Should tourism boards pay photographers fair market rates for access to social media content?

January 6, 2018 - Tassiegrammer

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This article was originally published on my personal Tassiegrammer blog here on January 2nd 2017 and has been republished with permission.

Before I get into this subject I want to clearly state this is an article that is designed entirely to promote a discussion amongst the photography and social media community. Some of the things I will mention here are entirely my own opinion, and come from two points of view – one as a content developer, photographer and social media user – and secondly as a marketing professional who is involved in the promotion of tourism businesses, organisations and as someone who is heavily exposed to the day to day politics and finances of the tourism industry as a whole.


So let me ask you this – are you a landscape / travel / lifestyle photographer who uses social media to promote your work? And as part of increasing and maximising exposure for your content, do you use any state or national government tourism related campaign hashtags or mention specific tourism accounts within your posts, therefore potentially driving traffic to those accounts? If so, you are one of those people who are directly contributing to what are most likely very well funded government tourism campaigns.




Now I have these questions to ask you – how much did the equipment, time, travel and any other direct expenditure related to that content development cost you? Have you as a photographer ever measured the financial costs that are associated with producing top quality content? Do you know the commercial value of the content you are producing and the ongoing time investment it takes to drive great conversations and engagement?


As a content developer yourself, you are most likely the very bottom rung of the financial earners during government led tourism campaigns. Between the executives, the marketing agencies involved in the planning (strategies, campaign execution, website development, content marketing, video production companies etc)  and the auditors who later measure the success and reach of campaigns for massively inflated fees, the social media community as a whole effectively receive nothing. And yet, it’s our statistics and content that is more often the most successful measurable factor within tourism campaigns. It is also most likely our content that drives the majority of interest around any given tourism campaign.


Let me explain this to you a little more – if for example you use a government tourism campaign hashtag, there are statistics for those hashtags that are compiled very regularly and provided to executives and board members of tourism bodies, who then make business decisions and judgements around effectiveness of that campaign, which then leads directly to decisions about funding. So it is your content reach that is being measured. It is your content that is most likely being used, measured and shared for free or in return for either little exposure or absolutely no exposure at all from government funded social media accounts.


Lets Talk Financial Numbers For Those That Are “Lucky” Enough To Get Work As A Tourism Influencer


If you are one of the very “lucky” few outside of the marketing agencies / commercial production companies who ever pick up any paid work within state / federal run tourism campaigns, the standard rates that I have personally been exposed to, and that many of Australia’s biggest and best known content developers, photographers and social media personalities get is somewhere between $180 – $300 / day. I personally know of several of Australia’s absolute best and most talented landscape photographers who operate Instagram accounts in the range of 30,000 – 100,000 followers who have travelled to my local region, devoted 24 hours / day across campaigns that last anywhere from 4 days to 10 days (not including travelling to and from the region and this also does not take into account the extra days of work to process, edit and create content after the fact), and have walked away earning $180 / day. This fee is at a contract rate where the individuals involved would then need to pay their own taxes out of.


Let’s put this into perspective here – McDonalds pay their junior staff anywhere from $16 – $20 / hour. If you were to calculate a full 24 hours of time being devoted to that business, this would work out to be $384 – $480. And this is for a junior staff member who is most likely a cashier or cooking burgers. And they will get paid for every minute they spend at work.


So for some of Australia’s best photographers and social media influencers, the current industry standard daily rate for their experience, access to the audience they have worked hard to achieve, the investments in the equipment required to produce content which literally runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, and their time is on many occasions up to 50% less than what a junior employee at McDonalds would earn for the same amount of time. Of course there are some bigger earners amongst the social media community, but for most the above numbers are a fact of life when working with tourism boards.


As I say, for the very “lucky” few who get to work on any sponsored government tourism campaigns outside of the major production companies who can charge ridiculous fees in comparison, quite often the financial return is extremely poor in a highly competitive and cut throat segment of the social media community. But for the other 99% of the social media community who are effectively the ones who are producing the statistics that get measured, the value of your content is technically nothing because you are not earning anything in return.



The “Exposure” Trade Off For Your Content


How many times have you as a photographer been offered “exposure” in return for free use of your content? This is effectively what is on offer from extremely well funded government run social media accounts. And for many, this is enough of a return for the content they are producing. But for the larger influencers, photographers and content developers within the tourism influencer circuit who devote a lot of time and money to their content production, the amount of exposure being provided to these well funded campaigns is far, far greater than what you will ever see in return.


Here is a fun set of statistics for you – the leading government led tourism hashtag in my state for the 30 days leading up to this post averages exactly 146 likes and 4.22 comments / post for those 30 days. This is for a total of 13,029 posts that have been contributed to this specific hashtag in this 30 day period. This is a total of over 1,907,550 likes across the content the social media community has created. Of this 1.907 million total engagements, approximately 448,800 of those have come from our official state funded tourism account who have reposted and shared the content the community produces. So that leaves 1,501,550 engagements produced by the social media community, advocates and content producers who have contributed just in this 30 day period alone. That is content that not only has the state government not needed to produce themselves, but it is also content that through the use of this specific hashtag the social media community as a whole is technically giving permission for the state government to use throughout their own channels, with no direct financial compensation to the actual content producers.


In the early days of your social media accounts, and particularly if you are not producing content professionally, gaining exposure through the sharing of your content is quite valuable to you. Developing an ongoing relationship through the production of great content is an incredible way to continuously gain exposure. The trade off here is not only are you gaining exposure, but you are effectively providing it in return as well. You are investing your own time and money into that content production.


But here is the downside – make no mistake about this, if these government run social media accounts share your content, it is being used for commercial purposes. Your images and stories are contributing to well funded campaigns. Your time and effort is being valued at what can be considered to be zero dollars if you are getting no financial compensation in return. Many of Australia’s biggest social media influencers produce average post engagement that is 20 to 30 and many more times greater than the 146 / post average than I mentioned above. To do so, the investment of time and money into building and cultivating the following that allows them to do so is enormous.


How Much Is Your Content Truly Worth?


So while the social media community and content developers themselves are out there doing the hard work required for these campaigns to be successful and basically earning nothing in return, businesses like the marketing agencies involved are pulling in six and seven figure sums to do things like produce websites (I can provide a local example of a WordPress driven website that has cost well over $100,000 to create and is no better than readily available off the shelf template solutions) and videos. The auditors that are paid six and seven figure sums to measure the “performance indicators” of campaigns sit behind their desk measuring stats that we as the community are funding out of our own pockets. Thats were the money goes. It doesn’t go to those of us whose statistics and efforts produce the results. It goes to those who use business structures and inflated fees to suck the funding dry.


I challenge anyone within the landscape / tourism / lifestyle Instagram community that gets upwards of 1000 genuine engagements / post to contact your state run tourism board and ask them for some sort of financial compensation or ongoing work in return for your content contributions and see what they say. You will soon learn how much you are actually worth to them. You will soon find out just what sort of value they truly place on your content. While your content is free, you have great value to them. Go and put a price on it and see what sort of reaction you get.


So when our content is being used for commercial purposes for extremely well funded campaigns, is it fair that we don’t get compensated for this? Is it fair that those who are driving the exposure and producing the incredible content that ensures the ongoing success of tourism campaigns get nothing in return for doing so?


I would love to hear your opinion on this. I would love to create a discussion around this that can hopefully benefit those of you out there who devote so much time to cultivating your social media accounts. I would love to see those of us who have devoted so much time to “advocacy” get something in return for the efforts, experience, time and audience base, and to ensure that our content has some value to the government funded organisations that need it so much to succeed.


This is my opinion – Your content is worth something when it is being used for commercial purposes. Why not make sure you are getting something in return for it? Yes of course you have a choice of whether you contribute to official tourism campaigns for free or not. It is your own personal decision of whether you add to the stats that drive these campaigns. This article will hopefully start a discussion about what the greater social media community think about this topic.


Just for the purpose of giving some sort of value, here is the Getty Images Licensing calculator. I think you would be surprised at the commercial market value of your content.


Please note – the statistics presented in this article were accurate as of when this was originally published here on January 2nd 2017.



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