From the moment we wake up in the morning to when we go to sleep at night, we check in on social media. A recent Statista survey found that the average social media user (59% globally) spends 2.5 hours logged in every single day. It’s not just changing how we socialize, but also how we work. Creatives spend an increasing amount of time networking and marketing their businesses on social media. And while it feels vital to be involved in your online networks, it can be a drain on our limited working hours. Social media for photographers is not just about sharing images to grow your following. You need to interact with your newsfeed and reply to comments, which can become all-encompassing and counterproductive.
These platforms are designed for ‘maximum engagement’, which means they have been devised so you spend as much time as possible on them. The question is how can photographers stay in the social media loop and develop a sustainable photography marketing strategy while leaving enough time for the rest of their workload?
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In today’s world, social media has become a powerful tool to stay in touch with your connections as well as make new contacts.
There are some specialties, where social media is so dominant, that a well-curated social media presence is indispensable. Particularly, specialties that appeal to younger generations like music and performing arts photography or fashion photography. However, a well-curated social media presence can help all photographers.
Craig Okraska, a Wyoming-based brand photographer with around 60k followers on Instagram, says,
Social media helped my business a huge amount because it put me on the map as a brand photographer. It directly helped me get my current gig as a full-time in-house photographer/videographer content creator for a brand. It also opened the door for some amazing experiences (photographing unique events, people, exotic locations, etc). As a more recent example, a small outdoor brand (and their PR agency) found my work on Instagram and approached me. I’ve since been working with that client on an as-needed basis for lifestyle and product imagery.
Charlie Neuenschwander is an Oklahoma corporate lifestyle and portrait photographer who uses Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn to promote his business. He agrees that it is a useful way to stay at the forefront of clients’ minds. He says,
I simply use it as a tool for visibility foremost. Instagram is definitely a tool to stay in the minds of viewers, which I do believe leads to inquiries and then eventual clients. The key is consistency and regular posts.
There is no doubt that in the creative industries, clients go to social media for research, inspiration, and to see a photographer’s most recent work. While a website can give a good overview of a photographer’s work, social media can convey that they’re busy, successful, and on-trend.
The Baltimore, Maryland-based lifestyle and portrait photographer Shawn Hubbard has over 10k followers on Instagram. He says,
Talking with other photographers reveals a similar sentiment in that often we post in an attempt to stay relevant and to give the impression that we have “something going on” even when we don’t. If someone seems like they are working all the time there is a perception that they are “in demand”. In this era of the influencer, I see photographers being hired because of who they are and their popularity more so than the work they are producing.
However, social media also often lets the poster’s personality shine through, which can also influence the decision to hire somebody. Of course, working with somebody who is helpful and easy-going can lead to a more productive shoot. However, neuroscience is uncovering how emotions influence our decisions, so if clients feel they are on the same wavelength as a photographer or that they like them as a person, they are more likely to hire them.
Receiving regular updates and images will also make people feel closer to them simply because they spend more time thinking about them and hence are more likely to hire them. So, maybe the most useful function of your social media presence is to stay in touch with clients and remind them that you’re available for work. Shawn definitely agrees. He says,
Posting consistently increases your chances to stay top-of-mind of people that may be hiring photographers. So if the right project comes up, they’d be more inclined to consider you.
It’s important to understand how social media works as a whole. So, let’s break down the different aspects of social media for businesses.
All major platforms’ business model relies on advertising revenue. Simply put, the longer you spend on their platform, the more advertising they can show you, which means higher revenue.
All the content you see is controlled by the platform’s algorithm. This is a complex set of rules, which shows you the content that is most likely to keep you engaged. For example, a post that’s similar to a post you liked before, or one that quickly collected likes and/or comments from other people in your demographic, will be shown to you because it’s likely to resonate. Can you outsmart the algorithms? Now and again there is a hack that gives your posts more exposure, but these companies hire whole teams of engineers, who are constantly optimizing the algorithms so that content is ‘rewarded’ in line with its worth to the platform.
This largely depends on how you intend to use your account, as well as the terms and conditions of each platform. Business pages are geared towards commercial use, sometimes offering tailored functionality as well as insights. However, some platforms also make it more difficult or time-consuming for businesses to reach a large number of followers organically, hoping it will prompt business users to use some of their marketing budget for paid-for posts.
Let’s discuss some important social media tips for photographers so that you can make the most out of these tools.
To some people, posting and engaging on social media comes naturally. While others find it difficult or feel self-conscious. Likewise, some photographers enjoy sharing personal stories, such as photos of family holidays, while others feel more comfortable keeping it professional.
The Maryland home and garden photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg, who is often contacted by clients who have seen her work on Instagram, will occasionally post personal posts. She says,
People like to know that who they are interacting with is a real person. So every few months I’ll post a self-portrait, a personal project I am working on, or something important to me. I keep the personal posts on the lighter side, don’t overshare, and generally stay unpolitical. My captions are sometimes funny puns or offer a glimpse into my personal life. I may post an amazing kitchen, but discuss my terrible cooking abilities in the caption. I may post a super modern bathroom and write about how I accidentally got into someone else’s car outside of Starbucks because I was distracted. I use the captions as a way to show my personality.
Whether you do personal posts, or not, it’s all about finding a voice that comes across as genuine and has a level of authenticity. The Dallas brand photographer Stewart Cohen says,
I feel that authenticity is best. It is hard to “put on” a persona. Be who you are, and you can find your people.
Posting regularly and engaging with people is the key to growing your audience. Craig says,
What really put me on the map was posting every day for a full year and being featured by Instagram as a “Suggested User” several times, which grew my following by thousands each time. Winning Instagram-run contests also grew my following. Ultimately, being a very active early adopter gave me a head start.
An organic social media strategy means using free posts to reach your audience. But, opting for paid or sponsored posts often allows you to target groups more precisely and effectively. However, this depends on your clients and common practice in your photography specialty. However, paid posts are quick to set up and it’s easy to measure their effectiveness or ROI. So it may be worth a try.
Most people post spontaneously on their personal social media. They then continue posting in an ad-hoc style when it comes to marketing their services. However, this risks becoming a time drain with few results. Similarly, a scattershot approach may gain you a lot of followers on different platforms, but they are not necessarily the ones who can help you progress.
That’s why freelancers and business owners benefit from formulating a strategy that’s targeted at growing your business. The aim of a social media strategy is to ensure your social media profiles work as hard as they can for you and your business. This will take some time initially but will pay off in the long term. Alternatively, you can hire a social media consulting service, especially one specializing in photography, to speed up the process and ensure you are utilizing your time and resources effectively.
Who would you like to reach with your posts? It’s easy to connect with fellow (especially aspiring) photographers on social media, but it won’t deepen relationships with potential clients. A smaller following that includes a wide variety of people can be a lot more valuable for a photographer than a following of 20k photographers. Research where you are most likely to connect with potential clients. Are they following creative influencers on Instagram, or are they more likely to ask for leads on LinkedIn?
What image would you like to project? It sometimes helps to think of yourself as a brand complete with a mission statement, values, and a certain feel. This helps to keep your posts consistent, which will make it easier for clients to remember your work.
What are you trying to achieve with your social media presence? The value of your social media presence may be difficult to quantify. However, it’s still worth formulating goals, planning how to achieve them, and deciding which platforms will help you reach them. For example, it could involve new contacts with potential clients or engagement with people who commissioned you before.
Regularly check if your strategy is helping you achieve your social media goals. If it’s not immediately obvious, you can use analytical tools to get a better insight into how your content performs, see which posts are the most effective, what time is best to post, etc.
Ask yourself if the amount of time and money you spend on social media is a good investment for your business. Building a social media presence can be extremely time-consuming, not just eating into your working day, but also keep you busy on your days off. Make sure the time (and money) you spend is an effective use of your resources.
Tailor your content and interactions to achieve your goals and consider dropping any social media activity that doesn’t serve your business. Use social media tools to schedule posts days or weeks ahead, and share them across different platforms, which can save you a lot of time.
It is important to keep track of the best practices for social media in order to capitalize on your strategy.
It’s paramount to be consistent and post regularly to keep people engaged and make the algorithms work in your favor. Shawn says,
It’s been a slow but steady process. There was never a period where there was a huge jump overnight. Which I suppose is good because, hopefully, that means I have more genuine followers and fewer spam and bot accounts. I think the theories about consistent posting are true. The more consistently I post, the better engagement I get.
Reacting to comments will not only make your audience feel closer to you but will often prompt your posts to be shown to more people. Charlie says,
I often reach out to others regarding their work, and I try to always answer messages or comments from my viewers. I get photography questions, too, and I love sharing info or tips/tricks on how I did a certain setup, etc.
Don’t just plug your business. Even though it can be tricky to get the balance right, make sure that your audience will find the majority of your posts entertaining, interesting, or helpful. Craig says,
Since Instagram has evolved into more of a consumer, ad-driven platform, I’ve also evolved in trying to find a balance between posting personal images and images that’ll help promote me as a photographer. I’m constantly torn between posting what I want vs. what I think others want to see vs. what will help my brand.
Don’t overshare, bad-mouth, or post anything that may cast doubt over your capacity or reliability as a professional photographer, even if it’s an entertaining anecdote.
It is important to post during times when your audience will see your content. This is likely to differ across different platforms and for different specialties. Shawn says,
I typically will only post Monday through Thursday earlier in the day. I also try to align posts with “normal” workday schedules, trying to catch attention either before people start work; during a midday break, or just as people are getting off of work.
Hashtags work brilliantly on Instagram and Twitter while tagging people on Facebook can be a very powerful way of getting somebody’s attention. Each platform is different, so observe what works and optimize your posts to make sure you make the most of these tools.
Your website is still your digital shopfront that needs to represent your work. Wonderful Machine photographers say that the vast majority of serious new inquiries still come through their own websites, although it’s difficult to say how many would have found it through social media. Shawn says,
I don’t think Instagram has replaced a legitimate portfolio and I have to tell young photographers that all the time. Social media has the benefit of showing people more about your personality and what you are like to work with. But people that are hiring for bigger jobs want to see your work on a larger scale and carefully curated on a website. Social media is just an attention grabber and a pathway to get people interested enough to check out your portfolio site.
Instagram has become the obvious choice for photographers, but other platforms that can be just as valuable. Every platform has a different demographic and focus, so while you ideally tailor posts for each platform, this may simply be too time-consuming. A lot of photographers prioritize one and then re-post its content on other platforms, only making minor adjustments. Stewart says,
I actually try to say the same things on multiple platforms even though the audience tends to be different on each platform. However, something fun and irrelevant that gets posted on Instagram probably won’t work for LinkedIn and won’t get posted there.
Although Facebook is not as dominant as it used to be, it’s still the most-used social media platform and particularly popular with Millenials (people born between 1981 and 1996). Users spend an average of nearly 20 hours a month on the platform, ideal for groups and friends. However, it can be difficult for businesses to reach large numbers of followers via the platform without paying for sponsored posts. Facebook for photographers can be very hit or miss depending on the time and effort you put into it.
Instagram is the fourth largest social networking site and is particularly popular with Generation Z which encompasses people born from 1997 till the early 2010s. It’s also highly visual, making it ideal for showcasing images as well as a personal touch. As discussed previously, Instagram marketing for photographers is a very popular choice.
LinkedIn is still the third most visited platform in the US. Its focus on forging professional connections can make LinkedIn for photographers an incredibly effective and often underrated marketing tool. The Cincinnati food and drink photographer Teri Campbell doesn’t just invest in Instagram but is also very active on LinkedIn. This is where he networks with his connections and has over 2.5k followers. He says,
The one platform I do find helpful is LinkedIn. I don’t post as often as I should, or would like to – but I find that I am connecting with clients on LinkedIn, not other photographers.
Out of all platforms, users spend the most time on YouTube which is now owned by Google and Alphabet. It’s estimated that 82% of global internet traffic is streaming videos, and this is likely to increase. Also, YouTube is the second most visited website on the internet, after Google. Videos can be a very powerful marketing tool so photographers share their reels or behind-the-scenes videos via their YouTube channel. These can then easily be shared across other platforms. It also has the advantage that YouTube videos tend to rank highly in Google searches, so it’s a good way of getting visibility and increasing traffic to your website.
Twitter is focused on dialogue and is heavily used by journalists and decision-makers in the media. It’s easy to follow potential clients and editors, who often use Twitter to call for case studies and pitches. This makes it a great platform to connect and look for work, in particular for photojournalists. Recently, Twitter has been undergoing changes in its business model. We will keep an eye out for any major updates that will affect its viability as a social media tool for photographers.
Pinterest is also a highly visual and sizable platform, claiming over 12 percent of social media visits in the US. Users can browse for visual inspiration and ideas and create galleries and mood boards with the images they find. It allows photographers to build portfolios and interact with other users and is particularly dominant in any design-related field, such as interior design. It’s also often used to find hyper-local photographers.
There are a lot of useful tools that can help you optimize your ROI for your social media marketing.
The most useful software to make the most of your social media marketing is dashboards or posting software like Buffer or Meta Business Suite (specifically for Facebook and Instagram). These allow you to schedule posts and share them across multiple platforms simultaneously. It helps with consistency as well as time management, as you can schedule posts for a week or two (or sometimes more!) in advance.
What type of posts performs best and how deep is their reach? All the above social media accounts offer analytic tools to show how your posts perform via
Being active on social media can be enormously satisfying. The Vancouver brand photographer Erich Saide says,
I like the satisfaction of hitting the button POST and being proud of the work shared. Also, I appreciate the attention. I like being recognized, reading the nice comments and feedback, and seeing other photographers admire my work. That is the best feeling, it is very humbling and fulfilling.
However, it can also be overwhelming at times. It’s worth keeping in mind that social media platforms are for-profit enterprises whose aim is to keep you scrolling rather than looking out for your well-being. More and more studies link excessive social media use to anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and disrupted sleep. So you need to recognize when it’s getting too much and then take a step back. Shawn says,
I often end up not posting at all due to the immense pressure I put on myself to hit a home run with every new post. It became overwhelming, so I’ve posted a lot less frequently over the last two years. That definitely has negatively affected my engagement, but I think it’s better for my mental health.
Similarly, Stacy says,
I think it is important to have boundaries in place and be aware of how social media can affect us. If it’s stressing you out or making you sad/mad/depressed, take a break.
Being plugged into a vast network of creatives and clients can be a great buzz, keeping a finger on the pulse of trends in society and our industry while establishing yourself as a photographer. But in the long term, you need to control it rather than let it control you. Having a strategy in place with regular reviews, which includes taking a step back and assessing the time and energy you invest into this powerful marketing tool.
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