Is Social Media Helping Your Photography Business or Is It Just a Waste of Time?

Is Social Media Helping Your Photography Business or Is It Just a Waste of Time?

We’re all likely guilty of spending way too much time utilizing social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to promote our photography businesses. Considering the amount of time and the value of said time, is social media actually paying off for you?

In the last year or so, I’ve personally been taking a few steps away from Facebook and Instagram. While I admit that I never actually gave the other outlets much of a chance, I feel that Facebook and Instagram are the industry leaders, and the later of the two seems to be ideal for photographers — at least it used to be.

Is It Worth Your Time?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American gets paid $24.57 per hour, or $850.12 per week. I think we could argue about whether or not that figure applies to all freelance or salaried photographers, but let’s assume for a moment that it does. How many hours per day are you investing in social media? Some statistics suggest nearly two hours for the average American and at $24.57 per hour, that comes out to nearly 50 bucks a day. Now you might ask yourself if there’s something more productive you could be doing with your time, other than spying on the competition.

Is It Even Healthy?

Is it even healthy to spend all of that time on social media? Unless you’re browsing while on the move, it’s safe the say that from a physical standpoint, staring at your phone or computer screen for hours on end isn’t very healthy. From a mental health standpoint, well, let’s just assume that you’re being productive with the time you spend online, and aren’t spending too much time comparing your life’s work to the Jones’.

Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use.

—Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D

Social media has been linked to anxiety, clinical depression, and other mental health problems.

Are You Reaching the Right People?

If you’re demanding high prices for your work, it doesn’t make much sense to market to people who can’t afford your prices. While it might look good to have a large number of followers or likes, how often do those likes and follows translate to a dollar amount?

My main Facebook page currently has around 6,500 followers. My Instagram account has just over 2,000. With over 8,000 followers, it kind of feels like I should be booking more than the 35(ish) shoots per year that I book. So with love and appreciation for those who do follow me on social media, it’s safe to say that your likes aren’t actually very valuable at all.

In recent years, I've seen my Facebook reach slowly decline and the "Boost your post" suggestions increase.

Closing

My mind still isn’t made up on how much time and energy I care to invest on Facebook and Instagram or how it affects my photography. One thing I’ve noticed is that as time goes on, my business seems to grow and spread by word of mouth and keeps me about as busy as I’d like to be (though I have no plans to slow down) whether I’m active on social media or not. With more and more restrictions being placed on Facebook Pages and Instagram, what’s the future of social media going to look like for the professional photographer?

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22 Comments

Great thought provoker, Dusty. It's something many think about but few take action to write about. Thank you.

Kaare Lytsen's picture

For just over a year ago i deleted both my private facebook, and my instagram, because it was way too time consuming. Instead of think about deleting these accounts, why no just go ahead and do it. Nothing really happens, people dont even notice your gone, and you'll have so much time to do actually photographing, instead of looking at others.

Kyle Medina's picture

"so much time to do actually photographing, instead of looking at others." So it was a you problem not a social app problem.

Kaare Lytsen's picture

Of course it's a "me problem". The social media is nothing without it's users. But im sure, im not the only one who is wasting hours on social media without getting anything in return. That is why I write "so much time to do actual photographing, instead of looking at others". And if people did that, you would waste your time using those platforms.

Kyle Medina's picture

Everyone expects an instant return, but its going to be a lucky break for anyone and you (anyone) may never get it. A lot of these articles are about the app and not the actual person using the app. Use it as a tool, not a distraction. I like to point out the idea of, looking at the photographers we all look up too and see/analyze what they do on social media. You'll see that they don't interact, don't comment on websites like this, don't comment on YouTube. They are out doing their "job", (I'm sure some read Fstoppers like us but don't comment). Its all about time management and self evaluation of work and one self. (I think we are on the same page)

Shannon Duffy's picture

I deleted all my personal social media too. it honestly changed my life. I had no idea how much time I was wasting looking at the profile of my high school classmate's brother's new girlfriend who live out of state, or whatever. now, I just have a photography Instagram and I love it.

Kyle Medina's picture

"more productive you could be doing with your time, other than spying on the competition."

Social Media is a must for people building a "brand" (I've come to hate that term). Potential investors and sponsorship look at these very numbers. To leave entirely would be foolish. Though leaving the platforms that are lack luster (Facebook) is fine, if you're following is dismal. Than those become a waste of time.

"Waste of time" articles are not even about the apps themselves. Its always about the individuals lack of discipline. They always find themselves wasting time scrolling. Posting your work takes minutes, close the phone and move on. If you look at all the established photographers Elia Locardi, Trey Ratcliff, Paul Nicklen, and many more accounts. Look at MMA fighters they never interact with posts but still post and still train their asses off. They post photos and rarely interact with the comments. What they are doing is posting and being productive with work that needs to be done (behind the scenes stuff). Its all about how we manage our time. To leave is crazy and your hope of being discovered is even slimmer. In the end that's what we are all trying to do. Now lastly, it just comes down to the quality of work you are putting out there and to have self awareness of such work.

Although I agree with a lot of what you say, I think the examples that you gave are of big names in the social media world, and this article is not for them. For those with tens of thousands of followers, yes it is very easy to post and move on without any interaction, so the time invested could be very low and the gains high. However, I'm sure many of these people spent countless hours (or hired someone else to) interacting with the community (following others, commenting, replying to comments, etc) until they reached that level. So it is important to consider if it's worth your time depending on your goals, your field of expertise, and your market.

Kyle Medina's picture

They all started somewhere, remember that. Elia Locardi: last IG post 54 comments. Trey Ratcliff last IG post: 16 comments. So if they don't do it and its very little interaction. Than, why is it so hard for somebody who has way less followers? Yes, its easy to post and move on and not a complete waste of time. Its putting your name out there. Everyone wants a rate of return to be 1:1. Which its not and never will be. Just think a lot of people are just getting fed up with not being recognized or why else would they be saying its a waste of time?

"(following others, commenting, replying to comments, etc)" You don't need to do that at all. Unless that's referring to networking? I have no desire to interact with other photographers nor should anyone else. I don't see the point of following other photographers, unless their work is amazing to one self. I've deleted a lot of photographers because I keep seeing the same stuff and its deterring me from being a photographer for the reasons I got into it. (FYI I'm being a realist, it just sounds harsh)

Louis Tinsley's picture

I think social media is essential to a photography business now. I've gotten gigs from people who have seen my instagram account and liked the work. I guess it really just depends on how much time you spend on it. Putting your own content out there is important and getting inspiration from other artists is a huge plus. As is networking with other artists in your area. As long as your not neglecting the rest of your business to spend hours online you should be fine.

Anonymous's picture

Thank you. Just thank you for posting this on F Stoppers no less!! If I see one more article about how to make Mark Zuckerburgs website better Im gonna freak out!

.....ever listen to Howard Stern? If you do, you would know that he rarely ever tweets. To the bane of his marketing staff....but he insists....."If I have something interesting to say, why would I say it on twitter and not MY OWN RADIO SHOW!??" .....and I could not agree more....I want to drive traffic and people to MY WEBSITE and MY BLOG....not FB or twitter or instagram (AKA FB PHOTO)

and you sir, hit the nail right on the head with COLD HARD FACTS AND DATA! If you only make X amount of dollars in a month and spend XXXX amount of TIME on FB broadening your "reach" then you have already lost money!

and every time I hear the debate, folks always chime in with a story about how they got a job from a person seeing them on FB.....GREAT! You probably still aren't doing the math on the amount of time vs. money....I always hear people say, "I got this job from Social media..." I RARELY IF EVER hear people say...."I continue to get jobs REAL PAYING JOBS... on a daily basis because of social media..." Yet they use is EVERY DAY!

You also always get the people trying to convince you to stay because they fear being left alone with Mark Z.!

The fact is (as Kyle here points out unfortunately at the end of his comment....) The Quality of the work is ALL that matters. If you spend all your time learning, getting better, working hard, being professional....you will get work and maintain work.

Kyle Medina's picture

Looking objectively at the Howard Stern statement. He has no reason to use Social Media because he was using the "social media" of the time period being radio as his reach. He was already well established way before FB, IG, Twitter ever came about. He definitely has a social media rep posting for him. Still believe its a tool but people us it as a distraction.

Though I do agree with your other parts to send them to your own website. Yes, quality work and your ability to market yourself trumps everything. Spending money on FB has NEVER! worked out. I've always read that it was a just that, a waste of money. Though taking 5 mins out of your day to post isn't that hard and you really aren't losing anything, When compared to the other distractions of our daily lives. Ex. This post is a waste of time. When you (me) could be writing our next blog post on FB, IG, Twitter or our website.

Companies, when marketing, do take in account what your "reach" is. It's a new prerequisite to getting sponsors, advertising money, or to become an ambassador. There are pro's and con's to everything. I believe everyone wants a rate of return to be 1:1 which is never the case. So you see articles like this pop up from time to time, because that individual doesn't see any outcome from it. So, from there you have look at why.

Do you rely solely on word of mouth?

Shannon Duffy's picture

the best comment here lmao.

Dave McDermott's picture

I've found Instagram in particular to be a waste of time. Many people just like and unlike, follow and unfollow to get themselves noticed. So far I haven't managed to organise any shoots from it. At least on facebook I'm meeting plenty of people and actually getting something from it. The likes I receive on facebook seem to be a lot more genuine too.

Mark Niebauer's picture

Waste of time for me. Too many narcissistic selfish hating people. If you can cater to their ego and help them and somehow make money doing that then maybe it has potential, but I haven't seen that in 6 years of using facebook yet!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I agree with what you wrote here and how clearly and succinctly you wrote it. A few weeks ago, I committed to generating business the old fashioned way. I set a goal to participate in an in-person meeting of some sort every day, mainly business networking events where I'd have an opportunity to engage a number of people, including things like Creative Mornings.

I joined one of the local chambers of commerce in order to get a seat at the table with people running organizations big enough to have budgets for things like photography. I joined the marketing committee for the chamber's upcoming golf tournament and I'm also going to shoot the tournament, which will put my work in front of a community of businesses that can pay for it. I've joined two committees on the chamber, including the economic development committee where the current and future big deals in the county get discussed.

I expect my real world engagement activities to bear more fruit than social media ever could. That said, I do find Instagram enjoyable if I don't expect anything from it. Try posting for yourself and no one else for a while. The easy way to do that is to use no hashtags. If you're not looking to get attention, it totally changes how you use/enjoy the platform. It becomes more like a personal gallery that fans of your work can find through a link on your website or from your email signature, etc. #NoHashtagsNecessary

Brenda Noto's picture

Well, it can be helping but one should know how to use it wisely https://animoto.com/blog/photography/susan-stripling-social-media-market... Even time of posting pics actually matters, so first go and study smm.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Before you had 8000 "followers" who many jobs did you book a year? More or less than 35?
Doe anyone actually shoot photos for commercial clients (not retail) anymore or is it chasing ad dollars, likes, sponsorships, putting on workshops, youtubes and becoming a shill / spokesmodel for a camera / light / gadget maker?

David Wilder's picture

Thought provoking. It's safe to say that if the platforms are used incorrectly yes they can be a waste of time. Think of how advertising has changed over the years. Billboards, Radio, TV, Movie product placement, etc. You have to follow where the people are, so social media is a natural evolution of it.

The hardest thing but most important thing to do is precise with your audience, if you are a landscape photographer trying to sell prints, a bunch of twelve year old followers are not likely your demographic. That being said everyone can be a potential buyer or a loyal fan. Kids grow up.

Big companies like Nikon and Canon will look for your connection into the community, social media is just one of those connections... that's key "one" you can't rely on one avenue of engagement. You also need to be involved in the communities you seek recognition from or you need to be visible to those who don't use social media.

In the end it is a key part to a business/brand but not the only part.

I think that first and foremost the mistake people make is thinking that social media is a direct automatic customer conversion platform. For visual creatives, Instagram is just a photo/media sharing platform where you can build awareness of your service/expertise/brand, and build a fan base and engage with them. You can also follow potential clients and engage with them etc etc etc

Instagram seems like a waste of time because many are expecting to so much as get paid work each time they post and receive many followers/likes/comments, and of course if you're spending so much time being a slave to algorithms. Instagram's vapid social "currency" of gaining followers/likes/comments has negatively conditioned people into thinking likes/comments/more followers has some type of (monetary) worth - so much so that even people who aren't particularly using IG for business/non personal purposes, they think they can entice big brands into sponsoring them simply cause they've amassed/bought tonnes of followers. It's not that simple.

Understand the purpose of social media first, then match your expectations and strategy to that. If you're trying to get work immediately, and constantly, social media will frustrate the HELL out of you. From the user perspective, social media is not directly and principally about money, it's about sharing, updating, engagement, building awareness/fan base, community, networking, meeting industry folk, inspiration, reminding people (existing/potential clients) you are still in business etc etc

I think photographers should always be shooting more than they are on social media. Work begets work. The more work, the more content you have to share on IG, the more you share on IG, the more engagement, increased awareness/fan base/potential clients..

So yes, social media does help photography business, just not as urgently in the way most would like it to.

Facebook is a damn middleman that has wedged itself between us and I don't like it having that much power. I've read article after article about how web sites are dead and social is the only effective way to go. That's crap. First of call, Facebook lets your posts be seen by a small percentage of your total friends and followers unless you pay. It's another hand that wants to control your distribution. I don't have all the answers, but I've gotten more work selling to hospitals and industry by website and smug mug only.

Christian Webb's picture

If the product is there and is solid.....the reputation will grow...usually by word of mouth and business will be generated. Regarding social media: I've booked TONS of clients and have been sold out -booked solid...with waiting lists of clients.....strictly from word of mouth and social media. People online have seen my work via clients that post my shots to FB or IG or....through my own posts on FB and IG. From there...my reputation has grown and it's worked well. Zero complaints. I'm not paying for any FB ads or any of that stuff either. I keep up with my social media, post regularly and that's it. No rocket science or crazy thought put into it. I don't bother with worrying about algorithms or scientific methods for posting or....whatever. I think a lot of it depends on what you're putting out there and whether folks want what you've got. That's true whether you're using social media to advertise and build business or if you're simply using any tried and true traditional methods.