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.
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.