You’ve stopped scrolling on your Instagram or Twitter feed for images like this. The striking, unifying familiarity in the nuanced expressions of unknown species, people, and landscapes beckons your soul to connect, learn, and explore, but who actively cares for these places and faces, and who documents their resilience?
The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) is an organization that creates stories that aim to save the planet. Their mission is to connect their network of 120 professional nature and culture conservancy photographers and videographers with worldwide conservation partners to create informative multimedia projects to pitch and share with relevant media outlets. For the creators, their assignment is to document these places, faces, and creatures one creative expedition at a time. For iLCP‘s Development and Communications Manager, Brooke McDonough and the rest of the creative team, the mission is to spread the important work of their iLCP fellow by producing engaging stories with media partners and sharing these impactful stories through their social media channels.
In our second Inside Look webinar with iLCP, Brooke takes us on a journey to Puerto Rico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the digital land of Instagram. As she reveals some of the team’s key content marketing strategies, we learn how this lean team and their tools document the storytelling journey from behind the camera and behind the scenes to share complete, ethical stories of nature’s resilience and human ingenuity with audiences worldwide.
First stop: Puerto Rico. 📍
Nature is the Light: How Puerto Rico, and the World, benefit from resilient ecosystems.
In February of 2020, Brooke and emerging photographer and iLCP member, Shane Gross traveled to Puerto Rico to document the island’s resilience as it continues to recover from recurring natural disasters. “The main goal was to show these ecosystems in Puerto Rico, the people who rely on these ecosystems for their livelihood or food source, and those who are working to protect the ecosystems here,” said Brooke.
The first obvious location to showcase Puerto Rico’s vibrant ecotourism destinations was La Parguera—one of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays, a naturally luminescent pool of which only five exist in the world. According to Discover PR, La Parguera is the only bio bay where motorboats are allowed in and out and this kind of access was crucial for setting up in a central area to capture the glowing algae.
However, like all worthwhile adventures, there was one major unforeseen creative challenge the team had to overcome. Significant movement was necessary to activate the dinoflagellates beneath the water surface to reveal the aqua-firefly-like effect, but rocking the boat destabilized the camera’s long exposure setup in the naturally low light. Brooke explained this murky situation in detail, “Any kind of slight movement from the boat made things kind of blurry or out of focus and the water was really salty, so we were struggling with that. You can see here in some cases, the stars were in streaks…So we were in the middle of the Bay. We had three anchors. We were trying to build like 50 foot tripods with kayak paddles. There’s a lot of troubleshooting, but eventually on a really still night, Shane was able to make this image.”
From troubleshooting camera settings and setup to modeling the movement in the images, Brooke documented the entire storytelling process while Shane focused on capturing the natural majesty of Puerto Rico. Brooke says this dual angle approach to content creation and marketing is strategically effective because not only does it add a layer of depth to the final produced piece, but it brings the iLCP’s extended audience network closer to the story and the storyteller, humanizing the cause and purpose even further.
As a nonprofit with media creation, sharing, and partnerships integral to their mission, in addition to a solid wireless connection, having access to a platform where they can upload, organize, search, and share large, high-quality content files securely is essential no matter where the iLCP team is working from and PhotoShelter provides that. Next, we virtually followed Brooke through a heartwarming, yet bittersweet storytelling expedition to document mountain gorilla resilience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Comeback: How Mountain Gorillas Staged a Comeback in Africa
“Virunga National Park is probably the most dangerous place to practice conservation in the world,” wrote Karin Andreasson in a 2015 Guardian article about the now 20-year-long civil war that has wreaked havoc on the land, people, and creatures that live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite being a relatively unknown species over 40 years ago, since they’ve been discovered poachers and exploitative manufacturers have threatened, tortured, and murdered mountain gorillas that live in Virunga National Park so often that they’ve been categorized as critically endangered since the 1980s. However, new data has revealed that mountain gorillas are starting to survive and somewhat thrive, so the iLCP set up an expedition to document this historic moment.
In December of 2020, associate iLCP fellow Neil Ever Osborne went on an expedition to document the positive, symbiotic, and compassionate impact of local Africans and park rangers on these mountain gorillas. In his photo essay documented on iLCP’s website, Neil writes,
“Despite a 20-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has killed millions of people, relentless poaching and an exploding human population, the mountain gorilla is making an amazing comeback, thanks to the selfless commitment of countless Africans. In 2008, field surveys estimated 680 mountain gorillas. Today, according to the most recent studies, there are 1,063.”
Unlike the Puerto Rico expedition, no iLCP team member was able to travel with Neil to document his storytelling journey and process, so in order to effectively create the illusion of the two-sided content strategy Brooke had previously implemented but from two separate locations, Brooke and Neil’s marketing company Evermore worked together to produce original social content for Instagram Reels, Instagram stories, and they engaged their respective audiences in a Q&A discussion on Instagram Live. They had planned to have one of the Rangers join their Instagram Live discussion, but connectivity issues occurred so they plan to connect in the future—stay tuned!
In addition to collaborating on original content, iLCP partnered with Smithsonian Magazine to share Neil’s stunning images in an editorial feature about the comeback of the mountain gorillas in their 50th anniversary edition, as well as in some online programming celebrating the anniversary.
It’s not a secret that brand partnerships help cross-pollinate audiences—creating new opportunities for information discovery and audience engagement, and iLCP’s content partnership with Smithsonian was no exception. With over 100,000 followers, Smithsonian staged a takeover on the iLCP Instagram account which caused a boost in fan engagement on the account, including a record-high of 50,000 impressions on a single post — numbers iLCP has never seen on a post they’ve shared themselves, Brooke said. While performance data may be helpful for gauging fan engagement or ROI on a partnership, the numbers aren’t always a true indicator for measuring effective change from a piece of content, so staying true to the organization’s mission is the iLCP team’s litmus test for success. As Brooke explains, “Our ultimate goal is to tell these stories and help people take action to protect whatever issue or creature we’re talking about.”
A Dual-Purpose Fundraiser: Supporting Women and Conservation
For Women’s History Month in March of 2021, Brooke ran a flash-sale fundraiser on Instagram to honor women in the nature and culture conservancy documentary field and raise money to support iLCP and their work.
The strategy behind this campaign was not only timely and relevant, but three-fold in terms of objectives, Brooke said, “Our strategy was leveraging our members’ massive followings because some of our members are basically Instagram influencers…so using that to reach new people, promotion through our own social media and newsletters, and using this driving message that you get a print, which is always fun, and the money goes directly into conservation efforts. So, you’re really making a purchase to support conservation.”
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Though brands can sell their images and other file assets through a PhotoShelter for Brands account, Brooke’s team didn’t use the e-commerce feature for this first fundraiser, but she said they’ll definitely be implementing it for the upcoming print-sale fundraiser currently in the works.
In terms of tracking campaign performance, when the photographers shared their for-sale images with information about the iLCP fundraiser on their own social channels, the iLCP team saw an incredible increase in engagement. However, Brooke found the most successful channel for driving print purchases was actually their newsletter. Not surprising to most marketers; newsletter subscribers usually indicate a level of loyalty above a social follower — an email subscriber cares about what a brand is doing or has to say often enough to sign up to be contacted regularly.
All in all, the fundraiser was a success because of the care and compassion of the creatives dedicated to this work, but smart tools like PhotoShelter’s MarTech Integrations enable lean team’s like iLCP’s to upload images from any location, organize them quickly, and share these critical stories in a timely manner. To push this global workflow over the finish line, PhotoShelter’s Hootsuite integration does all the back-end work to help the iLCP team search and find the perfect image from the PhotoShelter for Brands account without ever leaving the social scheduling platform.
See how it works below and save your spot to our upcoming 20/21 Vision Collaboration Summit to learn what strategies and tools are helping a variety of industry professionals share their brand stories effectively.
To hear in-depth details about these iLCP conservancy projects and to see how Brooke and her team execute creative content marketing strategies, watch the full webinar below — or share this post with a social media strategist you know to inspire their content marketing workflow.