"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.
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.
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?