It’s harder than ever to get noticed, but if you do it right, social media can still connect you with a willing audience.
For photographers around the world, using social media to showcase your work has been a transformative experience; it has changed the way that we think about photography, market our brand and connect with our customers. Photography and social media are a match made in heaven.
Then why does it seem like social media is diminishing? And what can you do to stand out amongst the survivors?
All of the main social media channels, from Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Pinterest, are tailor-made to reward the one iconic "moment in time" nature of photography. Images deliver strong emotions – instant recognition, gratification or shock, intense curiosity. And on social media, those reactions are rewarded well and earn the photographer a lot of attention for very little cost.
As a result of this success, photographers swarmed to social media.
In an article in The Guardian titled "What next for photography in the age of Instagram," photography writer Sean O'Hagan lays out the "mind-boggling numbers: 350 million photographs a day uploaded on Facebook; 95 million photographs and videos shared on Instagram daily. The combined number of images shared uploaded on both platforms now exceeds 290 billion."
Yet in many ways, those incredible numbers have also diminished the value of social media. Despite all that incredible traffic, there is a feeling that the golden age of social media is coming to an end.
"Facebook recorded lower third-quarter revenue than expected and warned that it is in the early stages of a transformation in its core businesses that will lead to slower growth and higher costs in the short term," writes Deepa Seetharaman for The Wall Street Journal in October.
There are three main reasons that social media traffic is decreasing.
Politics: No one needs to be told that politics is dominating our digital landscape right now. In the culture wars currently raging across the country, social media is usually on the front lines. People are angry, nervous and confused; hanging around on social media is not as much fun as it was a few years ago. Many people are simply signing off social media and not going back.
Saturation: The onslaught of images and opinions on social media has overwhelmed us. There are over 300 billion images available online that people can find with a few clicks. People are saturated and punch-drunk with options. Add to that the fact that the formats of social media are quite rigid in the way they present images, and you won’t be surprised that pictures all start to look the same and, as a result, lose their impact.
Attention Fatigue: There is so much great content out there – at home and on the move. Our devices are so good at delivering great content to us that it has left us busier than ever, consuming as much media as possible. At this point, it’s really hard for new things to break through and claim your attention. It can be done, but it’s not easy.
The Guardian article neatly summarizes the problem. The artist Chris Wiley writing in Frieze magazine expressed the anxiety of “a world thoroughly mediatized by and glutted with the photographic image and its digital doppelganger.”
But when you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in building your social following, what should you do at this pivotal moment to stand out and grow your business?
Create Great Content: The power of liking, sharing and retweeting is shrinking every day. People are looking for authenticity and originality, and this is the time for you to take a chance on who you are and what you have to offer – to share what you’ve been working on and to give people a real reason to follow what you do.
Strive for Originality: How do you stand out when there is so much volume? Just be yourself. Take a long, hard look at what makes you different. Forget about what everyone else in your field is doing. Just make the work that pleases you, first and foremost. Obviously, it sounds simple but it’s hard to execute. It’s not supposed to be easy, but when you achieve something that is uniquely you, it will resonate with others and your following will appreciate it.
Deliver Consistently: You should have a plan and you should stick to it. Social media works best when it turns into a conversation between you and your consumers. People need to have a general idea of when to expect new posts from you, and they need to trust that you will deliver on what you promised. If you’re a wedding photographer, then don’t suddenly veer into sports photography on a whim. Find a style, develop a schedule, and stick to it.
Find Your Tribe and Double Down: Stop trying to please everyone; stop trying to go viral. Zero in on your community, on the people who love what you do, and who do things that you love doing. Aim for their attention. The tools that Facebook has developed for marketing to the right people are incredibly efficient. You just have to use them for good.
Learn more about converting leads into sales from the PPA archives.
If you feel like your social media strategy is floundering, then ask yourself this question: Why are you here?
Are you using social media to serve your photographic work, or has that changed? Are your photographs being used to serve your social media persona? Of course, both are OK – they're just different ways to approach your work and your life. Once you know which way you're actually facing, then you can act accordingly. Be honest with yourself, and embrace who you are.
The easy days of gaining followers and finding an audience may be coming to a close, but there are great opportunities out there, opportunities you may only find by digging deeper. Your audience is waiting for you – they just don't know it yet. Show them what you’re made of.
PPA members get invaluable support by becoming active members of the community. Share your work with like-minded people who are going through the same challenges and triumphs that you are. Join PPA today to experience the wealth of benefits we offer.