Photojojo, an online forum and store devoted to do-it-yourself photography tools and techniques, makes community-building look like a snap. "Our growth has been fueled entirely by word-of-mouth," says Amit Gupta, who started the company six years ago to serve an emerging generation of photo buffs who want to "customize mass-produced objects" such as iPhones and "make their own stuff."
Photojojo attracts between 1.1 million and 1.5 million unique visitors every month and has a registered community of more than 1 million. (The company does not disclose revenue figures.) Site visitors are encouraged to share ideas and tips, post old and favorite photos and learn about the latest tools and techniques through tutorials. The site also sells unusual and hard-to-find gear and accessories.
"Photojojo's goal is to make photography more fun for everyone," Gupta says.
Meanwhile, his goal for the company is to create long-term relationships. "If you come to the site today and buy something, great. But we think it's even better if you instead subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on one of our social networks," he says. "You may end up buying not just once, but several times."
Photojojo makes it simple for users to share content within existing social networks and encourages quirky and offbeat discussions. There are, of course, Facebook and Twitter buttons, and users who switch on the Facebook Connect service can share their product wish lists with friends. That can be a powerful tool for attracting new customers: According to a study commissioned by Sociable Labs, 53 percent of people who click a product link shared by a friend end up buying that product, and 57 percent of respondents said their trust in a site goes up after a friend posts a link to it.
Photojojo is also developing apps that link other social channels back to the site. For example, its "Time Capsule" service links to a user's Flickr account, which it scans every couple of weeks to identify the most interesting photos, based on how often they're viewed and how many comments they have received. Time Capsule then sends the user a Photojojo-branded e-mail labeled "photo blast from the past."
"Digital cameras make it easy for us to take tons of photos and then forget about them," says Photojojo editor Lisbeth Ortega. "Time Capsule makes sure that the photos stay visible and relevant."
The company monitors social media analytics closely to determine which sites send traffic that converts into sales. After finding out that Pinterest sent "high-conversion" traffic to its site, Photojojo amped up the relationship and added a "Pin It" button, Gupta says.
But challenges remain. "There's a whole world of people excited by photography, especially now that there's a great camera on almost every smartphone.
Unfortunately, most people haven't heard about us," Gupta concedes. "Social media really helps by empowering online word-of-mouth. Our strongest proponents are our existing subscribers and customers."
Since it takes social media love to kick off the cycle that turns friends into shoppers, it's worth understanding what motivates people to share in the first place.
In a consumer study released in March, Sociable Labs asked online shoppers their primary reason for sharing product comments and information with friends.
- 41 percent wanted friends to get the same deal.
- 26 percent wanted friends to know why they chose the product.
- 15 percent wanted friends to know they were proud of buying the product.
- 8 percent wanted friends' opinions on the product they purchased.
- 3 percent wanted to tell friends how they plan to use the product.
Though the conversion factor may make it tempting to skip out on running your own site in favor of using Facebook as your homepage, don't. Giving up control of the look and feel of your online content is not a good idea. Instead, close the social media loop and integrate apps into your site. Make it easy for customers to share product info with their friends, and display socially shared content directly on your site.
Source: March 2012 Social Impact Study, Sociable Labs
West Linn, Ore.-based Samuel Greengard covers business and technology for publications including Wired, American Way and Discover. He is a former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.