Are You Harnessing The Full Power Of Instagram?

Are You Harnessing The Full Power Of Instagram?

Whether you love or loathe Instagram, today's post looks at just how powerful a tool it can be. Last week, a friend took a simple shot from his bedroom window. Within an hour, it was picked up by the AP, and began appearing in major publications nationally. Depending on how you treat it, Instagram can be a firecracker or a stick of dynamite for your business and social presence. The punch it packs is up to you.

Why Use It?

I started to use Instagram a little over a year ago. I admit, I hated it long before I used it, which is why I only started using it pretty recently. I've realized though, that it has huge potential to connect us with clients or people we may wish to collaborate with. My views have totally changed, let me outline why.

If I told you that you could pull out your phone right now, shoot something, upload it to Instagram, include a hashtag and get that photograph picked up by the Associated Press (AP) and published internationally, would you believe me? I wouldn’t have believed me until I spoke to my friend last week, who had it happen to him.

Girish Tewani recently moved to New York City with his wife, Kirti. They happen to live up on the 48th floor of a building on the west side of Manhattan. Although he specializes in fashion and beauty photography, like many of us, Girish enjoys the simple pleasure of photographing anything that catches his eye.

So when he woke up one day last just over a week back, and pulled back the curtains to be greeted by a beautiful foggy scene covering Manhattan, he simply did what came naturally - reached for his camera. Not his DSLR, just his phone.

Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Taking shot1 Recreation of the moment Girish decided to shoot the image that was picked up by the AP


Copyright Girish Tewani ...and what he actually captured. Copyright Girish Tewani

He showed the shot to his wife Kirti and, thinking nothing of it, set off to work. Kirti decided to share the shot on her Instagram account, tagging it with a number of hashtags, including one that was simply "#fog".

Copyright Kirti Tewani Copyright Kirti Tewani


For those of you unfamiliar, like Twitter, hashtags in Instagram allow users to search for content related to the tagged words.

Within less than two minutes, she'd received a call from a photo editor at the Associated Press (AP) asking if they could see the original image. Apparently, the editor had googled her name and gotten her cell phone number. Kirti put the editor in touch with Girish, and the AP ended up purchasing the image. Within a day, it had been pushed out nationally to publications including, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, the New York Post, and publications in the Netherlands and El Pais in Spain. All from a quick shot with a phone and a simple hashtag on Instagram.

Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Fog_LA Daily News




Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Fog_TIME.COM NEWSFEED





This random chain of events demonstrates the power Instagram can deliver. Plenty of people I know have booked jobs through it, and – like all social media – if used appropriately, can support our brand and marketing activity.

Whether we like it or not, we are all having to be so much more aware of how we come across through social media channels because prospective clients and collaborators now go straight to these channels and assess our work, output and suitability for a job. I decided fairly recently to be much more discerning over what I post to my Instagram account. I try to treat it as a lesson in editing my work as much as anything else.


It’s Not Why, But How, That’s Important

I’m not going to try and convince you why it’s important to use Instagram. The previous example shows how powerful it can be. For me, the key rather is to think about how to use it.

Personally speaking, it’s important to just remember that whatever you put up there - whether fun shots of your cat or carefully edited images - reflects you. If you were looking to book you for a job, would you do it from what you see on your feed?

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Geffinmedia_Instagram When accessing Instagram via a desktop, you're shown rotating tiles of what you've recently uploaded. Does this reflect what you'd like potential clients to see?

To Tag Or Not To Tag, That Is The Question

Tagging allows strangers to locate our images. This is great if you want to begin to build up follow ship or interest. I personally tag images, but I try and keep tags at a reasonable level, maybe 4 – 6 tags on a shot. Sometimes I prefer not to tag at all, as it can be distracting. Some people tag like crazy. I would advise tagging appropriately, something that links directly to the image itself and what you think people (and clients) might search for.


The True Success Stories

At the extreme end of the spectrum are companies like Tinker Street – a small photo/ad agency that grew out of nothing a short time ago to now work with some of the biggest names in advertising. The handful of mobile photographers on the Tinker Street mobile photography roster have over 11 million combined followers, and work with brands including Converse, Delta, Nike, Toyota and Ogilvy.

Some of the photographers have hundreds of thousands of people following them on Instagram. The amount of buying power they wield – and can harness for their clients – is off the charts.


It’s Not Just About Selling Product

It’s not all about selling. This week I spoke to Edward Keating, a NYC based Pulitzer prize winning photographer. As we chatted, he told me how much his iPhone and Instagram use over the last year has revitalized and re-energized him and his approach. He said he felt as if he’d been in a rut, shooting largely black and white, and with his Leica, and this had given him a totally different experience, a completely unhindered way of seeing. Many of his Instagram images are stunning and wouldn’t be out of place on a gallery wall somewhere. It's not just about building followers and attracting clients - it can sharpen your eye and push your creativity.


Still Not Convinced?

As someone who personally hated the idea of Instagram, it's became far more powerful than I ever imagined. Instagram is different things to different people, and that’s fine. I try to avoid being judgmental about what it could or should be for. All I know is I’ve just seen too many positive stories to think of it as a wholly negative and pointless app.

If you still aren’t bought in, that’s fine, but I would say open your mind and give it a try at least. Perhaps set yourself parameters about how you use it. Perhaps use it to challenge yourself to make one strong image a day and upload it. Find and follow a few people who inspire you and think about why you like their work. Treat it as a way to always be thinking about making images, even when you’re going about other daily tasks. I guarantee you it will start to pay off.

Do you love or loathe Instagram? What positives or negatives have you experienced? Would love to hear your views, please feel free to share in the comments below.

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Previous comments
David Geffin's picture

Thanks for sharing your insight Brian, this resonates with me and was the main reason i dove into IG initially and finally gave it a try myself.

David Vaughn's picture

I want to like Instagram, but I still have a hard time buying into it. It seem like everyone likes to pick a few lucky success stories to justify the use of X service or X social media outlet. "You need a Facebook now because this one guy had a lot of success very quickly with it."

The reason I don't use Instagram because it's just added anxiety. There's already Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Pinterest,and however many others, and I don't want to have to curate another social media outlet just so I might, possibly, probably won't, get new clients or my photo in the AP.

If I was already well known though with a large base of people looking at my work then I would gladly use Instagram. But most people I know just use Instagram as another way to feel validated in their abilities.

Bryan Mitchell's picture

I used IG for a while and stopped. Curious how you feel about their TOS as it relates to what you wrote. Thanks, Bryan Mitchell

Andrew Griswold's picture

I think that whole thing was blown out of proportion to be honest. They have since changed their TOS back to the original statement and of course the photos are all fully owned by you. What exactly were your concerns with the TOS currently? Read through it a couple times to confirm it all of course. The only issue I have with it is how easily someone can snap a screenshot of your photos and repost them to their own page to build a follower base from 'popular' photos that I have posted arleady. Giving them the best out of my photos to grow on the site. I have seen a handful of my shots get out there but thats not really IG's fault. Heck I have seen a good dozen pages with my name and actual profile pic haha!

Bryan Mitchell's picture

Thanks for your thoughts. Yes photos stay with the photographer however IG still has the right to use them anyway they like. Even transfer that right. I always hate the transfer part. Would they ever really use a photo you or me shot in some big ad or something and make a ton of money leaving us out. Probably not. Looks like the bigger problem is what happens to you (stated in your reply) and still blows my mind people pass off others work as their own. Crazy!
That said it seam other photographers I know, work with or just like their work are split even. Seems half left, half stayed.
I guess my real issue is I have always been on the side of the fence of photogs need to protect their work and not agree to bad contracts and terms, ever. (I know old school, but I'm old).
But I am rethinking things on how the good might outweigh the bad and your post got me thinking about it again in another way and I thank you for that!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Totally agree, you need to protect your work at all costs but in a world filled with a digital market with social media EVERYWHERE its important to read through any TOS you come across but if you did you would just freak out over all the details and not use the markets available to you with new age tools like IG. Its fun to see more professionals take advantage of it. Then on the other end its really neat to see just regular people spark up interst in photography and turn it into a career all from IG.

Charity White's picture

Great post, I've witnessed this firsthand as well. I don't have a huge IG following by any means, but one day when I was traveling over Thanksgiving, I posted an IG photo of the standing-room-only O'Hare airport terminal. I put a few tags on it. Within a few minutes, I had an email from an ABC representative, asking me to send him the photo for possible publication.
It really is incredible the kind of reach that we can have. And yes, sometimes it really is just by "chance" that we strike it lucky like that. But that's the point of competition, and yes it's a gamble.

If we always hide in the shadows, then that's always where we'll be.

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Erik, glad you enjoyed :)