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Do photographers really need social media? One could easily argue that photographers seemed to get by just fine before Twitter existed. It’s true. But things have changed. The question of whether you need social media is one that will elicit different responses, but the bottom line is that, used effectively, social media can be an invaluable asset to photographers.
What follows is a collection of tips and ideas aimed at helping photographers streamline their social media presence.
Defining Social Media
When talking about social media, people’s thoughts tend to go immediately to outlets like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. But in reality, social media can be any online venue that brings people together around a given idea. It is really that simple.
Why Use Social Media
If you’re a photographer, I’m betting that you have specific ideas about photography; a photograph can be a visual representation of ideas; a photograph itself is an idea. And if you’d like to share your ideas with others and learn about others’ ideas, then you need social media — whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, a blog, or a forum — to make that connection.
Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer
Establishing Your Worth
This has nothing to do with monetary value. Establishing your worth tackles the matter of considering what makes you/your work worth paying attention to. It is difficult to apply any definitive impartiality to this topic, as different people value different ideas; so in this sense, the impetus is on you to cultivate the audience you want based upon the kinds of material you post.
Think of all the things you deem worthwhile — inspirational things, educational things, beautiful things. This is what you will want to share with others. Those who appreciate the ideas you share will stick around; those who don’t, won’t. Before long you will see your audience take shape.
I can’t — and wouldn’t dare if I could — assemble a list of all the things you should and shouldn’t post. But there are three principles I would suggest following:
- Don’t spam your readers/viewers. Avoid posting things that you know for a fact don’t interest your audience. If no one cares what you eat for lunch, why bother photographing and posting whatever it is you eat each day at noon?
- Don’t use your social media account as a vehicle for your ego. Yes, it’s your work you’re posting but your goal is to share, not to gloat. Be engaging, not self-congratulatory.
- Don’t overdo it. I find that one Instagram post per day is enough. This isn’t a rule that anyone has to adhere to, but you’re certainly not creating value in your work when you flood your followers’ feeds. You don’t want people to feel obligated to keep up with a dozen posts per day. If they feel overwhelmed you risk them unfollowing you.
Illustration by Mark Kens
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Growing Your Audience
So, you feel you’ve got worthwhile ideas and you want to share them with as many people as possible. How do you get more people to pay attention to you?
- Be Content Savvy. In other words, create and share great content. Never be satisfied with putting so-so work out there. Being content savvy also entails being versatile; where appropriate, it helps to post more than type of content — for example, you might supplement your photos with videos or writing.
- Embrace Cooperation. You probably have ideas that others would be receptive to; one particularly effective way to disseminate those ideas to a larger audience is to write guest posts for established photography websites. You will win yourself some new followers as a result.
- Remain Active. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of thinking about having a large, passionate following that can’t wait for your next post. The thing is…you have to actually post, and keep posting. Posting regularly for the first few weeks of the life of your account and then disappearing is just self-destructive. It helps to know that it’s relatively painless to streamline your social media workflow; you can setup one account to broadcast a post to all your other accounts. This timesaving tip will go a long way in helping you stay active and consistent.
Illustration by Sean MacEntee
- Be Engaging. This means: be generous with your knowledge; ask questions of others; be empathetic; create genuine dialog; show a sense of gratitude. Effective engagement also requires you to ignore the trolls, troublemakers and haters that are sure to come your way. Don't engage with those individuals; you don't have time for that. In short, be a human being, not the egomaniac I warned about above.
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The dynamics of a given social media platform will vary; Twitter is different from Facebook is different from your blog is different from Instagram. Differences notwithstanding, social media exists to share ideas and — more to the point of being a photographer — serves as the preeminent means of publishing and publicizing your work. There’s no doubt that social media can have its downsides, but I find that many of them are manageable, if not altogether avoidable, with the proper approach. But what is proper for one may not be proper for another. It’s up to you to find exactly what works for you. It is my hope that this has been a good starting point.