Ten Years Later and Important Lessons Learned

**Hi readers! It’s been a while and I’ve decided to return to blogging with a little anniversary post**

Ten years ago today I boarded an early morning flight from New York to South Florida and witnessed history.

Many of you know the story, I had been laid off from my job just a month earlier and was taking my parents up on an offer to visit for a few days, figure out my next steps, and celebrate my mother’s birthday. Little did I know that what happened soon after the plane crossed the Georgia/Florida border would pretty much change my life. My flight witnessed the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and I learned how powerful social media could truly be.

You can read about that and the following days here.

The tweet that started it all
Photo of the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor from passing Delta flight 2285 on May 16, 2011
Space Shuttle Endeavor from Delta flight 2285

That entire week was, and still is, a complete blur. What was supposed to be a semi-relaxing trip turned into anything but. It was an unreal experience filled with a variety of interviews from the local Palm Beach Post and ABC station, to the BBC, to MSNBC, etc. The Associated Press purchased my photos. Family and friends I hadn’t heard from in years reached out. I think I had one day at the pool and that was ruined by the presence love bugs. If you’re from Florida, know people who live there, or you have ever visited Florida during love bug season, you know what I’m talking about.

Photo of the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor from passing Delta flight 2285 on May 16, 2011
Space Shuttle Endeavor from Delta flight 2285

Later in 2011 I won a Shorty Award for Best Real-Time Photo, and was also named one of TIME Magazine’s Photos of the Year. Ten years later it still amazes me to think that a photo I took with my iPhone was considered up there with former White House Photographer Pete Souza’s photo in the Situation Room during the mission against Osama bin Laden and other decorated photographers and stunning photos. For a while, Twitter used one of the photos in their marketing deck.

Delta and Apple never contacted me. Not that they needed my help with marketing, but in my opinion this was a unique opportunity missed.

Those photos changed my life. Prior to May 16th 2011, I had about 1,000 followers on Twitter. Most comprised of other fans of the teams I root for. My follower count grew exponentially, most have even stayed and still follow my random ramblings ten years latter. Prior to the shuttle photos I had not considered the ever expanding social media space as a career path. My focus was to get back into event planning or fan development. However, I started doing some freelance social media work soon after I returned home, and in April 2012 was hired to work on MLB’s social team. Since 2012 I have worked not only for MLB, but also had freelance and full-time stints with the New York Rangers, Don Mattingly’s charity, Sports Illustrated and, until recently, the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). Without these photos I don’t know where I would be in my professional life. Would I have had the once in a lifetime experiences I’ve had like interviewing members of the 1980 gold medal men’s ice hockey team?

Since that morning in 2011 I have published other photos that have garnered media attention. One is this photo of “Bald” Vinny Milano and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor during “Roll Call” at a New York Yankees game in 2012. It was picked up by a few local New York outlets. Honestly, taking this photo was much more memorable than the shuttle photo. Justice Sotomayor was so kind and we even briefly chatted about a friend of mine who had worked on her security detail.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and "Bald" Vinny Milano. Yankee Stadium, August 2012
Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Vinny Milano

Lessons learned:
I learned very quickly during the aftermath of the shuttle photos that some outlets would take advantage of my inexperience and use my photos without my permission, not credit me, and/or not offer compensation for using them. When media outlets first started contacting me about the photos I said “Sure, you can use my photo. Please be sure to credit me.” I didn’t think anything past that. Then, either MSNBC or Washington Post offered me payment for their use. First I was floored, and then I realized I had been selling myself short by just how impactful my photos were. To be honest, I was extremely overwhelmed that day. Bob Sullivan from nbcnews.com wrote about digital copyrights and my experience here. To this day I don’t know how many outlets used my photo without my knowledge or credit.

When outlets began contacting me to request use of my photo of Justice Sotomayor and Bald Vinny, I was not afraid to name my price.

My advice:
If you ever have content you created go viral on social media, know your worth! Depending on the publication they can, and will, pay you for your content. If you see someone use your content without your permission and without crediting you, reach out to them. There are some well known outlets that are notorious for this. If you reach out to them and you do not receive a response, call them out on social media. Do not hesitate. While not everything is worthy of compensation, everything is worthy of being credited properly for.

To the staff whose job it is to look for viral content, never assume it is ok to use someone’s content just because it is posted online. Always ask. Always credit. Link back when possible. Many will allow you to have it for free as long as you credit them. Anger the wrong person, and it can cost your company a lot of money.

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Stop the ‘How Many Retweets’ Madness!

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I don’t know when it all started, maybe the “nuggs” kid, but at some point someone Tweeted to a company and asked “How many Retweets for *insert ask here*?” Since then people have jumped on the bandwagon and asked for free chicken nuggets for a year, yearbook photos with actors, free tickets to Universal Studios, memorabilia, photos at a stadium, and so much more.

This past weekend, upon seeing that the New York Mets will let a local girl take her prom photos on the field if her Tweet gets 500,000 Retweets I had a thought:

To which a fellow social media professional Chris Yandle made an outstanding point:

This latest “I want to go viral in the most self-serving way” phenomenon got me thinking; Why don’t these companies, teams, celebrities, etc require more than a crazy amount of Retweets? Brands probably either see this as goodwill or laugh at the ridiculous number they just Tweeted to the requestor, but how about instead of needing 500 trillion Retweets, challenge them! Up the game! Make the requestor earn what they’re asking for! They want something for free? An experience that would normally cost thousands of dollars or is priceless? Well then challenge them to volunteer at a local animal shelter or soup kitchen for a certain amount of hours, prove that they get straight A’s, write an essay on why they deserve this opportunity. What I’m saying is, make them prove they’re worth this extraordinary ask!

When I was younger and would ask my parents for something, their response was always “What have you done to deserve it?” Had I cleaned the house? Taken out the garbage? How were my grades? (This one never turned out well) Heck, if I asked my parents to bring my Girl Scout cookie sheet to their offices I probably had to go to all the homes in our neighborhood and try to sell to them first. The point is, I had to work for it.

Yes, I know that there will be people out there that tell me I’m a stick in the mud. That it’s all in good fun, and sure it is and it was funny the first few times, but I think it’s getting a little out of hand. The copycat bandwagon has jumped the shark. So I’m going to put a challenge out to brands on Twitter, the next time someone asks for something outrageous in the name of Retweets, challenge them back to do something meaningful instead. Oh you want to make it fun instead? Ok, then a photo scavenger hunt or an original video. As a brand you can then turn any of these opportunities into content!

(BTW Callie, I hope you get to take you prom photos on the field, no matter if you get those 500,000 Retweets or not, because that would be really awesome.)

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My Podcast Debut!

My last blog post received a lot of attention. Numerous people reached out to thank me for writing it. Telling me they’ve gone, or are going, through the same experience. I would say it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, but I do not wish this on anyone!

So far no job offers have come out of the posting, but I did make my podcast debut on the “Tao of Sports” thanks to the post. Host Troy Kirby and I had a 30 minute chat about working in sports and breaking news social media, that photo I took back in 2011 that went viral, and how #HireStef came to be.  If you’re so inclined, have a listen!

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