a subscriber, I’ve been enjoying the Shutterstock Newsletter and love that it includes content by members of the web industry external of your brand.  As Shutterstock gets social, are there future plans to evolve the Newsletter into a blog and/or community to serve as the hub of your networks?

Yes, we are launching two Shutterstock blogs, one for submitters and one for subscribers. The blogs will provide a complement to our photography forums and social networking platforms, and they will also feature posts from guest writers.

7.  Tell us a bit about the culture at Shutterstock – what’s it like to work there, how large is the team and who is it comprised of?

Shutterstock is headquartered in the Financial District of downtown Manhattan. We have employees from all over the world; people with a passion for photography and digital content and a desire to see our company continue to expand. We take pride in fostering a free and open environment; we invite all our employees to come to us with ideas on how to improve our service, and they do. Plus, we’ve cultivated a very friendly atmosphere with our company social events.

Quick end note: Shutterstock was recently voted best royalty free stock photography site for bloggers at Online Marketing Blog.