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May 26th, 2009

When money is tight, social media provides cheap communication and community opportunities

Posted by liveBooks

The International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) has thought outside the box since Cristina Mittermeier and several other top conservation photographers founded it in 2005. Membership in the league is by invitation only and its photographers have found innovative ways to create tangible change on conservation issues, as with their Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVEs), where a handful of photographers tackle a specific issue to produce multimedia content and raise awareness. Trevor Frost joined the ILCP staff in March as the RAVE director, and has also helped expand the organization’s use of social media as a publicity and community-building tool. Recognizing that fewer funds would be flowing to the non-profit during this economic downturn, the ILCP has embraced tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to further their cause for small amounts of cash — a lesson that photographers of all kinds can learn from.
©Barry Goldwater, courtesy ILCP

An image from the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

Miki Johnson: How did ILCP decide it wanted to focus more on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as online community building?

Trevor Frost: As a young photographer and explorer, I’ve had to spend many hours networking to get to where I am now. So when I joined ILCP as the Director of Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions, I thought it would be great to make a online avenue for others like me to meet and work with the accomplished photographers, scientists, and explorers that make up our organization.

ILCP already does a good job at facilitating communication between members, especially our emerging league and experienced fellows. But ILCP members have little communication with others who aspire to be photographers or conservationists, yet are not quite skilled enough photographically to be a member of the ILCP. By providing a social media platform for this communication, we can link less experienced photographers, explorers, and scientists with members of our group who are very experienced. This will help support new talent, create a community beyond membership in the ILCP, broaden the reach of ILCP, and, we hope, lead to higher conservation achievements.

©Janos, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

MJ: What online tools is ILCP utilizing to extend its communication?

TF: ILCP is focusing on Twitter and our new online magazine/blog to generate a community and to catalyze connections between conservationists, scientists, and photographers. With the online magazine/blog we hope to create a digital outlet that photographers will want to be published in, something they want to put on their resume. We also hope it becomes a platform for communication and critique, and offers a place to publish stories that have been rejected by traditional media.

On Twitter we are starting off by posting links to websites and news stories that feature ILCP or its photographers, affiliates, and partner organizations. Eventually we will expand this to include a wide range of interesting conservation topics. People only want to follow Twitterers with the most interesting updates.

One major goal of all of this is to drive increased traffic to our websites and multimedia pieces, which help disseminate conservation messages. The increased web traffic should also help us forge new relationships with corporate partners by offering an opportunity for brand exposure. At this point ILCP’s involvement in social media is in its infancy. Aside from our followers and fans increasing on Twitter and Facebook, we have not seen direct benefits yet. We do, however, expect to see benefits over the course of the next year.

©Ian Shive, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Ian Shive

MJ: Why did ILCP decide to focus its resources on social media and online tools?

TF: When people ask how they can help non-profits they almost always hear: Please donate. This is frustrating. People want to get their hands dirty. Many of the most successful conservation projects involve citizen science and participation. When people have a chance to work along side well-known scientists or photographers it, makes them VERY excited about the subject and, I believe, it motivates them to become more involved, including donating money.

ILCP membership is based heavily on one skill — the ability to produce stunning images. Thus the ILCP can seem elitist. We realize there are many photographers who take brilliant images and work very hard on conservation who are not quite to the standard of ILCP, but who could still benefit from working with ILCP in some way. Using social media, we can create an extended ILCP community without actually extending membership.

We hope that this will help our followers grow as photographers and conservationists, so at some point they can join ILCP as a member. This also fosters communication, moderated by ILCP, between emerging photographers and the extremely talented members of the ILCP. All of this empowers conservation. The bigger the army, the better!

MJ: Have ILCP members embraced this new social media initiative?

TF: I don’t have any concrete numbers or names but in the last two months I have noticed, especially on Twitter, more of our members tweeting. Even some of members with more years under their belts.

There are certainly a few of our members who are quite skilled with social media tools. Not surprisingly, most of them are our younger members or emerging members. A few names that come to mind are Chris Linder and Ian Shive. Both have helped ILCP produce the first Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition blog (Borderlands RAVE) in addition to a few other projects.

There are two upcoming Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE): one to the Flathead basin in British Columbia in July 2009 and one to the Yucatan Peninsula in September 2009. Stay tuned for a RAVE website with field dispatches, the ability to track expedition members, and live photos and video.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you used social media to lower your publicity and communication expenses? What online communities are you part of and how involved in them do you feel?

One Comment

  1. December 14th, 2009 at 9:30 am


    Everyone has their favorite way of using the internet. Many of us search to find what we want, click in to a specific website, read what’s available and click out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s efficient. We learn to tune out things we don’t need and go straight for what’s essential.
    This goal-oriented way of surfing the web is largely based on short-term results. For example, finding facts to write a blog post, doing a comparison before making a purchase and reading a news site to find out what’s happening right now.

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