When The Social Media Game Changes, Change Your Social Media Game

When The Social Media Game Changes, Change Your Social Media Game

About four years ago - or about a month or so after I picked up a camera and decided I was a photographer - I thought it would be in my best interest to start up a Facebook Fan Page (as they were called back then). I assumed that because a few friends were liking the random collection of photos that I was posting to my personal Facebook page, strangers - and eventually clients - would find my Fan Page, like it, and then money and fame would come rolling in.

The Game

My plan was simple; take photos, post them online, cash checks. It was a foolproof and seemed to be what other photographers in my circle were doing at the time. Well, after about three months and one (low) paying portrait session later, I began to think that my plan might be more foolish than foolproof. But nevertheless, I maintained. Updating my status when I thought of it, posting photos when I remembered, and keeping my social engagement to such a dismal level that when I actually did post something, I lost fans (not even kidding). 

After several months of activity, I decided that my Facebook Fan Page needed to die. So, with a bit of a nostalgic tear in my eye, thinking about all the work I’d posted (my first few images, my first publications, some head shots, the occasional selfie and photos of my dog) I clicked the ‘unpublish’ button and effectively killed my John Schell Photography fan page. 


In those three years that I had a fan page, I amassed a total of about 900 fans, most of whom, I am sure, were friends and family members. When I killed the page, I did so without the least bit of hesitation because in those three years, I found that there were a number of ways that I was able to put my work out on the Internet for others to see without having to subscribe to a method of advertising that was annoying, confusing, time consuming and, as it turns out, increasingly expensive. 

I should make a note here that while people complain about the Facebook fan page algorithm how it changed, it’s apparent lack of reach, etc, I have to say that I really don’t know too much about that. As I said, I didn’t pay too much attention to my page because to me, it was always in the background - just something I had because I felt that I needed to have it, definitely not something that I wanted or even that I knew how to properly use. So, while I do understand that reach has been significantly squelched, I also tend to see it as a relatively free advertising platform and we should be grateful for any reach at all. I mean, if you change the term “my Facebook fan page” to “my business page” or “my company page” asking for free advertising for something like that seems to me to be a bit silly. 


I digress. I understand that everyone wants to feel as though they’re getting something by on someone, that they’re getting something for free, especially when the company in question is worth billions. But if you put it all in perspective, you can see what everyone wants. Clients want free photos, photographers want free advertising, and writers named John want free coffee. And yet with all of us hoping for free stuff, everyone still wants to earn more money than they’re probably worth (myself included). 

Then, The Game Changed

So, if I’ve been paying attention, I understand that if you ran a business page on Facebook, you were once allowed to reach almost an unlimited number of fans with any one of your posts. Then, over time, Facebook decided to charge your business (regardless of your bottom line) to bring those posts to an audience the size of which you’d already probably been reaching for free. This seems like a pretty normal business model to me. I mean, when I first began shooting, I took in as much free work as I possibly could because I wanted to “hook” those clients as potential future clients. Even today, I take in a steady amount of free and unpaid work because to me, putting my name and my work out there is, in some cases, more important than actually getting paid (to some extent, I mean, I still gotta eat).


Change Your Game

So companies want to charge us to advertise our business. That’s fine. Let them. As I mentioned in an earlier article, it’s 2014, people will figure out ways to get things done. Our job as photographers, artists, business owners, people who wanna eat is to figure out various and creative ways to continually put ourselves out there in such a way that we cut through the noise and allow potential clients - and even our long-standing clients - to see us as fresh-faced and innovative. If we’re no longer being innovative, if we’re relying on the systems of marketing that we’ve always relied on, how are we proving to our clients that we’re the ones they should go with? Granted, some long-standing built in clients aren’t going to care for any of this - if they want you, they want you and no amount of anything will change that. If that’s the case, congratulations, run with it. 

When that’s not the case? When we have to rely on our marketing department (ourselves) to constantly come with with ways in which to reach out and impress potential new clients? Unless you’re a strict hobbyist and/or ridiculously wealthy to the point that making money disgusts you (if this is the case please email me - I have some business ideas for us), we need to be constantly and consistently innovative in our marketing approach and how we put ourselves out there. Reaching clients is no simple task and it should never be left for other companies to do for us. Simply creating a Facebook page (or a Flickr, or an Instagram, or a 500px, etc) for the sole purpose of advertising our business is akin to shooting to putting all our raws on one CF card. 

A Few Words On Instagram

Instagram is, admittedly, my favorite form of Social Media. It's quick, it's easy, and with a single, properly placed hashtag, you can literally reach hundreds perhaps thousands of new fans, followers, peers, colleagues, and yes, even potential clients. I realize there is a lot of flack that Instagram catches for being, well, for being Instagram, but if you take the perspective that Social Media is a game and if you play that game properly, you can amass followers in a way that was next to impossible on any Facebook fan page. In my case, I am always on the lookout for new trends, whether they be photographic or fashion in nature, thanks to the massive amount of people using Instagram, it's pretty easy to see what's popular, what's going to be popular, and what's falling by the wayside. In my case specifically, I tend to keep who I follow tied to what I'm doing at the time. Right now I am making a big push toward Lifestyle Photography, so everything in my feed has something to do with that in some way or another. As time goes on and trends change, what I do and who I follow changes along with it.


The game has changed and it’s our job to change along with it, but not always in the way we're expected to. When a road is blocked, we’re shouldn’t stand around complaining, kicking rocks and waiting some someone to build a path around it - we need to be the ones to build that path ourselves. Whether we're a wedding photographer, a portrait photographer, a fashion, lifestyle, commercial, and/or fitness photographer, it's our job to hunt down opportunities and make them ours using whatever tools we have available to us at the time. For me, that tool is Instagram. Although I recently restarted my Facebook Page as an experiment, I am going to continue to push myself out via Instagram as much as I possibly can. If, someday in the near or distant future a better, more powerful Social Media platform comes along and replaces it, I'll say so long and move on to whatever I feel will best suit my needs.

As always, I'd love to hear some of the ways you approach your marketing and how you reach out and hunt down potential new clients.

John Schell | Instagram | Facebook | Tumblr

John Schell's picture

John Schell is a Lifestyle photographer and writer currently based in Miami, Florida

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I'm not discounting what the writer had to say but on the flip side of the argument is: the companies that are complaining that facebook is throttling the reach of their posts were not getting "free advertising". Facebook had enticed brands (and individual fan pages alike) to pay to get followers. These brands and individuals paid big money to show up as "suggested" pages to like. Facebook had implied that once they paid to get these followers they would see whatever content the fan page published unless that person unfollowed. Besides paying to gain the follower this was also good for facebook because fan pages with tens, or hundreds of thousands of followers created engagement on the site and without engagement facebook would not have pages to serve traditional ads on. If a facebook user is only using their timeline the amount of ads they see is much more limited than if a user is clicking through to many interesting links (internal) that fan pages are publishing. But then after a couple years of letting brands pay millions of dollars to establish massive fan bases facebook says "hey we know you paid us to get these followers but now if you want them to see what you are publishing you are going to have to pay us again". Although most pages with a few thousand fans or less probably never paid to get followers through "suggested page" advertising, major brands did and now they are seeing become a zero return on investment unless they pay up again for something they were never told they were going to have to pay for. It's double dipping on facebooks part.

You got to the meat of the problem very quickly; that Facebok had "implied" that once they paid to get the followers blah blah.

As an intelligent business owner, I would never take any implication to mean anything. It is only the unintelligent owner who would consider an implication to be permanent. This is the real world folks. Companies look after themselves foremost. They're not looking to do you any favors at their expense. If you want to succeed in the real world, you need to make business decisions based off written agreements and contracts. If people had done that, and read the terms of what they're paying for, no one would be complaining about Facebook's reach method.

People really expect way too much out of Facebook. They seem to forget that Facebook is after the same thing every other company is after: revenue and profits. End of discussion.

There's no advertising better than "word of mouth"

Depends on your market. I'm making a big push in the senior portrait arena and instagram/twitter IS "word of mouth"

I'm so stuck, kind of like the author. I have been using tumblr for the past 2 years and I've been growing more and more discontent with the audience that also inhabits tumblr and I don't feel like I am reaching the right people for my photography but now I am in a dilemma that I have amassed a nice back catalogue of images over the last 2 years that it will be such a pain to start all over again on a new platform...

I just want to get better at photography and having to think about where to upload photos and how is a major drain.


Hey Nicholas - It is wrong to think of all tumblr users as all looking for a specific aesthetic, but you have to realise that on any platform your style of photography is never going to get a shit load of likes/reblogs/up-votes or whatever. I think your landscapes are sublime, and if I saw them in my feed I MIGHT like them... but so what? What does that achieve for your business other than stroking your ego?

I say hold onto tumblr because it works as a personal diary of sorts, but its only role as a marketing tool in my mind is to re-enforce a pre-established personality you have in the marketplace. That is when someone has heard of you, or a potential client you meet gets around to looking you up, the blog re-enforces their perception of you and your work.

There is simply no platform which will change your potential success as a photographer, that is kind of the point. Insta/Tumblr/Facebook/500px might all have strengths, and maybe there is one in a million photographers who actually develop business through them, but for you... I doubt it. You need to just ignore the Likes & Reblogs, keep shooting what you are doing, keep posting to your tumblr diary, and identify the people who might actually pay for you're work. Once you do that you need to contact them personally. It is the ONLY way to get real work. And here is a tip - the web sites we all hang out on are great for photographers to be aware of other photographers; but where do your potential clients hang out on the internet and in the physical world? What events and conferences do they attend. I'd bet they aren't spending much time on tumblr.

And I think there will be lots of work for you from hotels, resorts, eco-tour companies, city councils, and maybe some magazine work too - but I don't envy the amount of hustling you will have to do to actually meet those people face to face! Maybe check out the next adventure travel conference or event in your town. Introduce yourself at the stands of all the small new operators and even invite them for a beer...

I'm now following your tumblr :)

Quite interesting that some of his images posted on here are tagged cocacola and coke . There is also one comment from somebody with " my favourite soda " Is this an example of the hidden advertising that appears on instagram ? I wonder how much he got paid for that one !

Proper tagging of your photos will bring in more views.. This is not an advertisement and not a sponsored post.

I know right? Tumblr has become some kind of a freakfest, i.e. your stuff is C_R_A_Z_Y or you get no attention whatsoever

My thing with Instagram is that yes, it's the easiest way to get content out there without having to constantly do a lot of curating, but...the whole community of Instagram seems to be very specifically attuned to certain types of photographs. While on Facebook I might be able to post a whole slew of different kind of photos and get all sorts of feedback from colleagues, friends, family, and pretty much anyone, Instagram is different.

Only specific kinds of posts gain attention, specifically, cute girls, hipsters (ironic haircuts, suspenders, and beards), foodporn, animals, and travel photos edited with VSCO.

Those are literally the only posts that get attention.

I respectfully disagree. I've know dozens of brides who search around for ideas on both Pinterest AND Instagram. Proper hashtagging will do wonders for a post.

But which of those has become much more popular for the that purpose? My guess would be Pinterest. I'm not saying brides don't look on Instagram, but I think it's rare that you'll see a wedding photo have 3k-30k likes unless it's a photographer who's already a big deal in the industry.

And a lot of weddings nowadays seem to fall into a few of the categories I described above: cute girls, hipster, kind of "Young spontaneous, beautiful love" sort of things.

vintage film cameras, too (personal experience)... I agree with Johntschell when he says Pinterest it's a great source of inspiration for clients, that's why I try to keep my board interesting there, too @piambro

Within 2 Weeks of having a Wedding specific instagram, Ive gotten 2 bride inquiry's from IG.

At the end of the day, content is king! I can't afford to 'pay' for advertising but hopefully, enough people 'like' your work that your page grows organically... Though it is very hard! Great content and putting links in as many places as possible! :)

The game has changed and couldnt agree more in the creative industry overall you have to adapt. I spring boarded my photography over the past year into something a little more serious thanks to Instagram. Now shooting with some top brands here in Indy and also flying out to shoot with GE next week. Its incredible who you can connect with in the client perspective. I have been able to talk to and connect with some incredible brands. Its taken me the last 4 years unknowingly following, liking and commenting on these brands pages for them to eventually follow me and like my work. Always discerning to hear someone bash on Instagram as the weaker of social media plastforms but in the end you do with it what you want and use the tools they give you to maximize on the things you want to focus on. Me, I shoot a wide variety of things rather than one specific area (which seems to do better on IG ie only lifestyle, only architecture) and its brought me more variety in my clients which is great as I continue to struggle with which market I truly want to focus in. Great article man and find me on IG @the_gris

A fellow Indy peep! Whoot!

Ha, yea man! Hit me up sometime to shoot around town! andrewgriswold@ymail.com

Very thought provoking for me John! This made me realize that hashtag game needs to improve greatly...have you seen that #skit with Jimmy Fallon, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57dzaMaouXA

gets me every time!

I as well digress, ok so 2 huge things I took away from your post.

1. "But if you put it all in perspective, you can see what everyone wants. Clients want free photos, photographers want free advertising, and writers named John want free coffee."

You nailed it John. We complain about our clients making free requests, yet throw a temper tantrum when our advertising is no longer free...even though it still technically is! (just not as powerfully free)

2. "Change Your Game"

I think its probably for the best that facebook has done what it has done. It will force us out of our ruts and into new realms. The ones that don't adapt will get weeded out. Good. To be honest, It may help to "clean up" the industry a little bit. Was that harsh?

Social Media/Facebook = Garbage