Mike: G'day and welcome back to another episode of the podcast and YouTube. This is an opportunity to bring to you new guests and people inside the smartphone photography industry to inspire and educate you. This one's a little bit different. This one is also being a little bit selfish here. I'm actually really keen to speak to Lee because I know I'm going to learn quite a bit. We're going to talk about community. And as you know, I've moved my community from a Facebook group over to my own platform in a forum. The engagement I'm struggling, so I'm really looking forward to getting some tips but more importantly, I'm really looking forward to learning what YOU can get out of a community as a member, how you contribute, what you get out of contributing, how Lee runs his Facebook group, why he started it, how he runs it, and how he runs it so well. So so with that. Welcome Lee to the Smartphone Photography Club and Training and it's great to have you here.
Lee: Thank you very much. Good morning.
Mike: So can you just let us know why you started this Facebook group. You have high numbers in there, and I'm sure you're going to tell us that the numbers doesn't matter. It's all about the engagement, that sort of thing. But before we get to that, I'd like to learn more about how you started and why you started the Facebook group.
Lee: I've loved photography for a long time now and when my first son was born 12 years ago, I didn't have the money for a DSLR and I wanted to capture the moment. I always liked technology. So I went for the most up to date smartphone, the Nokia N95. But when I go out with my DSLR camera, obviously you're waiting, you're taking the picture and half the time for social media these days. You're telling your audience or your friends where you are so for me with a DSLR my method is to take the pictures, come home, use the SD card stick it in the camera then the computer. Whereas with a phone you can take a picture instantly upload it to Instagram to Facebook and not so much with my friends. They're not really into photography, but I'd often go into different groups on Facebook, and I post my pictures and I got a lot of engagement from them. So I thought right, I want to try and do this more there's no point me posting on my own Facebook page because I might get one or two likes but my friends would never comment they wouldn't be bothered. So I saw with the DSLR forums, they can be quite nasty. If you're a canon or your Sony or Panasonic and it's just like you can post a really good picture then somebody will critique it. And it's like, there's nothing wrong with taking a picture. But if you don't ask for it, I don't need somebody to tell me that the shadows could have been better. So I just thought, you know what I'm going to try and create my own little community with mobiles. And I've looked at Instagram I've been on Instagram for a while I thought you know what, I'm going to try it with Facebook as well. Facebook groups was becoming quite popular. So part 2019 I thought yeah, I created my mobile only photography group on Facebook. And from there, it's built up quite nicely. It's got to a stage where it really is a nice safe haven community.
Mike: You touched on a couple of really good points there. Number one is the big difference between SLR and mobile photography. I have spoken about this before, the elitism. You don't see any of that competition, I believe in smartphone photography, it kind of levels the playing field a little bit and I don't think there's really that huge advantage over whether you've got the latest or an older phone. We all enjoy the creativity and like you say capturing the moment and I think that's more important than the technical side of photography. Why do you think it is that smartphone photography kind of attracts nice people, friendly people, and you're one of the things that stood out in your group, I joined your group and I posted a photo some of the comments was like wow, this is like not just really encouraging just really friendly. Where do you think that comes from with smartphone photography? Why do you think they're a little bit different? And how do you kind of encourage people to be like that because culture is a big thing in a community, isn't it?
Lee: So I think for me, you've got to take it back to what you want your group to be. Anybody can go out there and build within the space of a year if you wanted to, you could get that number up into the 1000s and 10s of 1000s if you wanted to. For me, it's always been about quality. So my Facebook group, I have two questions that you have to answer and they're quite really simple questions. And I think if you can't answer simple questions to get into a group, then I already don't want you into the group. So I just decline you straightaway. If you can't answer the two questions you didn't use declined, then it's about managing the group inside. So you've already sort of put the first rule up and it's like, right okay. You've answered the questions. And funnily enough, I mean, I mean, I think I'm up to about 2700 members now. And I am the only admin. I don't use anybody else. So that's me checking on a daily basis that there's no spam in there. There is no videos. Because we're a photography site. We're not a meme site. We're not anything else. We're a photography site. So you just have to be quite strict and start removing things instantly. So for me with a community, it's like I've already put the front door on so I know who I'm letting in. So I've let these people in. It's now up to me to manage them. People are in my house and make sure that everything's okay. So I encourage the people and I have done every couple of weeks or every couple of months I'll post a comment that says look, if you see anything that shouldn't be in this group report it and there are some great people in the background to who do that. Say Lee, I don't think this should be in the group or have you looked at this. You learn as you go, there's nothing wrong with that. There was a phase where it started getting into boudoir photography, and I thought there's no way with mobile photography that my group is going to start getting naked pictures and it did and it's just again, it's like that wasn't the avenue I wanted to go I think going back to your question is, anybody can do it. Your six year olds got a photo or a camera (shouldn't have) but your grandma and granddad have a smartphone and anybody can just snap a picture and post it and as I always say don't chase the likes. If you enjoy that picture, doesn't matter whether it's got 1000 likes or zero likes. You've taken it. You've posted it. So that's the best thing to do for me so I just think it's they don't have to be expensive. We've got a wide range of phones from the top Smasung S21 Ultras to the iPhones right way back to the iPhone four and fives. It's being in the right place at the right time. So yeah, I think that's why I think it helps. It's all-inclusive. You don't need a 3000 pound DSLR you can just use what you've got. And that's, that works for everybody.
Mike: One of the things you do really well is a key ingredient, consistency. You are always there, you're in there every day. You have a weekly theme, and for a lot of us that have a community, it's hard work. I had a weekly theme and at the end of the week I'll put together a collage and everyone's photos and comment on why I chose the ones I did. It's a lot of hard work to do that and not only that, you also have a midweek theme. That's crazy. Some groups will have a monthly theme and I've got to be honest with my forum, I'm slipping towards that way because I'm just so busy trying to create other content. And that consistency is really important. How do you keep that consistency going? What motivates you to keep going like you've been doing for two years now that you've withstood the test of time that you're working with the Facebook algorithm, you know, what's working and that sort of thing? What keeps you motivated to do that?
Lee: And so yeah, so I mean, I think I started the group back in 2019, maybe August. I didn't know at that stage whether I was doing a weekly theme, a monthly theme, a daily theme. So I started so what we do at the moment is every Sunday I will release a new theme and from that same theme that will run from Sunday through to Saturday. And again, there's as harsh as it sounds is you've got to be selfish. The worst thing you can do in a group is saying we're going to do this and then not deliver. So if you're saying that get out of competition theme on Friday night, when the most people go out and go for a drink. It's the end of the week. It's Friday night, so it's like right So be smart with what's going to happen. So Saturday morning what most people do is they've finished work and been out at night. They're going to be on a Saturday morning. So that's what I try to deliver. So for me Sunday afternoon, it's like right, give them a theme. And again, I don't ask people to go out and take pictures that the thing I love about mobile photography is if you're like me, I've got 3000 pictures if not more that I've never posted on my phone, just waiting for a week. So you can use that. So for me it's like right, I can do it on Sunday morning because there's no time restriction on myself. It's a weekly theme. So I know I don't nearly need to do anything until the following Saturday. There's enough engagement in my group that people will go in and comment like you say Mike, so I don't need to be there every day to monitor but I am there every day because it's something I enjoy. What I learned from the Facebook app and you do learn some lessons. So Facebook, the search engine isn't very good. So I use hashtags for my group. So this week, I think that the hashtag is out of office. My wife's due to get any minute now. So last Tuesday I was out of the office. So I use the hashtag out of office. Now if you go into the Facebook search bar and click out of office, it will not show you every single picture that somebody has posted. So then you try searching out of office and again, it doesn't show you every single picture. So in my first couple of months, I was posting these now to look at somebody I thought okay, what I'm going to do is I'm going to choose the photo with the most likes, you fall into that trap. Anything right? Okay, this one's got 80 likes but I'm gonna choose that. Then what happens is somebody messages and says Lee, you've missed 3 pictures. There's pictures in there with 100 likes and the Facebook algorithm. It doesn't show you that so then you have to go through the stage and this is the most time consuming, physically have to scroll through your phone or scroll through a laptop to make sure you've looked at all the pictures. And again, that's very time-consuming. So what I do now and again, you've just got to be selfish. I'll keep going back to this for anything to succeed, not to be selfish. And for me, it's like I go for now. I limit myself to an hour on Saturday morning. And that's it. That's a time window that I put in my day to choose a winner. If it takes me 30 minutes I'll interact or like or comment and I'll choose a picture. And I'll post that, put it in the announcements on Saturday, and then pick a new theme on Sunday. The midweek themes are a bit of fun again, it gets us through the week and all I do with that is I do that as a post thread. So the difference between the weekly theme is that you can post them in the main forum and they'll pop up and people can see the full picture. With Facebook. If you use threads, you'll only more or less get a thumbnail so I think this midweek theme maybe had 200 pictures. It's hard because not everyone's gonna go in and click individually to bring the pictures up. So it's more of a spur of the moment. This week is street art. And again, I there's a person in my group port John Carrington, and you get to know your members, which is good. And he was working in Manchester and I saw that he posted some murals and well, that's a good week. So there's another person who's done urban photography. So you get to see your members and you get to see stuff that you wouldn't normally think of. And I use my members to do the things. So the Urban Decay, I've never gone into a building and taken pictures. It's for me that's breaking an entry, but for some people, it's themes that they like that the community come up with themselves.
Mike: When it gets to that point where the community is kind of managing itself and interacting with each other and you don't need to be engaged all the time and you see them interact, it's an awesome feeling. You've created this environment where people are connecting. And it yes, it's online, but they're real connections, aren't they?
Lee: Yeah, so some of my members have made friends through the group. I'm not sure if there are any weddings going on in the background. I might have to get a new suit. But again, that'd be cool. But yeah, I think we had somebody recently come over from America and that will people in the UK because again, I built that interaction. So again, every couple of months, I'll say Right, okay, take a selfie and tell me where you're from. Because people have different themes. Enjoy. So if I post that I'm in Doncaster and Ireland street photography and Sundays in Sheffield, which is 30 minutes away doing street photography. Then I'll say, I've got Saturday off, let's go take some photos and again, you build up that social interaction. There are people who are going out for drinks we've done we've done several meetups. I want to do more but obviously, due to pandemic and just my work balancing in terms of my wife being quite ill at the start of the pregnancy, I was unable. But yeah, I want to do more meetups, so we can interact and it's a great community.
Mike: That's brilliant. We did that a couple of times with the meetups at the botanical gardens where we live, because when I started I started off running in-person workshops. So a lot of the people in my community were actually local. So those meetups are a lot of fun. And you mentioned the laborious process of selecting a winning photo for the theme. You're not always going to please everybody because one of the things that we all love about photography is that it is subjective. We all bring our own experiences, visual literacy and preferences to photos. Some people like things that are lightly edited others like things that have really saturated colors and are unrealistic or abstract. So when you choose a winner, it's not always going to be the most popular choice. So do you think people are just encouraging no matter what, do you think people question that sometimes and how do you handle that?
Lee: Each week we have some rules. And again, it's Facebook is brilliant, because it's offering me a completely free forum to grow a business if I wanted to. So you've got to take that into account. But those are changing Facebook several months ago and announcements weren't popping up correctly. So I might do an announcement for a group on Sunday for the competition. And people weren't seeing the rules or same as any rules people choose to ignore them. So that the main rule that I have in our group is that it's hashtag only because I want to move remove. I don't know somebody might post a picture of their cat and get 1000 likes because people like cats, but somebody will post an amazing landscape, which is brilliant, and it'll get 10 likes. So you've got to remove the emotion from there. So just by doing hashtags only means the picture speaks for itself. I'm not bothered whether this was your last trip to Australia. And if the picture captivates me, that's all I need to see and all of us needs to see. You can post as many pictures as you like in the group. So you can go from there. So what I do is I scroll through like I say I dedicate an hour, but I'm also looking during the week. So when I'm on my phone for 10 minutes on an evening or this on the other I'm looking if I see a picture that I like I screenshot it because I download the picture to my phone just so I've got it but then I forget whose name it was. So I think like screenshot it there and then I've got the name I can go back to it's really easy to find. And I think when you keep going back and you keep going repetitive but what works is that you have to be selfish. If I'm drawn between several pictures unlike you in the past I used to maybe do three or four trying to please everybody. Now pleasing everybody. For something that I do for free is not the best option because pleasing everybody instead of taking an hour takes three hours. Because does it have the right lighting in the shadows in the right place? Who's going to get offended? Oh, I need a second place. Now. If I do feel that there's two pictures that are really really close, I will say but activations number one, you are the winner. Number two, you get a special mention. But remember this is your time and time is valuable. So if you want to pick the top 10 every week, the first time you don't do that people are gonna say well why haven't you done them for 10. Why haven't you done this? Why haven't you done that? So what I'm doing at the moment is I am trying to say why I picked a picture. But it's a singular picture. It's nothing else for me it could be that. For our theme out of office, I'm looking in my head. I want to see a real nice beach scene or an out of office. I want to see that somebody has gone in and learned to play the guitar or done something and I don't look at the likes anymore. That's the one thing I don't do so I don't care over this got one like zero likes, it's my group. It's my walls. And if I liked your picture, and I think it's gonna win, there's no favorites. There's people that you know and post every week. But that's what the midweek themes are there for and that's what the themes are there in general. So people try it. And if people try then it's I don't even like the fact that we actually have to have one winner. I just want people to look at themes within one which was Urban Decay and like I say I'm not very good at breaking and entering. But you like to look at rundown buildings. So you think okay, I wouldn't have normally taken a picture of that. But it's a challenge for me to go and do that. So it gets you thinking about different themes and different ways to take photos and for me, that's why we're all here to try and capture that.
Mike: That's what I get out of a group like yours. We all get exposed to different things, different genres, different techniques. What else do you think members get out of your community? In any photography community or forum, their contribution? Because you're not, you're not always going to win. I mean, that would be fantastic to get that recognition. But what do you think people get out of it? Why do they keep turning up week after week?
Lee: I mean, I can only speak for myself and my group. Very interesting times like I say, I built it in 2019 Just before the pandemic. People couldn't leave the house over in the UK. People couldn't leave to go places. So you've got to think right okay. For somebody who lives in the country or somebody lives by the beach, there's no point in me doing a beach thing because it eliminates the people who live in the country and I can't do a country thing because the people who live on the beach so you have to start thinking like okay, in this country it was you could go for a local walk. So again, you have to change your themes to adapt to this scenario. So right, show me what you see on your local walk. What we'll do is we'll do a theme in each of each room of our house. So show me a theme from your kitchen, show me a theme from your bedroom, show me an ornament, show me utensils, because everybody can take part. I've got friends but none of my friends are into photography. Well, none of my friends were into photography, but now that I've made friends through photography that I can say actually at my friends are different. But there are people in my group I mean, I might not know names, but there was a lady who posted that she was looking for a job to go over to China, and now she's in China teaching. Again. It's like oh, how are you? It's like how you getting on in China and you build up these relationships or there's a lady over in crystal there's a lady over in America crystal and she lives in a part of the world where a lot of the members for that tornado that happened a couple of weeks ago. So all of a sudden members in my group are saying Hey Crystal, are you okay? And this that and the other? Nothing I did that was my members reacting to Crystal posting pictures. I reached out to crystal in the background on Messenger and he said Hi, Crystal. How are you? You okay? Everyone's worried in the group. Can you just post something? And it's it's those interactions that maybe I've just got lucky and got a really great group of people. We had a lady called Laura who I used to go to school with and she didn't post all the time. But she posted and she was a massive huge Stereophonics fan and through that fan of Stereophonics built relationships with other members. So again, it's when you're you're making these decisions and you're building these communities. You have to be conscious of that. It's I mean, I'm not going to lie in the last couple of months I've thought do I want to keep the group going, because like you say it is taking up time. I've got a new baby on the way, I've just started a new job and I've just moved into a new house. But if I didn't do the group, then I'd be in other groups and I'd be thinking, Ah, well, they're not as good as my group because they don't do this or they don't do that and although I don't get paid for what I do, it's a hobby, I suppose. And I do enjoy it. I'm not going golfing for three hours, I guess spending time on my photography group. But like you say, you've got to take into account how you managed it and I changed one of the competitions and I changed it from posting in the main group to a thread just to see how it would work. And several founding members who were big contributors openly saying in the group, this is rubbish, this doesn't work. And they were posting a hashtag but in in the main feed and doing it on purpose. They knew what they were doing. And these are people I'd helped with Instagram, and this and the other. And it was like, Oh, I don't understand why you're trying to sabotage something if you don't like it. Just wait a week. It's only a trial and we can go from there. And it just got to the stage where they've continued to do it. So I guess I just removed them. I just picked them out of the group. And they messaged me on Facebook and I was like, why have you done that? It's like, look, you're with a lovely group of people here and you're one of the founding members and you're proactively going in and using hashtags outside of the group. And there's no need for it. If it was a meme or something else I'd remove it. So with your photos. If you continue to post then you'll be removed and they continue to boast so I removed them and the group hasn't stopped the group hasn't the group will always carry on I Know Tomorrow I could publish and say try and attract new members. But at the moment, what I'm trying to do is get rid of the inactive members because they're just as vital to any community. If nobody's pulling their weight in the office, it's you start losing money and it's the same as a group in build. It's 10,000 people but if 1000 people don't engage, then you don't have a very good group. So for me, it's always about so at the moment, I think we've got about 2700 members. It wouldn't matter tomorrow if I only had 10 numbers left. If 10 numbers were posting and that's 10 friends that I've got so it's nice. So yeah, it is a challenge especially like you say when you this is a community it is a community it's the same as if a sports team just folded you'd have fans who a TV show that ends you've got fans, there's just like we you've got to take that into account. If you are building a group and wanted to be successful in it. You've definitely got to think about the culture within the group because it could have adverse effects on people. So it is important
Mike: I spent two years recently acquiring a Diploma in Training Design and Assessment and I did that so that my business would be a little bit different having a qualification behind me. I'm just as passionate about training as I am smartphone photography and one of the big things that I took away from it, is the community side of learning. It has a more technical term... a community of interest. And having an area that like you've mentioned, your community is a safe environment. It's one where they all support each other and that sort of thing. Have you grown yourself with your skills, photography skills, having that group and do you think other people have been improving their skills as well in the group?
Lee: I think the main thing is, apart from the photography side, I've grown as a person. If you think of it as a business, I've over 2000 employees, and if they're inactive or they're down or that they're missing you worry about them and like I say with Crystal as a prime example she's a very valued member of the group like everybody els. She posts her experiences she went travelling for the first time the other week and people encouraged that. So when Crystal doesn't turn up for a week or two weeks and you hear that there are tornadoes, you need to engage. But yes, certainly from the photography side of things. It could be that somebody is I always one of my phrases is shoot differently. Everyone's normally with their phone and they get their phone, point and press but for me it's about taking things on an angle or below for taking things from below. When you see some of these done that in the group you think has a great idea. So you then go and learn from that or will cater theme so one thing I love to do is reflections and puddles on cars. And I can't remember if I saw it, I just thought I'd try it and it's if you get your mobile phone and basically flip it upside down the camera modules closer to the floor. So when you're taking a partial reflection or a water reflection, it gives you a much better angle instead of like that and you show people that and then you see them proactively going outside our league. I tried flipping my camera and this is a result and some of them are much better than mine. And that's what you want. You should always be thinking that you want people to do better than you if you go from that with the things. So definitely I've learned a hell of a lot as a person in terms of how to treat people. You think you're doing right by doing wrong? Like I say you focus on the likes, because that's the culture that we're in. And then you realize actually the likes aren't the best thing because then you get people messaging you saying, Lee, I've posted in your group now for several weeks, I've got no likes. And then all of a sudden, they'll post something and they'll get 100 likes and it's like really what they do different is like he did nothing different. You just continue doing what he was doing. Nobody gets 1000 likes on this first attempt. It's the same as anything you get better over time. And I often find with photography like music, it's something that touches you if you engage with that photo, it could be a setting a memory, and from there you think oh yeah, that's good. I like that. And you go from there. But yeah, the members have learned and like I say, I've personally learned a hell of a lot.