Photo Essay Platforms Gaining Viewers, Rolling out Brand Partnerships

A number of social sites are emerging that allow people and brands to easily create beautifully designed long-form photo essays. While these platforms are relatively new options for those looking to share photo stories online, they certainly deserve a place on the radar of anyone involved in creating digital advertising content. Brands are just starting to discover these sites as marketing opportunities, and so far the executions have been a mixed bag. Some of it is excellent, but some of it, not so much. Regardless, Medium, Exposure and Stampsy are all sites worth keeping your eye on.

    Screenshots from  The Selected Issue  on Exposure, and  Lauren Brown  on Stampsy.


Screenshots from The Selected Issue on Exposure, and Lauren Brown on Stampsy.

Medium is the best known of the bunch. The site, created by Twitter co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone, already boasts posts from a range of well-known public figures like Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Medium made the move into native ad publishing beginning in the middle of last year with BMW, and more recently with Marriott.

Exposure is less well known, though I’ve been particularly impressed by their design philosophy, and have been keeping my eyes on them for some time. Their original strategy for making money was based on selling monthly subscriptions to those posting content, but with the recent content marketing moves that Medium made, I’ll be interested to see how that changes. They recently started promoting an account curated by Filson, which could point to an interest in further exploring native advertising as a revenue model.

Stampsy is the smallest player in the field, but according to AngelList, they’ve raised nearly 750K, in investment capital and are planning to go public in 2015, so they certainly will be worth watching in the upcoming year. Also, unlike the other platforms, their platform looks great for photo essays that don’t include any words at all.

As a photographer, it made me happy to see more photo-centric platforms start to draw the attention of big marketers. However, some of these sites have a long way to go to consistently create engaging content that will prove to be a true draw.

The Marriott sponsored feed, Gone on Medium is a great example of where these branded content series have room to grow. 

A snippet of the story published on  Filson's Exposure pag e

A snippet of the story published on Filson's Exposure page

On the one hand there are a few examples of good photography, such as the Dancing in the Streets story documenting a second line parade in New Orleans. However, there are plenty of disappointments. To give one example, the photos in Duck Taco Night in Saigon are lackluster. The lack of a byline on these photos makes me suspect that they tasked the writer to also create the artwork for the story, which may have played a part in the less-than-amazing results.

Even worse, photos for the Marriott-sponsored story, Brazil’s Mind-Boggling Art Park are sourced from Flickr. Here’s a platform that’s all about sharing big, beautiful photos. It’s one of the flagship marketing examples for the platform. It’s being bankrolled by Marriott. And the best they can do for photography is to source images from Flickr! That had me shaking my head in disbelief.

Having said that, there’s also work being produced that is cause for optimism. Filson is doing a lot right here. For example this story on fishing in the Olympic Peninsula was beautifully shot by photographer Brenna Marriie.

Filson published the same stories to its website and Exposure, so it’s very interesting to see how the story looks when compared to the execution on the Filson site.  For me, it’s a compelling side-by-side comparison that implicitly argues for the value of great design. On Filson’s website, I feel like I’m reading a marketing piece. On Exposure, it’s like I’ve kicked back with one of my favorite magazines, reading something for pleasure.

Filson is also doing a great job showing how long-form photography content produced for a platform like Exposure can get a lot of mileage in other places as well. Images from the same shoot are not only used on Exposure and the Filson website, but also on Instagram and Facebook (photo example of Facebook and Instagram executions). With brands trying to engage on so many digital platforms these days, there is a huge benefit in commissioning this sort of story-telling photography that can then be published in many different ways across a variety of platforms.

These platforms are still in their earliest stages, so it has yet to be seen how big of a player they’ll be as a social platform. Medium is undoubtedly the biggest player in the game, and some educated guesses suggest they have around 460,000 followers and 13 million unique monthly users earlier in 2014. This may be a drop in the bucket compared to platforms like Instagram and Facebook. However, their potential for growth, along with the unique approach they take to photo essay style content, mean that these platforms should at least be on the radar of anyone working in digital advertising.

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