At New York City’s 14th Street Y, a community center that goes beyond fitness to serve the mind, body and soul, it’s all about authenticity. When you look at the organization’s social media channels, you won’t see a cheesy stock photo of someone lifting weights. You’ll see engaging photos of real people in the community enjoying the wide range of programs the 14th Street Y has to offer.
In our new on-demand webinar, 14th Street Y Director of Marketing Jaci Fletcher walks us through her team’s visual storytelling strategy, from why they never use stock photography to how they power a robust, fast-paced social media cadence with limited resources.
Watch now to find out:
- How this small but mighty team hits goals on a tight budget
- The ROI of their efficient workflow
- How they cover a wide range of programs, from Silver Sneakers fitness for seniors to youth sports and aquatics (or as Jaci says, “from twinkle to wrinkle”)
On-Demand Webinar: The Strategy Behind 14th Street Y’s Eye-Catching Social Media
All Your Questions Answered
Thank you to everyone for submitting questions before the webinar and during the Q&A! Read through Jaci’s answers below, and tweet any lingering questions @psforbrands.
How do you keep the Y feeling authentic with awesome images (not cheesy stock)?
We can’t use stock. It just won’t make sense. There’s not a stock photo out there that works for us, really. We have to do everything ourselves, because we have such a specific facility and our photos look a certain way.
How do you know people want to be photographed? Will those people help your brand/organization?
We’re very transparent when we’re taking photos. If we’re at an open house, it’s so visible – we have signage everywhere. People can see me with a camera, it’s not like I’m being sneaky about it. People will literally shake their head no, or point their fingers saying “No, please,” and I just avoid them.
If it’s a big class and people are just not at all about it, but I really need to take a photo for marketing purposes, I’ll go in the back. If you’re not showing their face, you can easily take photos. As long as the person’s not identifiable in the photo in any way, you’re totally fine.
Children are a different story – you need permission from the parents. A lot of caregivers are here, so it can be challenging. So when we’re taking photographs of children, our registered program participants like preschool, parents sign a waiver when they register. So we know who we can and can’t take photos of, so that’s easy. If it’s a drop-in class, we’ll have to ask permission ahead of time. We’ll get photo releases from those parents who are willing to have their child in a flyer, or take photos.
We’re also really nice about it. When we take photos and someone sees their photo in a poster, for example, they’ll ask the service desk and we will gladly give them the file so that they can print it up themselves. There’s no point in hoarding it, they’re part of our community.
If you’re having issues, here’s a recommendation. Not everybody likes to be photographed. When I took photos of the women playing mahjong, there were a couple women who didn’t want it. I took photos of their hands, I took photos of the tiles of mahjong. You can still have an authentic photo, but the person doesn’t have to be in it. If we’re doing Baby & Me Fitness classes, not everybody wants their child in it. We just have a photo of someone from behind the child, or them holding their child in a way. There are a lot of creative ways to get people on board in being part of your photography.
How do you handle photo releases when it’s so many people in the room?
We go ahead of time, and if we’re going to be doing a really intense photo shoot for, let’s say, a Baby & Me Fitness class, we will let the instructor know. The class will know ahead of time. We will get there early, have photo releases that the moms can actually sign before and then after. Anyone we don’t get a release from, we do not use. We’ll cut them out. So we’re very specific, and we have all that information in PhotoShelter itself. And honestly, a lot of times if we’re wandering around the building and taking a couple photos and we capture something really beautiful, we’ll find that person and get them to sign off on a release, showing them the photo. And I would say 99% of the time the person is just honored, and they’re very happy to do it.
How do you get people interested in sharing their stories?
It is a challenge. Bridget Badore was the one who did the portraits at the 14th Street Y. She works very closely with the community. It took her months and months to get it, but once she got the ball rolling, it wasn’t so hard. So all you really need to capture is that first story. I would go to your brand ambassadors, those people closest to your brand. Even if it’s a staff person, a board member, a funder. Find that one interesting story, and then use it as a recruitment mechanism. Once Bridget started talking with people and gathering footage, and then going on to the next person, she had something to show them. And they were like, “That’s beautiful. I love what you’re doing, I like this approach.” And it kind of snowballs, and that’s when even the caregivers are like, “I want to be part of that.” And they found funding to do another one just for them.
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"I was very enamored by nostalgia and memories and trying to record things. So when I look back on myself, I realized I was doing that every chance I could." The @14streety debuts our Celebration of the Caregiver Community gallery on Thursday, November 7, so we sat down with photographer @bridgetbadore to talk about the project and her photography background! Read more and RSVP here: 14StreetY.org/CaregiverBlog2
You can also put it out there, start recruiting, but be mindful about what you’re asking people to do, and what you’re leveraging it for. If it’s for an authentic reason, like the portraits of the 14th Street Y sold nothing. We weren’t asking for anything, we were just sharing stories. If you’re trying to sell something, it’s a little less authentic. So you just have to be mindful about what you’re asking people to share their stories for.
Did you have challenges getting approval from the higher-ups for PhotoShelter? Did you have to make a business case for it? Any details that you can share?
Before we used PhotoShelter,because I’m part of a larger organization (there’s Educational Alliance, Manny Cantor Center, and then there’s us, and we have 15 other sites as well) we were all using our own separate platforms. We were using Dropbox, I don’t even know what the other programs were using, but because we were paying separate costs for all of these different platforms, and it was just making it very difficult. And the tagging, we came together as a team and we’re like, we need to find a better solution. Because as we’re continuing to grow as an agency, we’re continuing to get more assets, our visuals are becoming more robust. We’re raising more money to do more campaigns, we wanted to be smart about the decisions we were making.
So we did look at all the platform options, not all of them worked for us. But because PhotoShelter allowed us to have all three of us in the same platform, and because it had so much space available, there were no limitations for us in the tagging, it seemed like a very easy fit. In terms of cost, it was very comparative to others, so it worked really well. It was the most cost-effective solution for us. The more we use it, the more we valued how much time we were wasting in other platforms.
We didn’t realize that we were spending so much time downloading and uploading assets from freelancers. It would take us three hours to download some large files and then, our internet isn’t so great here, it would take us four hours to do that. So my computer’s being slowed down, and I’m not as productive during the day. So if you use that as a leveraging tool in negotiating that with the people who are making financial decisions in your institution, I would say, it saves you so much time.
Is tagging a manual process? Are you tagging each photo, or are you doing it in batch?
We’re doing it in batches, so we’re doing it from folder to folder. So like New Country Day Camp, summer 2019, maybe there’ll be 500 photos in that folder. So we will go through all of them and just tag the general stuff. We know the year, we know when it is, where it is, who it is, who’s the photographer. Then we kind of go in and start selecting, like all of these are for pool, and then you tag that.
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The other thing that we’ve done, because I have such a small team, we’ve received some help from interns in other departments who are interested in photos. We actually have an inclusion intern, someone who is learning how to tag. He works with the arts and culture team, and he’s really interested in photography and he has a career coach, so we are actually training this intern to help us with tagging, and he’s having a really fun time with it. We usually have summer interns – they help us as well, so it’s a really fun activity to do.
If you’re doing it as you’re uploading, it’s not a burden because you have smaller batches. Obviously as we migrated from Dropbox to PhotoShelter and have a terabyte of assets to tag, it’s an enormous project. But once we have that in, these photos are in perpetuity. It’s going to be great for the rest of the institution’s life.
Do you guys have a documented process for how you tag and what’s important to you?
Yes, actually we have a cheat sheet. It goes down a list from, the first thing is, what organization? Is it the 14 Y? Is it EA? Is it Manny Cantor Center? And it goes through this checklist, so that we have as much detail as possible. And we’re continuously adding to this checklist, it almost has become a directory of keywords. Every keyword we’ve ever used is on this cheat sheet, and we’re constantly adding new ones. So we just want to make sure we cover all our bases. We’d rather have more tags on a photo than less.
Related content: Sample Metadata Policy Template
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in 2020?
You know what the hardest challenge is, honestly? The more that we streamline our process and we work as a strategic team, the more work we’re getting, actually. Because we’re able to produce so much more, and we are supporting our programs better and better every year, we’ve noticed that we’re able to take on more work. Which can be a challenge, so I think our biggest challenge is capacity.
We want to support every program area, and our staff is so amazing and they have these great ideas, but with only one graphic designer we have limited capacity to create more robust video content. The challenge is growing authentically and scaling our capacity, so I think that’s our biggest challenge. But tools like PhotoShelter and Asana and this content calendar, it’s making it possible to take on and do more work effectively and efficiently. But there is a point where you’re tapped out, and I’m constantly trying to reprioritize, so I would say that’s my biggest challenge. Which is a great challenge to have, and we’re constantly strategizing on how to do more with less. I feel like a lot of people are probably in the same boat.
Want to get the answers to all of the questions from the Q&A, including an insider’s look at Jaci’s content calendar? Watch the on-demand webinar!