By cultivating a “look” and carefully curating your images, a single social media tool can be incredibly powerful. Photos by DL Byron
Get them to sign on the line that’s dotted. In an infamous scene in the movie adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin—while verbally “motivating” a group of real estate salesmen—drills into their head the phrase “always be closing.” For photographers in the social media era, this is a worthwhile mantra as well. With so many hours in the day and a seemingly infinite number of social media channels popping up, it’s important to figure out which ones will most benefit your business, focus on them, and let the others go.
After spending a good decade in blogging and now social media, I can tell you there’s no real economy to likes or faves or blog comments. As I wrote in the article “Death Of The Influencer” (Digital Photo Pro, November 2016, digitalphotopro.com/business/social-media-death-of-the-influencer), it’s talent, hard work and promotion that matter—just like Alec Baldwin said.
The first important consideration is what platform best suits you. If you’re trying to land photography work, then photography networks are obviously key, yet many photographers spend a lot of their time on photo tools like Instagram creating Stories. That’s a bad strategy for all but the most personable photographers. But, you might say, there are a lot of photographers on Snapchat and Instagram who are building followers with quick video clips of themselves at work.
There’s nothing wrong with connecting with an audience or potential clients by sharing behind-the-scene videos, but the majority of those making a living in this market are really selling lifestyle and branding, not photography. Take, for instance, Chase Jarvis, an extremely talented photographer with a huge YouTube following, a podcast and series of creative workshops. Chase is fortunate enough to be funny, engaging and informative, and a natural video personality. He’s not just a photographer who does videos and classes (though he was when he started); he’s a media personality who started as a photographer.
While it’s good advice to pick platforms that suit your style, the constant flow of new social media channels leads to FOMO—fear of missing out—and can lead a creative to rush to get their work on each new platform. You should absolutely get out there and promote your work wherever the audience is; just remember, audiences are very fickle and move from platform to platform, and sometimes the hit social media tool one day is a barren ghostland the next.
As it turns out, VC-funded startups are also fickle with their business plans, and they’re always struggling with the mix of building a user base and sticking to their core mission. Sometimes that works (as is the case with Instagram), and sometimes that explodes, taking content along with it.
A good example is Storehouse, a photo-sharing tool based around small, easy-to-design, beautiful photographic stories, which imploded following a decision to abandon the discovery aspect of the service. By the time Storehouse launched, I had already decided to be cautious of new platforms that make a killing off of the content that I fed them, and I’m sure glad I didn’t upload more than a handful of photos there.
Vine was a fun place to share what amounted to video versions of GIFs (short looping clips) and had good traction, but at the end of last year, Twitter announced it was shuttering it. And just as I was writing this in early January, my favorite place to write, Medium, laid off staff and is rediscovering its business plan. (Hint: That’s Silicon Valley speak for, “We’re not making any money.”)
Like anything else in photography, focus on what you do best, and don’t spread yourself too thin. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Social Media Diet
I’m going to stop myself before this article turns into a self-help piece, but the decluttering tools found in books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up not only apply to your closet and your photo libraries, but to social media. There’s no greater suck on productivity than determining, creating and consuming an endless stream of mediocre content. Instead, pick something with visibility and share only your best work—everything else is creative clutter. This year I removed a lot of apps from my mobile devices to end the constant distractions, including some of the previously hot social media channels, like Flickr and the defunct Storehouse.
Don’t Be Johnny Appleseed
Don’t spread your content around helping venture capitalists grow their stock valuation. Post and use metrics—including job leads—to see if it’s worth the time. One of the biggest secrets of social media is how much time it takes. What’s more productive, a witty tweet or learning a new lighting technique for a future gig?
It’s also important to know the audience of your social media tools. Instagram, for example, sees 80 percent of its audience coming from outside the U.S. (just one interesting statistic in this excellent blog post blog.hootsuite.com/instagram-statistics). Is that mix useful for your career?
Landing a sponsored gig or launching a career as a brand promoter changes the emphasis to paying work versus sharing, but it’s quality over quantity that matters most. Thanks to the algorithms used by social media tools, more posts don’t guarantee more views. More shared posts do, and while sites like Instagram don’t state publicly that they measure time spent by users viewing each image, we’re sure they do. A captivating image gets more likes, more engagement and so more native sharing.
Be Your Own Brand
Being your own brand is crucial. Creatives used to spend much time and effort crafting physical portfolios and direct-mailing pieces. Today, you need websites that promote your work and funnel people to your social media channels, plus social media that channels people back to your larger online portfolios. If you’re only going in one direction, you’re losing leads.
If you’re simply chasing a follower count to try and get noticed, remember that many of the superstars of the various platforms got their fame because they were onboard at launch, friends of the developers, and many others were celebrities first. Unless you’re on the cover of People, you should consider social media just one of your many business activities, and just like any other activity, weigh the costs and benefits from the time spent chasing your goals.
And always be closing.
You can follow DL Byron on Twitter and Instagram @bikehugger