Facebook Likes Mean Nothing - Here's 3 Steps to Grow Your Following the Right Way

Most photographers have a difficult time turning their social following into income – Yes, even those with HUGE social followings. The great part is, it doesn’t take a genius to learn how to capitalize from your social following, whether it’s 100 people or 100,000. It just takes some research and small bit of effort.

Let me be clear that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and other social media apps are all great resources that you can use to grow your audience and grow your brand, but you’ll want to do it in a very strategic manner. Remember that as a photographer, you’re first an entrepreneur and then a creative. You’re running a business at the end of the day – and without capital, there is no business.

I always recommend that photographers remember that. Why? Because it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re getting a ton of likes on a photo, and it’s just as easy to forget that those likes will not pay the bills. We all go through that.

The premise of this article is this: I want you to walk away, knowing how to grow the right audience that will help you build your brand – not in quantity, but in quality.

You’re going to see many other articles that discuss growing an audience in “NO TIME AT ALL!” and it’s all bullshit. It doesn't benefit you to have a million followers if you're a wedding photographer in Boise, Idaho, if none of your audience is interested in buying from you. That's just common sense.

Anyone who has worked a basic sales job can tell you this… there is a difference between a quality sales lead and a ton of random sales leads. I say that purposely, because if you’re going to capitalize from your audience, you’ll first need to look at each individual as a potential sales lead. You’ll need to start thinking bigger picture – how is this person following me going to make me money?

Think about it this way, you’re sitting at a desk with a phone. Your job is to sell SOMETHING to anyone who calls that line. Would you rather have a random phone call back to back every single second of the day with clients who may not want your product or a phone call every fifteen minutes with someone who is interested and educated already about your specific product?

Most people would say the latter because it’s a “warm lead,” or someone who’s interested in the product you’re selling. Social media works the same way.

While, there are many people who could sell ice to an Eskimo, that’s not the premise of building a social following. You want to capitalize on the right audience.



The first thing that I recommend every photographer do is write down exactly who their target audience is. Is it men? Is it women? Is it high school seniors? Is it brides? Who are you trying o sell your photography services to? Whoever your target audience is, write it down.

Consider where you're trying to grow your audience. Is it in New York? London? Toronto? Los Angeles? Where ever your target audience is, also write that down.



Next, do a quick cross examination.

Once you’ve pinpointed your target audience, start analyzing who your current social media audience is. Does your current audience match your ideal target audience. Are you reaching the exact clientele that you’re hoping for? If that’s not the case, you’ll want to quickly re-shift your marketing strategies to market to the clients you’re hoping to nab. That’s plain and simple.

If you do not know how to find your target audience, it’s relatively easy to do. Here’s a video on how to do that on Facebook:




This is by far the most complicated step in growing your audience because it’s unique to your own body of work. If you’re a wedding photographer for example, you’ll want to start creating content that appeals to that target market. Beyond that, you’ll want to start considering the specific unique attributes of your target market, i.e. profession, income, background, etc. in order to start creating relevant content that appeals to your body of work. It may sound like a really complex process, but this is the fundamentals of marketing a business. You want to create a brand that attracts the right clientele you’re hoping for.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be releasing a new E-Book / Video Guide on how to sell your work to anyone – if you want out more information about that, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.



Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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.... now I'm buying a book.

I'm happy to see this movement of extending beyond the "like". My day job is working as a social media researcher and educator. In a nutshell, I research what works and then teach that to small, agricultural businesses.

I think you can go a step beyond everything Facebook gives you and conduct a complete and comprehensive content analysis. I made a blog post for my day job on how I approach Facebook analytics. It will take approximately 30 minutes to get through the videos. However, I have been able to generate an intense amount of data from my fans by breaking Facebook content down into categories, subcategories, and relevant meta data. Also, if I desire I can conclude some forms of statistical differences and significance between the different categories to help quantify my decisions to post.

Lastly, I think one of the biggest things missing from small business owners' Facebook and online marketing strategy is the "and then" answer. I was presenting research at the Direct Marketing Association last fall and that is one thing they preached over and over again...and then. They like a post. That's great...and then? They go to your website. Awesome...and then? The goal isn't the like. The goal is an immersive experience that keeps offering value in order to generate loyalty. Loyalty is the goal, because we know a relational approach to business and marketing trumps the transactional approach every time.


I love this! I think it's really helpful for business owners (photographers) to understand that! :)

Thanks Jeff. Facebook is both an art and a science. However, I've found conducting a content analysis once a quarter to be hugely beneficial.

I say it all the time, but social media is freaking awesome. No time in history, ever, has any business had so much access to customer input. If you think of it, with every engagement, impression, or interaction your customers are telling you how to market to them, how to create value, and how to entertain them. We just need to speak their language. Analytics serves as a translator between an aggregate of customer engagement and how we can fulfill that need.

Facebook, for me, is like a giant focus group. I have an idea and I test it with organic reach. I'll hone that organic reach into target audiences and what resonates or doesn't through A/B split testing. From there, I can create some pretty darn accurate advertisements for only $15 bucks or so that have also been tested on similar demographics and behavioral / attitudinal factors.

It's not 100% certain, no social science ever is. However, it's fun for me to look over everything and try to start understanding my target audiences and how to meet their needs with valuable content that ultimately generates loyalty.

Scott, do you do any consultation outside of your local area? One of my clients is a pretty big organic tomato grower and social media growth is on our to-do list in the coming year.

Hey Justin. Feel free to email me and we can chat. scottstebner@ksu.edu

I Really don't want to rain on your energy which I do respect, but the content examples you used in your examples have assorted reasons for their "likes", not all of which are beneficial to you or many photographers.

1 - Girl with Freckles -- happens to be one of the most sought after categories of pictures for content aggregators like Pinterest and Tumblr. A G-Search (freckles pinterest black and white) turns up 1,470,000 for Pinterest and another 936k for Tumblr. Oddly enough, a reverse image G-search says the picture is of Diego Maradona (the soccer/football player from Argentina). Summary: no one cares who the photographer is, but they do "like" the subject matter and are possibly looking for more. A book, your website, etc. are in the Leisure/Entertainment category.

2 - Before/After for fStoppers - marketing to the choir and fans of your photography, as well as promoting your "expert status", I can see reassuring potential commercial clients IF that was your intent.

3 - Book Promotion - now here is where FB works very well; pinning it to the top of your page also is a good idea... but also adds to the "like" totals, since the single image further down in your feed garnered less than half the likes. If you look at the comments, they are mostly from photo enthusiasts and for the sale of a coffee table/educational book, to be expected.

While I agree with the headline to your article, @Scott Stebner below has a very good post and better ingredients for this difficult subject.

Note: your idea to use a domain with your name backwards is just as silly and cheesy as having a magazine/newspaper print your ad/image upside down (also strictly not allowed in many publications). Nice way to ruin your brand and organic SEO. If you want to be really clever, go mirrorless.

Likes mean nothing as most buy them and that's all Facebook cares about now, money. Facebook is good for showcasing and that's about it. Since they changed their format, they now hold your audience hostage unless you "boost" each post. The only way to get passed it is shares. Posting an fstoppers link works cause it's a popular site but most people would see that as spam. I get more shares and likes on my before and after pics of compositions than I do on the actual image because people find them useful and want to learn.

Like any website the best way to get attention is to feature something that already gets attention. I shoot popular cosplayers with built in fan bases. Just by them posting my work on their pages, I get attention that I didn't have to pay for. And don't be shy about submitting images to fan pages or photo pages. If you just post and sit around waiting to be discovered it will be a long wait and the way social media is going, it's all down hill.

These pics show how Facebook works with their hostage holding. The second shows how they like to occasionally let your people see your content just to show you what you're missing by not paying them. I don't pay and will never pay.

As far as paying to boost pics or buy likes, it's worthless. None of the people will be your target audience and will most likely be middle eastern accounts you've never heard of and would never care about your work. Just another sham. And guess what, Facebook owns Instagram now and have already started screwing it up. With twitter being mostly about what Angelina Jolie had for breakfast, that's 3 strikes.

Instead of "hostage holding" why don't we just refer to it as "advertising?

Facebook is still, by far, the best tool for target marketing to a highly engaged audience. For people who are stuck on engagement metrics (which are important), I highly suggest looking at the deeper meaning of Facebook marketing, loyalty and relationship management.

Research shows that customers who engage with brands online form increased levels of relationships, whether consciously or subconsciously. These interactions built up over time actually insulate the businesses from price fluctuations and competition from similarly-priced products and businesses.

While shares are important, likes are also important since Facebook shows these interactions on the news feed. As a consumer, I've often seen and engaged with content because my friends' impression showed up on my newsfeed. Additionally, likes are part of the formerly named EdgeRank algorithm that helps determine reach.

There is one large piece of the puzzle that I'd love to see FStoppers address, and that is Instant Articles and how time spent on post (TSOP) will have a huge factor determining what is shown to people and what Facebook deems is highly relevant.

You might call it Hostage holding. However we can gripe all we want about Facebook making us pay to reach people. The post office does it, TV does it, Radio does it, Google does it, the newspaper does it, wedding vendors do it, and our agencies do it. WE all must face the reality that Facebook has grown up. They're not a media channel anymore, they're a media ecosystem and it would be prudent to invest in FB advertising in the same ways as other forms of advertising provided you have objectives, a system, and ecosystem in place to properly answer the "and then" question.

In response to your own metrics, your engagement rates are fairly good based upon the industry average and pages with similar followings. However, your reach is a tad low (most pages your size should see a reach of approximately 25% total fan base). I'd recommend doing some more analysis into posting times that resonate with when your audience wants to engage and not when Facebook says they're online the most. Facebook's when your fans are online tool is usually inversely proportional to times with high engagement rates.

I agree with some of that. Paying for advertising to reach people that don't know about you is valid and that's what all the other companies you mentioned do. But keeping most of the people that already follow and want to see your work from seeing it unless you pay, is hostage holding.

And regardless if it wasn't, paying doesn't work. I've seen the results of paying from people that did it after I warned them. After they stopped paying, their reach was crippled even more to force them to pay. And as I said, the people that did like their page were mostly dead accounts Facebook has set aside to throw at anyone that buys likes. Accounts from the middle east, etc. Not the target audience.

Buying likes is useless and you can always tell when someone has 100k page likes but average 20 likes per post.

I would rather them just charge a monthly business page fee and leave the reach alone. But then that would be them coming right out and saying they are not a hip free site but another paid link farm.

Another interesting thing I've learned from watching the models I work with. When they post selfies or pics from their phones, the reach is better but anytime they upload an image where they would choose high quality, the reach is dropped and the boost button shows up. As if Facebook can tell you're really proud of this image so time to lasso part of the followers and wait for payment.

I see and understand your point. However, how is that different than direct mail advertising or email marketing?

Paying doesn't work if companies don't do their due homework ahead of time, have goals in mind (beyond that single campaign), don't have a dashboard to measure it, or approach it in the wrong way.

I completely agree that buying likes is useless. It actually penalizes you in regards to engagement rates and reach. Advertising to people and incentivizing them to like your page with incredible content is not useless. Once again, that's marketing. People fail at it because they often don't fully understand the depth and breadth of inbound marketing.

In regards to your final statement I can't say anything regarding that as there is no research to attest to that fact nor any statistically significant models. All I can say is it's been great for me as a small, part-time business.

Facebook is an amazing tool, but it is definitely one that favors those who have an intense knowledge of it and have access to a full social media planning team. In my opinion, if you're just looking at Facebook you're doing it wrong. How does it connect as an eco system? How does your Facebook roll into your website? This isn't just clicks. Once they're on your website, how are you plotting their journey? Are you taking into account where the highest drop offs rates are, bounce rates, or bottle necks in the back end of your website? It's a fully integrated unit, this online marketing.

I've stopped being bitter at Facebook a long time ago. You have to learn their rules, constantly stay up to date, do a bunch of testing, and have some luck. Most businesses don't have time for it. My full-time job is a researcher so I probably go into way too much detail and spend way too much time making sure I'm up to date on everything, but its my job.

I'd highly recommend Social Media Examiners' podcast and anything by Mari Smith to help you with some of your Facebook problems.

I'll check it out. Me and everyone I work with would love to figure this out.

If you're serious about building an ecosystem of social media marketing platforms, I'd highly recommend buying the virtual ticket from Social Media Marketing World. I think it's $575 now, but it's a good investment...especially if you're looking to dive into live video.

It seems like Facebook is becoming a more and more difficult place to market yourself even to the ones already following you, unless you're willing to fork out money. Its so noisy now. However, this video is very helpful though.