Is Instagram Worthwhile?

Is Instagram Worthwhile?

"If you’re not on Instagram, you don’t exist." How many times have you heard a statement to that affect? I recently had a discussion with a fellow professional photographer about the value of Instagram. In this article, I’ll explore our conclusions.

At the time of our discussion, I was an established travel photographer looking to move into architectural photography on a full-time basis. I had the impression that I could use Instagram to fast-track the necessary networking needed to move into any new industry. As such, I had spent a year investigating and putting into practice strategies for growing my business through Instagram.

After a year of posting three images a day, all with unique hashtags, as well as tagging the architects whose buildings I was posting, I became disillusioned with Instagram. I figured that if I had spent the same amount of time actively marketing instead of on Instagram, I would have had a lot more to show for my efforts. I felt that for business purposes, Instagram offered poor return for effort and therefore was not worth it.

Three images per day

Posting three images a day with a decent descpription and unique hashtags is a serious drain on time.

Dale Ruebin is a travel and lifestyle photographer, the sort of genres that seem to do very well on Instagram. While ranting about Instagram's poor performance to Dale, he offered another perspective. He wasn’t using Instagram for marketing or for any business. He was using Instagram to follow photographers that he enjoyed (inspiration) as well as for meeting other photographers (community). He told me a story how he met another photographer through the platform, which culminated in them doing a photography trip through Wales as a fun personal project. When I asked him how much business he got through Instagram, he answered none, but his cheery manner suggested that he didn’t care. Dale is not using Instagram as a business tool; he is using it for inspiration and for connecting with other photographers. In our mostly solo business, connection with other photographers can be crucial. Dale is getting value from Instagram because he has different expectations.

Referring back to the title question, “is Instagram worthwhile?”, my own conclusion is that it depends on what you’re hoping to gain from the platform. Personally, if I’m going to be spending hours every week on anything, I need to see a return for this effort. In other words, I expect Instagram activity to be followed by actual bookings. I've come to see that with the exception of a few unicorns, Instagram is a terrible platform for photography business.

Since this discussion, I’ve cut down drastically on my Instagram use, posting only when I feel a desire to share work. I’ve changed my expectations of what I hope to achieve through Instagram, and I’ve found it more enjoyable. Is it enjoyable enough to be considered worthwhile? Personally, I’m on the fence. Since Instagram started behaving like a business platform with sponsored posts and advertisements, it has made it less enjoyable as a platform for inspiration and connection. I find myself wishing that there was a viable alternative.

More Fun

This sample feed is from my travel photography account. I only post whenever I feel like sharing work. In terms of followers and activity, it is less successful than my architectural photography account, but it is more fun to use the platform like this.

If you’re an Instagram user, what do you think? Does my experience seem like the norm or are you finding Instagram to be a highly worthwhile platform?

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22 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

I have several accounts and manage another. None are sponsored or use sponsoring.
One, for an electric motorcycle we are building just keeps on growing, organically. We post very little but when we do, interaction is high and has often been the starting point to selling bikes.

My own one is a bit of everything and remains stable, it's not a selling tool.

I started another one recently for another activity I'm busy with, wood working. I've just left that one to see how it grows, if it does. |

Lots of experimenting going on, lots of watching what goes on. It seems a good addition to other ways of promoting yourself but unless you are one of those effluentcers who are doing giveaways and sponsor deals, or look hot in a bikini. It's not a whopping money maker.

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’m more or less the same as Dale, I primarily use instagram as a tool, rather than for marketing. My main use is for finding new locations. I then move over to google maps and try to find alternative compositions before adding it to a list on my phone.

I used to love it for sharing my photos and hoping to grow organically. I was posting twice a day and spending an hour or so browsing on my commute. I’ve slowed down a lot in the last year, only posting twice a week, focusing more on quality over quantity. I wouldn’t say I’m disillusioned, but I’ve certainly come to accept growing organically is highly unlikely, regardless of quality, so I’ve found more productive ways to use my time. But I haven’t completely abandoned it, unlike Flickr and 500px. It’s just fallen to the bottom of my photography website/social media list. Also, I usually get featured on some kind of page once a month, which usually makes me think “ah, shucks, well that’s neat”.

So, in that context is it worthwhile for me? Yeah, I guess. But I only use it for like 5-7 minutes a day, usually when I’d otherwise be looking out the window of a train... although I do still, on occasion, find more enjoyment in that option.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I've found Instagram useful for identifying other business owners to work with via strategic partnerships. I've found it useless for finding clients.

I'm currently giving Pinterest a run, in earnest. Going to follow Pinterest best practices (they provide lots of guidance) over a period of time and see what happens.

I saw some very promising results last year when I played around with it for a couple of weeks. I believe if I'd stuck with it, I'd be seeing good results by now.

The thing I like most about Pinterest is the only reason people create a Pinterest account is to click links to visit websites for more info. On all the other platforms, people are there for some other purpose and you have to work hard to convince them to follow a link.

On Pinterest, the only thing you can do is follow the links. For that reason, it's a way better platform for growing an email list, which is the most powerful marketing tool a business can have.

And the pins last forever, so they continue to drive traffic indefinitely as they come up in searches.

Or so I've read (and heard on podcasts). Again, I haven't put in the work to achieve those results personally, so I can't give a first hand account. But if Pinterest works as billed, I suspect if many photographers put the time into Pinterest that they put into Instagram, they'd see better results.

People are on Pinterest shopping for the future version of themselves that they envision. They go on Pinterest and build vision boards for future purchases. If we post images that are aspirational to our target audience, that "should" result in sales down the road.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Interesting thoughts, thank you!

"After a year of posting three images a day, all with unique hashtags, as well as tagging the architects whose buildings I was posting, I became disillusioned with Instagram. I figured that if I had spent the same amount of time actively marketing instead of on Instagram, I would have had a lot more to show for my efforts"

Well, do that and get back to us.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I did and it was much more successful. I can't give you exact figures, but my architectural photography business is at capacity and I've almost entirely stopped travel photography,.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Honestly, Jonathan, an article on your marketing activities that did work would be a lot more useful than yet another Instagram article on Fstoppers where the author admits not getting any business from Instagram.

We already know that Instagram is not where the overwhelming majority of photographers will find paying clients.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I don’t think it would. I just used the “old school” tried and tested method of making real connections by picking up the phone, attending events, asking existing clients to refer me and so on. Looks like a lot of work but it takes less time than Instagram.

This article was written to address the misnomer that if you’re not on Instagram, you don’t exist.

Eric Salas's picture

I think you should take his suggestion and roll with it.

It would definitely help FStoppers as a whole to not post another video linked “article” and any personal account driven piece can be useful.

Just my two cents so you can throw that away too if you want.

Alexander Springborn's picture

First of all thank you for the article and sharing your experiences. Always interesting to see other people’s points of view.

We use Instagram as a marketing tool at work and after a quick look at your profile and checking the numbers I feel like you’ve been using it a bit wrong. At least if your goal really is marketing and growing organically. Your engagement rate is pretty low and the number of your posts doesn’t compare favorably to your amount of followers. This usually happens when you put a heavy emphasis on just posting content without engaging with the community. The only way for truly organic growth is unfortunately to be social ;) I’d recommend posting less (5-7 posts per week is enough) and spending more time liking other people’s photos, commenting on them, finding people to follow. Especially with people that either already like or might like your content. This approach tends to be a bit slow in the beginning but really snowballs after a time.

Sorry for the lengthy write up and hopefully I could provide some insight. Keep up your great work!

Jonathan Reid's picture

Thanks for the advice. I figured this could be the problem. I just don't foresee that the effort will be rewarded with a meaningful amount of business.

Alexander Springborn's picture

I get that ;) it just takes up a lot of your time and really is a marathon not sprint. For my personal account I just adopted a habit of liking stuff while I’m on a commute or waiting for something. Just splitting it up into small chunks. Won’t get you famous in a year or something, but I feel in my area of work a presence on these platforms is somewhat required nowadays, so I just keep at it whenever I have a few minutes in between stuff.

Have you tried standing on a large rock with your arms spread out in a T-pose?

Excellent!

David Justice's picture

Instagram is what you make of it. You can post every day with relevant hashtags, but that doesn't mean everything. You need to go out of your way to interact with others to find your audience. Once I started actually going to the hashtags I was posting to and liking and commenting on other posts (and not with "COME TO MY PAGE PLEASE" BS) I was able to start finding a real audience.

This is especially important in fields like architecture and landscape where you're not working with others and can't use their audience for your own discoverability. If you're having trouble finding an audience, go find your target audience and start talking to them.

I call it the flyer theory. When you put up a flyer on a board, maybe 3 people will read it. But if you actually pass flyers out to people walking around, you're giving them the opportunity to look at your flyer. They may throw it in the garbage, but some will have genuine interest.

Let's say you shoot architecture in Chicago. So use #ChicagoPhotographer, #ChiPhotographer, and others like that to find people like you. And then for selling prints interact with other Chicago tags and galleries in the area and get them interested in you. Build your audience by talking to people you want to be in your audience.

I've gotten so many jobs because I went to #bostonmodel and #nycmodel and just started liking and commenting on photos that are posted by people in my target market. By doing this you're literally putting your name in someone's phone on their screen. Hashtags don't do that, YOU do that.

Joe Feldman's picture

Easy for you to say, you were a very successful baseball player.

Steven Magner's picture

I’m sure he gets that way too much, but you made me laugh as his name brings me back to growing up watching the Braves on TBS in my youth

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I don't spend as much time on it anymore, especially since the bastids shadow banned me. The last time I posted a photo was end of April.

I use it more for inspiration. I quickly go through my feed 'til something catches my eye, or 40 seconds, whichever comes first. I do like the Save (Pinterest-ish) feature.

Duane Klipping's picture

A few articles up is your answer to that. Instagram is filled with narcissistic individuals who have no concern for themselves, others or the environment risking it all for a second of fame. They will never be your clients unless you are a funeral director.

I post to share my work and expect nothing out of posting. The Author states spending hours a week at it? Really how much time does it take to post a couple of minutes?

#GrowYourOwnPlatform

I wonder if an experiment is in order, two accounts, post the same content at the same time and see if they behave in the same way.

Cedric TOSONI's picture

For my experience:
User since 2012, 0 clients, most of 19000 accounts that I blocked (Bot, Fake, Pervert, etc ...), 2 accounts lost due to double authentication and a Google authenticator bug. 0 customer service replies, non-existent customer service. 12 complaints for theft of photos without any instagram response.
And since 3 months my hashtags do not work, Shadowban? no one knows because there is no contact with them.
I have never received a warning.
Short....
Instagram is useless, but it's free visibility.