What the Army (and a photo shoot) can teach you about Social Media

Most of us understand, if only by feeling, the power of great photography. But on a recent client photo shoot I was reminded how much your approach to photography—just like your approach to social media—can influence your brand. Do you stage everything? Shoot the obvious? Capture what’s natural? Leave room for the unexpected? Have a fallback plan?

One of the key moments during our three days on campus was capturing the ROTC physical training at the wee hour of 6:20 a.m. To be ready to get the shot, we got there early and scoped out the scene. It was still pitch black, and the field where training would take place was only dimly lit. I saw the concern in Ed’s, our photographer’s, face.

We talked with a coordinator and mapped out the route they’d be taking, then figured out where the best place to intercept them would be. We settled on a long, steep hill where we could catch them running down and running up. We still weren’t sure how we’d handle the dim field for the warm up exercises, though.

We jumped in the car to head toward the hill, about to ditch the warm up shots. When I turned on the headlights and swung the car around, the headlights caught the light fog over the field and provided just enough diffusion to cast a beautiful light on the scene. Ed got the shots.

Then we found our landing spot on the hill. Ed and designer Andrew set up for a wonderful shot of the long road, framed by the trees with small bursts of light from the lamp lights. We imagined them running down in a long, single line. We even planned to use the headlights again to light up their faces as they ran past us. We got all set, and then waited for them to appear at the expected time. We waited, and waited.

Wait, this is the Army, right? Shouldn’t they be prompt? Maybe this was a ruse and they had run the other way? I jumped in the car to see what was going on. When I got to the field, they were still there, and I could hear their cadence. Then all of a sudden they broke into their run and headed for the road. How would I get back in time to warn them? We’d miss the headlight shots! I peeled out and made it out just in front of them. Sped down the road flashing my lights and yelling, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” feeling like a modern day Paul Revere. As I got the car in position they were just steps away, and I could see Ed shooting like mad and switching weapons, err, cameras to get the best shots. And just like that, they were gone, over the top of the hill.

When we stopped to breathe again, Ed yelled, “The fog rolled in!” Sure enough, just at the most inopportune moment, the shot that we had planned and that should have been crystal clear was masked in dense fog. You could barely make out the black smudges of the runners. But as Ed scanned through the photos, there were other amazing, genuine shots—beautiful close-ups showing grit, determination, strength, energy, tenacity. More than we could have hoped for.

So what does this have to do with your social media? How about being prepared. For anything. Remaining calm under pressure. Not forcing the conversation. Taking advantage of opportunities. Having a backup plan and a resourceful team. Capturing what’s real. And making sure you’ve got the best talent possible at hand.

There’s a lot more to learn from the Army when it comes to social media. Their strategy of using social media to bring America closer to its Army—through stories, history, and a sense of shared mission—has helped them build a large and active following. Great leadership, a strong social media policy, and trust help them deal with the organizational challenges along the way. Check them out on Facebook and Pinterest.