Above All, Do What You Love

A few weeks ago, I announced that I was leaving AMC. That was a hard decision and not one that I came to lightly. But I felt good about it because I was leaving on my own terms to do something that I loved and start/continue a photography business with my wife at Shane & Alli Photography.

There’s a tiny wrinkle.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always kept a very short list in my head of the companies that I really dreamed about working for; you know, the ones that you think the world of, the ones that you truly advocate for and that you envision working at for your career. My list is very short and anyone who knows me well knows that there is probably one company above all the others on my list:

Chipotle.

Steve Ells’ Denver-based company is one that I’ve thought extremely fondly of for many years. When I first set foot in the Corporate Woods location off of College Boulevard in Overland Park, I could tell it was a special place. Ever since then, my love for the company has only grown, both as a fan and professionally.

When I joined AMC in 2010, I managed to connect with some of the members of Chipotle’s social team. (OK, I may have stalked them sought them out.) At my first SXSW conference, I got to meet two guys in particular who have become close friends over the past few years — Joe and Rusty. If you have ever tweeted at @ChipotleTweets, I’m sure those names sound familiar.

We’ve stayed in touch over the past several years and we actually got to spend some time together when they were in town for the Chipotle Cultivate Festival here in Kansas City. In fact, I even moderated a panel with them, joined by Myra and Candice, for the Social Media Club of Kansas City. It was a pretty great moment for me. These were people that I have been able to develop friendships with over the years through social and I got to sit with them as they shared their expertise with a room full of social media and marketing professionals.

As I heard them talk, I got more and more inspired by the work that they do and the company that they work for. Chipotle’s approach to not only their food, but their people, is something that I was blown away by. The fact that they put on three free Cultivate Festivals every single year in order to better educate their customers about why they do things — that was a pretty neat realization.

Another thing I found out was that their team had an open position.

A position that I will start in September as a Community Engagement Strategist for Chipotle Mexican Grill.

FAQs

In order to cut off a few questions at the pass, I have created this handy-dandy little FAQ section:

So what are you going to be doing?
My main job will be responding day-to-day to loyal Chipotle customers (just like me) on Chipotle’s various social channels, mostly Facebook and Twitter. I’ll get to interact with Chipotle fans and people who have good and bad experiences (though those are pretty rare, I assume), and be one of the voices of customer care for the company. I had gotten pretty far away from this at AMC and I’m really excited to get in the trenches again.

But Chipotle is in Denver! Are you moving?
I am not moving. It’s true that Chipotle is based in Denver, but I will be working from the comfy IKEA chair in my office. One of the great things about the digital age is that I can do that and still feel connected to the team. Sure I’ll have to travel to Denver (where my boss, the aforementioned Joe, is based) and NYC (where the digital director is based), but the majority of my work will be done behind one of those fancy computer thingies.

Can I have a free burrito?
I haven’t even started yet and you already have your hand out? Jeez.

And the most important question:

So what does this mean for Shane & Alli Photography?

The answer is: very little changes. One of the great benefits that I listed above is that I’ll be working out of the home. That will still allow me enough flexibility to continue to grow our photography business. We plan to still open an in-home studio and we plan to continue taking photography jobs fast and furiously. (Seriously, if you’re looking for a photographer, give us a shout.)

Photography will always be our love. I love working with my wife and best friend. I love capturing the special moments of life for our clients, our families and our friends. Those images are special and important and I love that work.

This tiny wrinkle allows us a bit more breathing room to continue to grow our business in a more measured way. And it also gives me the opportunity to work for a company I love, doing something that I’m good at, working alongside people that I really like a lot. I wouldn’t be able to do this if not for the amazing support I get from Alli and our families. Our business is going to continue to grow and this gives us a bit of leeway to do a little bit more with it than before.

I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a renaissance man. I’m interested in a myriad of things. And I never said that anyone should limit themselves to just one passion in their life. I love a lot of things and some more than others. Obviously, I love my wife above all. I love our dogs, Buzz and Woody. I love photography and capturing the moments that life brings alongside my best friend and partner. I love music and movies and food and especially burritos. In this new world, I get to spend time on all the things I love.

After all, isn’t that how we should spend our lives?

Saying Goodbye to AMC

To start, I should probably take you back about 20 years.

I think I was about 18 years old when I figured out that AMC was based in Kansas City. As a teenager, I couldn’t think of a job that sounded like more fun. Working for a movie theater chain? Sign me up.

It took me about ten years of my career, but in 2010, I finally made it to the company I’d set my sights on so long ago. At the end of this month, I will say goodbye to that company to embark on a brand new adventure. More on that in a bit…

A little reflection

The past five-plus years have been so much fun. I got to work on something I love (movies) for a company I respect (AMC) with a lot of really talented people (too many to list). I got to do fun things like help launch the company’s Twitter presence (which got some national recognition), redesign and rearchitect the company’s website and then got to take on a completely new challenge, leading the loyalty program for the past 2+ years. I got promoted. I got to manage people. I got to help craft the marketing strategy for one of the most respected brands in entertainment.

There are so many things that I’ve loved about my job. Sure, there have been things that have been difficult about it, but that comes with any position. I consider myself really really lucky to have been able to work at AMC for as long as I have.

But it’s time to move on.

Some of you might know that my wife and I have been running a photography business in Kansas City for the past several years. Starting August 1, we will officially be running Shane & Alli Photography as our primary business and sole source of income.

For the past 15 years, I’ve been working hard in corporate America. I’ve seen a lot of success bringing my skills and ideas to other people. Alli and I have had this business on the side that we’ve absolutely adored and wanted to do full time for a while. We’ve decided to take the leap and we can’t wait for what’s next.

Photography? But you’re in marketing.

Photography has been a passion of mine since I first picked up a camera as a kid. I remember a time in my life when I saw myself as an Associated Press photographer. What I’ve learned is that capturing people in real-life moments is so rewarding and affords me such great creativity that I don’t need to travel the world to tell stories with photos. We’ve got plenty right here in our backyard.

Not only that, but I’m planning to take my 15 years of corporate consumer and business marketing experience and applying it to creating new photography offerings that solve needs for businesses in their social media marketing practices.

Most importantly, I get to run a business with my best friend. Alli and I have really enjoyed every moment that we’ve been able to work together on this business. And who knows? Maybe we’ll turn it into even more cool things down the road. For now, we’re going to build out our studio and focus on capturing snapshots of the special moments in our clients’ lives. We think we are pretty good at it.

So here’s my pitch…

What’s that you say?

You need family photos or senior photos or professional portraits or engagement or wedding photos? We do it all. Our website is getting a refresh. You can find us on Facebook or on follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr. Or you can just shoot me an email. We’d be happy to help.

InstaSCAM

This past year, Instagram reached a tipping point. Everyone now knows about it, thanks to a $1 billion purchase by Facebook and a strong, engaged community of photographers worldwide. Brands such as mine jumped on the bandwagon…quickly creating accounts and evaluating their visual storytelling style in order to connect with this broad, engaged community, despite the CEO’s admission that there was no revenue model on the horizon.

This weekend, I saw a couple of posts on Instagram that looked like this:

 

And were accompanied by something along the lines of:

It looks like [insert brand name here] is buying up Instagram followers…not sure if this is legit, but I’ll do it anyway!

First off, this is not an unrealistic behavior. People on the internet don’t just like their freebies. THEY LOVE THEM. But, let’s do the math. Let’s say that the example on the left is true. Retailer H&M promises their first 20,000 followers on Instagram a $75 gift card, just for following them on Instagram. That means that H&M has decided that each Instagram follower is worth not $75, but more than that. Otherwise, there is no way that their fraud/loss team agrees to that deal.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that they write that off as “acquisition fees” and somehow get their analysts to agree this is a great idea. The next part of that equation is getting someone to agree to writing a $1.5 million check for all those gift cards. To some people, that’s small potatoes…their media budget doesn’t even get dented by that number. But for most, that’s not a small amount.

And let’s not forget…Instagram offers absolutely ZERO way to track engagement for brands. You can’t click a link from the app unless it is in your profile and you have absolutely NO IDEA how many impressions any individual image receives. All of these things are a no go for marketers.

I think Colin may have said it best:

 

This may seem a bit judgmental, but a little common sense goes a long way here. And just in case you were wondering, H&M already has a gorgeous Instagram account.

Now, there are some viable solutions to how to keep people from falling for stuff like this besides common sense. Unfortunately, those all fall on Instagram actually adding some pieces of functionality to their popular application with their small team under Facebook’s direction. I doubt these are new ideas, but I believe that if Instagram were to add them to their roadmap, they’d see even more popularity and (gasp!) possible profitability.

Verified Accounts

This is something that was HUGE for Twitter. That blue checkmark next to someone’s name, especially for celebrities, became the new American Express Black Card for a while.

Sponsored Posts and Accounts

This is something that I think brands would actually pay for. It works really well for Twitter and it’s working extremely well for Facebook (despite how annoying it is to brands).

Algorithmic Tweaks for Popular Posts

If you’ve ever looked at the “Popular” tab on Instagram, the majority of posts are nonsensical madness that somehow have several thousand likes. Usually they are from overseas and rarely are they photos that were originally taken inside of the app. Maybe I’m out of touch with what is interesting and engaging to the Instagram community, but some big improvements could be made for discovering new content.

So those are my quick thoughts on ways to improve Instagram. What are yours?

Pictures of the Civil Wars

I want to take pictures as beautiful as Allister Ann, the photographer who has accompanied my new favorite band, The Civil Wars, on their tour this summer.

When they came to KC’s Crosstown Station, I tried to get some of my own, which were fine, but when I compare them to the ones that have been posted to The Civil Wars’ Tour Diary…they’re just not quite as engaging.

John Paul White of the Civil Wars strumming his guitar

The top photo is Allister Ann’s from the Newport Music festival, the second one is a shot of John Paul playing his guitar that I took. Clicking that one takes you through to the whole set of shots I took.

You can decide which you like better.