Shari Academy is one out of only two Adobe certified photography schools in India and the first one to get the accreditation. Girish Mistry, the Dean, is highly admired and respected in the industry. Based in Mumbai, it conducts a variety of photography workshops and certificate courses for aspiring photographers.
No one seems to know how good Shari Academy is, till around 2 years back no one seemed to know of Shari Academy unless one ventured out to fiercely find a school to learn photography.
Shari Academy decided to explore the online medium given the huge number of photography enthusiasts on the web. Shari wanted its name to grow beyond the industry circles and showcase the quality of its faculty, but more importantly to get business rolling in by reaching out to and providing certificate programs to these photography enthusiasts.
For a relatively small company when compared with the behemoths otherwise the scope and scale are vastly different and presents problems that need unique thinking. Budget constraints meant a huge paid media campaign which generally settles the awareness and eyeballs issue was out of the question. It didn’t have an email list and buying one off the market is never a perfect solution for anyone. Which left us with the then “hot” but relatively untested waters of social media – we’re talking about 2009, times when having 1000 fans was considered excellent work and when advertising on Facebook hadn’t gained steam.
So we decided to use Facebook and a blog to achieve the twin objective of branding and business.
The problem was how do you get traffic on the blog without advertising? Secondly perhaps more importantly how do you get people to become a fan of Shari Academy when the problem precisely is that no one knows the brand.
We proposed the idea of creating an unbranded community. If you take away contest baits, there are two reasons people like Fan pages on Facebook – a deep loyalty to the brand, or because it makes them look cool. People might be vary of liking a Shari Academy (unless there was some prize waiting) but every wannabe photographer would have loved to showcase his passion and join a page called ‘Photography Tips’ . And that’s exactly what they did.
In an era of paid campaigns luring people with baits to join fan pages, Shari Academy’s Photography Tips in a period of a year organically built over 40,000 fans – A classic case of online community building itself through references and engagement. We held mini contests on daily photography themes (without any gratifications) and asked users to upload photographs based on them which would then be reviewed by Shari’s faculty. The winners would then be announced on our blog which meant that the traffic soared to nearly 500 visitors a day (close to 1000 today) without any advertising or publicity. All because Shari created a platform for photographers to come and connect.
Photography Tips now stands at over 1.3 lakh fans. It is the biggest community of photographers on Facebook. Shariblog gets nearly 30,000 visitors a month.
More importantly this project broke that standard myth about social media: ROI – Social Media doesn’t translate into business.
Well.. it does!
Shari Academy runs weekend workshops promoted primarily though the Photography Tips fan page and the blog. It’s a packed house with people turning up from other cities sometimes to attend these paid workshops. Since the beginning of our efforts we have nearly doubled and at times almost tripled the strength of each workshop. This simple Facebook and Blogging campaign has been translating into money for the company, and not just indirect of intangible benefits. Enough for it to now run its own paid campaigns on Facebook after nearly 2 years of organic growth, a point unimaginable for the small business back when it started.
Must visit community for photographers: We didn’t say that, these guys did –
What Smursh has shown through Shari Academy is the power of building an online community and investing into creating value for people. About going to people and enabling their efforts than to pursue ways to meet your own ends. It took us over a year to get into a position of influence and build an audience, but once we did the rise was rapid. The case is point that any social media practitioner would love to note when they argue the case about having a long term view and strategy on social media.
A case study on the use of social media platforms namely Facebook Page and a Blog used to build an online community of photography enthusiasts by a Photography school.