In any service industry, frustrations can run high. Clients sometimes run late, don't always read contracts, show up with spray tans, don't pick the most beautiful venues for their weddings, fail to understand the cost involved in producing quality images, price shop, compare prices, question your prices, don't love their face in that photo, show up with a whole Pinterest board full of ideas, and expect you to just "fix it in Photoshop."
One has to be only marginally active on social media to see the fireworks: photographers talking smack to, and about, their clients in epic rants that go viral in hours. It's not only in video form that photographers complain, though. From blogs to Facebook posts, photographers are taking to social media to complain about the very people they claim to serve. Many photographers naturally find their way into industry related groups on Facebook or other social media platforms to discuss everything from technique to business issues, but what gets discussed, or ranted about, all to often, is difficult clients.
After dealing with a trying client or situation, it's natural to want to talk to someone who understands, someone who can identify and commiserate. But social media is the wrong place to do it. Here's why.
You Risk Damaging Your Brand and Reputation
You are the representative of your brand, it's most visible voice and active ambassador. While you should always be authentic, that doesn't mean spewing your frustrations for the world to see. How appealing does a service provider look to clients who can easily find proof of them bad-mouthing other clients? Potential clients are always watching.
You're Only One Screen Shot Away From Showing up on the News
Social media is just that: social. That means nothing you say is private. The other photographers in the group might jump on the misery bandwagon with you, which makes you feel better for a little while, but there is no way to guarantee that your words won't make it back to your client. I've heard horror stories of photographers unloading to their Facebook group about a difficult client, only to have another photographer take a screen shot and track down said client. Can you imagine the sinking feeling of realizing that your frustrated words have reached the wrong ears? You had better be ready to take the hate mail, bad reviews, and drop in business.
That Is a Real Person on the Other Side of the Lens
Working in a service industry requires you deal with so many people on a regular basis that it's easy to become jaded. As a service provider, it's helpful to remember that your clients aren't just walking wallets, but they're people with real thoughts, lives, and emotions. They've come to you to fulfill a need, and granted you their trust. A rant may feel cathartic after a frustrating experience, but try to remember that you're talking about a real person when you complain, someone who can be damaged by your words, and someone who has trusted and invested in you. Sharing their personal business or private interactions in a public forum can feel like a very real betrayal of trust, and that is not the kind of legacy a photographer wants to leave in the minds and hearts of their clients.
Nothing Ever Dies on the Internet
What happens on the interwebs stays on the interwebs... forever. What is spoken, or typed, in the heat of the moment may not cause you or your clients any problems right away, so chances are that you'll forget about it and move on. But, like villains in horror movies, your words can always come back to haunt you. What is never said can never be used against you.
What to do instead
Develop a Trust Circle
Everyone needs a chance to vent frustrations or just talk their way through difficult situations. Instead of posting on social media when you need ears in the industry, develop close relationships with a select person or people who can give you honest advice and council. Ideally, these people would know you, know your heart and your circumstances, which gives much more context to your thoughts and feelings about a given situation than perfect strangers or casual acquaintances can have. This also gives you a safe space to open up, puts you at less risk of having your words repeated, and protects your client from the possible emotional distress if those words should ever reach their ears.
Turn the Frustration Into a Learning Experience
Remember that you are a service provider, and part of what you get paid for is dealing with people. More often than not, when you run into a problem with a client, chances are that there was a failure in communication, education, or service.
We cannot change our clients, they're people with imperfections just like us, but we can change the way we serve them. Take the time to look at the issues you have with clients, and find out what you can do as a business person and service provider to make sure those issues don't arise again or, if they do, that you're prepared to deal with them gracefully. It might mean requiring initials next to certain clauses in your contract, explaining your pricing structure, requiring a rescheduling fee, taking more time during pre-shoot consultations to make sure you truly understand what your client needs, giving yourself a 15 minute buffer before and after sessions to make sure you still have time to deal with late clients, or learning a new lighting technique to take beautiful images in a less than beautiful location.
Dealing with difficult situations on social media has the potential to open up a can of worms that you may not be able to close. Facebook groups can be wonderful places to get advice and council from multiple people with a multitude of different experiences and specialties, but venting your frustrations about clients to thousands of people at once can be a recipe for disaster not only for you, but for your client as well.