Frederick Van Johnson of The TWiP Network on Podcasting and Creative Community
Frederick, please tell us your story. Where does your passion for photography stem from? How did you first develop your interest? When was the “aha” moment that you knew photography would play such a prominent role in your life?
My story begins at an early age. As a pre-teen, then teen I was witness to a father who was not afraid of, or intimidated by technology. He was the Chief Engineer at ABC7 in Chicago and as a result I was exposed to the wonders of media creation from an early age. Early on I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur of some sort, dealing in media creation and monetization of said media. I remember being endlessly fascinated by the "get rich quick" schemes found in the back of magazines and in newspapers.
As I got older, I directed my attention towards computers and programming. I thought game creation was my path. But unfortunately, I discovered I liked playing games FAR more than world building. However, a side effect of writing code was that I became a very good touch typist. A skill that pays dividends every day. My "aha" moment came after I enlisted in the US Air Force. Based on my aptitude scoring, they placed me in the Photographer career field. Once I began training as a photographer, I "KNEW" that was where I should have been placing my efforts. I loved it.
To me, photography is the perfect nexus of technology, art, and psychology. None of those things can ever be boring.
"To me, photography is the perfect nexus of technology, art, and psychology. None of those things can ever be boring."
Many senior marketers and CMO’s that we work with struggle with community-building. They know it’s important to foster brand-loyalty and stickiness, but they are uncertain how to go about creating it. You’ve been a masterful creative community-builder. What inspired you to launch your This Week in Photo project, one of the world’s most respected photography podcasts? What were some of the stories you helped uncover on your podcast that inspired you to build an entire community on it? Can you share some stories for our marketers, about how you went about that big initiative?
The This Week in Photo (TWiP) podcast is a continual work-in-progress. It's my muse, my excuse, my laboratory, and my therapist. The idea for TWiP started over a decade ago, when almost no one even knew what a podcast was. And has grown, ebbed and flowed, over the years into the media property it is today. The evolutionary path was driven by various technologies appearing and evolving, as well as the popularity of the show and the necessity to "grow up" with regard to sponsorship and monetization.
As far as the community goes, that too was driven by current events and market forces. The current iteration of TWiP PRO is actually my second attempt. The first attempt ended in failure due to my lack of moderation delegation, my lack of time to properly attend to the community, and an influx of pornography.
Learned from and applied those lessons to the current iteration of the community. The metaphor I like to use is... if Facebook and communities like it are akin to a busy international airport, then TWiP PRO is like the Virgin Atlantic airport lounge. Less distraction, different clientele, slightly more expensive, but so very worth it. The community was intended to be an extension of the podcast conversation in part, but also as a troll-free place for photographers to listen to, and learn from each other.
The site is now evolving to begin hosting summits and events. This will be an extension of our community and will allow me to extend the reach of the more popular topics on the podcast and paid community.
"The evolutionary path was driven by various technologies appearing and evolving, as well as the popularity of the show and the necessity to "grow up" with regard to sponsorship and monetization."
What is coming up next for The TWiP? How has this year –with the global pandemic, the economy, and the renewed focus on diversity and addressing racial injustice– shifted the plans for your business? Are you planning to continue to engage your audience in “real-world” events? Which topics and themes are you looking to explore next?
The next evolution for the TWiP brand is to go BIG. The global pandemic has renewed my enthusiasm for the importance of distance learning, in the form of Summits, Courses, Webinars, etc. We will be tripling down on these.
And with that focus, the platform we've built will allow for the creation and deploying of events targeted at several disenfranchised population segments: African Americans, Latino, LGBTQQIP2SAA, etc.
Operating on a "virtual first" strategy, we will then extend our reach (as COVID allows) into real-world events. With the infrastructure solidly in place to run world-class virtual events, adding physical events will be the next step.
"The global pandemic has renewed my enthusiasm for the importance of distance learning."
If you had to give brand and marketing leaders one piece of advice, what would it be? And why?
Be a voracious learner. Never be satisfied that systems are "working fine". Always look for ways (large and small) to improve, streamline and update processes. Also, be quick at cutting dead weight; that is things in your business that do not directly support your mission statement.
"Never be satisfied that systems are 'working fine'."
What are the most important things you’ve learned through your project? And through your career?
I think one of the most important things I've learned over the years is how to stay enthusiastic and excited about the business. My enthusiasm comes from the constant and unapologetic "molting" of the business and my own personal brand.
What do you wish brand leaders would understand about the current landscape of the industry? And how should they pivot their strategies to better serve their communities?
I can only speak generally about my niche. In the photography niche, it's easy to develop the misconception that the industry is large, when in fact it is very small. And budgets are accordingly small. I personally think brands should pivot to think about people who NEED to create professional photography for other reasons... but are not necessarily photographers themselves. This is a departure from targeting the hobbyist photographer. I also wish brand leaders would explore outside of their comfort zones, dive into strange and different niches, take a look at how you can change your vernacular to suit different segments.
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