The rise of social media over the past few years is undeniable. It’s come to shape our habits and behavioral patterns, as well as redefine social norms. So, it’s inevitable that the creative industry has been influenced too; but in a world where our brand’s worth is often dictated by our follower count, just how important is mastering social media to any creative trying to make it in the industry in 2015?
I started my Facebook page in January 2010, just six months after I purchased my first camera. On reflection, that may seem a little premature. But I remember how quickly I became passionate about photography and just six months in, I was hooked on taking photos. Since then, I’ve kept my social media accounts fresh with portfolio work and I’ve worked hard at building a community with whom I can share all of the work I’m proud of. What I like about having a Facebook page is that I can post several images from each shoot; as a rule, I try to only upload what I feel is the single greatest photo from each shoot to my website, where potential clients are likely to only visit for a short time period. A social media feed is a more frequently updated stream that allows us to showcase more of our work with images we’re happy with but that don’t necessarily represent the style we want to present ourselves as possessing.
Whether you agree with the implementation of social media within the creative community or not, the fact is it’s here to stay and it’s important. As a freelancer, my current budget for advertising via traditional methods stands at small to none. And unless my landlord plans on scrapping my rent any time soon, my situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all free. This means there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be trying to maximize what they can do for your business. And one thing that’s great about a social media page is that it becomes a hub of (hopefully) good quality content. It’s a way of separating those photos of your weekend antics from the images that you want people to take seriously. Those in your network who are actually interested in following your progress can join your page for updates.
If any of you read my article on my experience of being a freelancer, you’ll know that when I first started out – and before I really understood how the industry worked – I often contacted potential clients on Twitter. I saw it as the most direct route to a whole world of musicians and actors at a time when I had no management or PR contacts. Although I’ve since grown out of that phase and now communicate the correct way via email, I still often use Twitter as a means of informal contact with my clients and team. It can be a great way to round off a shoot on a positive note, so often I send a quick message thanking someone for their time and efforts and it’s also an opportunity for you both to mutually follow each others’ progress moving forward. It’s informal and not as intrusive or as personal as asking for someone’s phone number.
What’s important to remember is that with each platform comes a different audience and thus, another chance to market your work to a different demographic. Facebook, for example, attracts people of all ages. Something like Tumblr is marketed towards a much younger audience, who are often looking for certain types of images to post on their blog. Sites like Flickr are where you’ll find a niche of photography enthusiasts; for the most part, they are people that are artists or photographers themselves and thus they tend to have a clue of what they’re talking about. It’s important to try and market yourself and your work in the correct way on each platform. Make the effort to post to each site organically; for example, don’t just set your Instagram posts to send through to Facebook. It’s plain lazy and in this particular example, your audience will soon feel like your Facebook page is just an afterthought. If you’re not invested, don’t expect them to be. It’s so important to be engaging with each respective audience; speaking from experience, I find myself endeared to any photographer that I can see takes the time to answer the questions of their followers. Many aspiring photographers want to know details such as what camera and lens setup was used to take a particular photo and it seems that those who bother to respond to questions have the most longevity on social media. Respect the people who support you, as ultimately they will be the ones who help spread the word about your works to their own respective networks.
So, is there actually any monetary value in social media? In a word: yes. I’ve had a surprising amount of job offers through my Facebook page or via email with a client who has told me they’d discovered my work through my page as opposed to my official website. Often in this industry, jobs can be last minute and many creatives turn to Twitter to source a photographer, makeup artist, stylist, etc. last minute; so, opportunities can appear on your timeline at any moment. I have one particular client, a clothing brand, who is presently trying to diversify the audience that wears their clothes. They hire me regularly to photograph a variety of different people wearing their garments. When we met to discuss the brief of what this particular series of shoots were required to do, it was made very clear to me that whilst I was welcome to suggest models and personalities I thought were appropriate for the project, one of the strict requirements was that each person had to have "a following of at least 20k" — their words, not mine. But this is a direct example that having a following is, to some clients, an essential requirement. I’ve seen models that have been provided by their agencies with a social media pack, including how to utilize Twitter and Instagram, with advice on when to post, how often, the ratio of "work" photos to "leisure" photos they should be posting, etc. In the same manner, it’s interesting to see how social media tags are becoming an increasingly common form of currency. Many of the indoor venues I’ve recently sourced for a shoot have been willing to waive any request for a small booking fee in favor of me tagging their business page across social media. Of course, we can see the logic behind that being the client's belief that more followers equals more business in the long term. Equally beneficially, they believe, is the endorsement of having a photoshoot take place at their venue, particularly if a shoot is inclusive of a celebrity name. In the social media age, perception is everything and it’s clear to see that appearing “popular” — or interesting enough that people want to receive your updates — can be used to our advantage. Let’s be honest: if we see a photographer with a large following, we automatically assume they’re a successful, full-time professional photographer that won’t have time to reply to a message from the average Joe, as opposed to someone who just happens to be talented, but only takes photos as a side-project.
I’ve noticed increasingly just how important Instagram is within the industry. For years, I wrote it off as being similar to Facebook in that it was relatively impersonal and as such, it wasn’t a platform that professional photographers (or photography enthusiasts) would be expected to use or take seriously. Instead, I dismissed it as a place for people to simply document their day-to-day lives, with no artistic aspect to their posts. Wrong! Over the past year, I’ve really noticed the difference when working on a set with a stylist, makeup artist, or hairstylist that I’ve never previously met. So frequently am I asked, "what’s your Instagram?" before the likes of "What’s your email?" For now, it seems that Instagram is, for many, the preferred method by which to make initial contact or to remain in touch. As much as it doesn’t feel to me like a legitimate way to show off your portfolio (that might stem from the fact that I try to incorporate "personality" into my feed, with general iPhone photos and BTS snaps), it is an undeniably quick way to scroll through many of your recent images.
Facebook also provides some great insights that are there to be optimized, such as how many new people have joined your page, how many people were reached, your audience’s gender and age, when they are online, etc. It takes time to come to grips with it, but if you’re smart, you can market your work to get maximum results using this invaluable insight.
The problem for many is that it feels like a taboo subject to want or need to talk about your social media and your following. There’s a stigma attached to it that anyone who is actively investing time into improving their follower count is just desperate for attention or in it for the wrong reasons. It’s a thought process we really ought to let go of, because being good at social media in the modern day creative industry is not desperate or lame. It’s clever. And it’s all part of being a good businessperson; it's a great way to grow your brand, not something we should be ashamed of. Rating someone’s worth based on their following may not be the most ethical way of judging a photographer’s ability, but alas, it’s what many companies, brands, and potential clients look to. The bottom line is that if you’re not social media savvy, you may be leaving yourself at a disadvantage in an industry saturated by other creatives who are ready to step up if you don’t make the cut.
Just a few sites you should be actively using in order to maximize your online presence:
- Fstoppers (of course!)