Don't Care About Instagram? Here's Why You Should

Don't Care About Instagram? Here's Why You Should

​I’m going to come right out and say it. Instagram saved my photography life. Today, I’ll show you how Instagram changed everything for me and how it can really help you too.

A Website Without Visitors

If you’re like me, you have a website where you’ve uploaded all your best photos. You’ve probably also got your own domain name and made everything look very professional. You might have even set it up with e-commerce capabilities so people can buy prints directly from your site.

Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, tumbleweeds blow through your site and the monthly statistics of visitors are absolutely pathetic, let alone buyer numbers! I set up my site with such incredible enthusiasm a number of years ago, but once the first couple of months had died down and I stopped promoting it here, there, and everywhere every single day (at a cost), the numbers slowly trickled down to almost nothing, where they remain today.

But it makes perfect sense, right? I mean, the only way you get found by visitors on the Internet is if you’re on page one of Google for a whole bunch of different keywords. But if you’re just a regular, old photography lover with a regular, old photography site, why on Earth would you suddenly be bumped up to page one on Google alongside the megastars?

So in all likelihood, you’re stuck back with me in the lonely page 10 shadows of Google somewhere, and you’ve got no idea how SEO works. Or the differences between a keyword and a keychain. All of which means you’re getting no organic visitors from Google’s search engine. The result? You’re not making any sales and you’re pretty much making zero from any photography-related activity. I learned that hard lesson quickly, so I changed my focus completely. I soon realized that business is just a numbers game and if there were no numbers seeing my work, then it was impossible for me to make even a tiny little side income from my photography. So I went where the numbers were. That was Instagram. And for photographers, I think it’s still by far the best social media platform.

The Stats That Show Instagram's Reach

Here are some pretty compelling Instagram stats. There are 800 million active monthly users, which is double the number on Twitter, almost triple the number on Snapchat, and more than five times the number on Pinterest. There are 500 million daily active users. There are 25 million businesses on Instagram and one third of all Internet users are on Instagram. Further, Instagram is used by over 60 percent of brands, a number that is expected to rise up to 70 percent by the end of 2018. More relevant stats can be found here.

What does all this mean to you? Numbers. Exposure. Eyes on your work. Thousands more potential buyers who would never have seen your work otherwise. Of course, these numbers pale in comparison with the behemoth that is Facebook, but we all know from using Facebook for many years that organic reach has fallen off a cliff and it’s pretty much a pay-to-play platform these days. Instagram is slowly going down that road, but it’s not there yet. So, it’s still a great time to use it.

Instagram's Still Free

Aside from the opportunities for increased exposure, another great thing about Instagram is that it’s still free. You can upload as many photos as you want and use your account as a kind of portfolio for your work without having to pay anything. I pay a yearly amount for my website on Smugmug and no one ever sees it!

And what a lot of people don’t know is that you can actually have five accounts on Instagram all on one phone. You do need five different email addresses to set up those accounts, but once you’ve set them up, you can access them all instantly from one single phone. You just log into one account on your phone, then click the settings icon, scroll down through the options towards the bottom, and hit "Add account" Once you’ve done that for all five accounts, you will have a drop down menu where you can access any account you want from your phone with a single click.

Use Multiple Accounts For Greater Reach

Why on Earth would you want five accounts? It’s a simple way for you to showcase different types of work and target different types of people. If you have a website, I bet your photos aren’t all lumped into one big category, right? You probably have different menus for different types of photos. Well, you can think of your different Instagram accounts in the same way. For example, you might have one account for color landscape photography. You might have another account for black and white photography, another account for wedding photography, and another account on top of that for portrait photography. These are just examples of what you can do, but you can see where I’m going with this.

And for all those different accounts, you can use relevant hashtags to target lots of different people who are specifically interested in those forms of photography or even use the bio URL to take visitors to specific galleries on your website. Doing it this way has been hugely successful for me in showing particular forms of photography to people who are specifically interested in those genres only. And that has led to way more sales than I ever made on my website. People interested in my landscape work follow my landscape account and buy prints by contacting me there. The same goes for my black and white account. If I’d just uploaded them to my website and not really paid any attention to building my Instagram profiles, I can guarantee I would have made a big, fat diddly squat on everything.

Link Between Your Accounts With @

And a great innovation recently introduced by Instagram that really complements this approach of having multiple accounts is that you can now link directly between all your accounts from your different account bios. How? You just need to put your username with the @ mark in your bio and visitors can click it and get automatically taken to your other profiles in a single click.

So your bio might look something like this:

  • Here is my landscape photography
  • For portraits, visit @myportraits
  • For baby shots, visit @mybabies
  • For weddings, visit @myweddings

It’s a really great way to cross-promote your work. And it’s all free!

Instagram's Direct Messaging Is Great for Interaction

You can also use the native direct messaging (DM) function on Instagram to save yourself having to do any kind of email marketing. When I first started out, I was focusing far too much energy on email marketing through companies like Mail Chimp and Get Response. Not only was this costing me time, but it also ended up costing me money as well for very little return on investment.

Now, I pretty much only use the DM function on Instagram if I want to interact with any of my followers. And almost all of my inquiries regarding print sales come from DMs on Instagram and we just do a back-and-forth chat until they are ready to make a purchase. You might say that because Instagram is largely used on phones, people aren’t seeing your work in its best light. But more than 50 percent of Internet users now access it from their phones. And if it wasn’t for Instagram, they wouldn’t be seeing my work at all, so I’m happy to make that sacrifice.

Besides, once I’ve chatted with followers through Instagram DM, I always them a low-resolution copy of the print to their email address. So, if they want to see it on a bigger screen they can do it that way. Then, if they’re happy with the photo, I’ll either get a print made for them and send it via post or I’ll let them buy a soft copy so they can print it themselves. But it’s all done through Instagram’s DM feature, which means I don’t have to spend as much time or money worrying about email marketing.

A Great Way to Show Yourself

Another thing that’s really helped me connect with followers (and increase sales) has been Instagram Stories and videos. You can use Instagram Stories for short one-minute videos to introduce yourself or let your followers get to know you. I was extremely embarrassed and camera shy at first, but it soon became very clear that followers, or potential buyers, want to know more about you and who you are.

There are thousands of great photographers out there, but 99 percent of them hide behind their cameras. The ones who show themselves and give a little bit of insight into their lives and into their work tend to be far more successful. I have found this to be 100 percent true. And the great thing about Instagram Stories is that once you get to 10,000 followers, you can include direct links to your work, including blogs or your portfolio if you really want them to go to a specific photo or catalog. You might say that you can upload videos to your website, but I have one question for you: Do you think anyone would see it? The whole point of using Instagram is increased exposure as a result of zero exposure on your original site.

Give Instagram Some Serious Thought

So, there you have it. I bit the bullet and moved away from my own website, as hard as that was considering the work I put into it and how much I loved its look. By going to Instagram and focusing all my energy there, I have increased exposure, increased sales, targeted potential buyers more specifically, and added a number of other photography-related incomes to my life.

So, if you’re not using Instagram or not paying much attention to it, perhaps you could give it another chance. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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58 Comments

You're kinda pointing to a major issue with Instagram... A website or even your Flickr will get random views and likes, faves, etc on old photos and videos. I get activity from things I posted years ago. But on Instagram, nothing old ever gets likes or comments. I'll post stuff which gets plenty of engagement, but once that engagement drops off, it's done. For good!

Also, I can easily re-share stuff from my website or Flickr to a new platform and get brand new engagement. With Instagram ehhhhhhhh....

So you expect "Blessed 🙏🏽" on a months old photo? Get outta here.

lol. Don't expect. But it's encouraging seeing stuff years old get engagement. Instagram I might as well delete everything after a month of being posted.

Iain Stanley's picture

That’s one great reason to have multiple accounts - so your photos aren’t disappearing down the line so quick on the one, single account.

marknie's picture

Instagram, my website and flickr, all have done little to nothing for me for over many years. I give up.

Iain Stanley's picture

I can’t comment on you personally Mark, but I guess it depends on how much time you spend on each. Flickr and my own website never did anything for me. Instagram has

Haha maybe improve your photography then!?

About 90% of the traffic I see on Instagram is someone following to only unfollow 2-7 days later. I have no idea why people think it is important to curate their following to follower ratio. Makes the site cancer for the purpose of promoting yourself.

thomas Palmer's picture

Instagram isn't efficient, ir requires a lot (and more and more) of energy to work, posting regularly and daily, making stories about nothing as if people cared.
-> Nothing beats getting out of your house, you don't have to do it daily and you don't need to build up an uber following to make it work.

Iain Stanley's picture

We will have to agree to disagree. Of course we all want to get outside that’s why we love photography and we are all passionate about photography. The Point in question here is what we do after we have been outside and taken the photos. Do we spend time putting them on our website and trying to promote our photos that way, or do we use a platform such as Instagram? For me, the latter has been far more successful. And as for using stories I agree almost all of them are pointless. But, once you get over 10,000 followers the ability to have live links inside your stories has been invaluable.

thomas Palmer's picture

By going outside, I meant meeting people for the business ;)

Iain Stanley's picture

hahaha sorry about that. Yes, agree completely. Though funnily enough, almost all my networking and contact-making and related work has come through Instagram. Perhaps is a chicken/egg thing. I spend most time on Insta so my work comes through Insta. Would it be the same if I spent most time on Pinterest, for example? I think not, because FB and Twitter have never really done anything for me, beyond a few paid promotions. And 500px....well the pulses were nice for the ego but they never led to anything paid.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I'm going to openly question the intent of the author, considering his site leads to a free guide... which leads to a paid guide. So... this is just marketing? Fail...

Christian Santiago's picture

nothing is truly "free" on the internet. All of this content that we consume is created with the purpose of guiding users like a heard of cattle into a landing page with something to sell.

If nothing is directly for sale, then the product is you and your data so that you can get bombarded with ads.

Iain Stanley's picture

Absolutely I agree with most of what you say. But I also have to say that all my print sale related inquiries come through Instagram. So in that sense, I am using a free source to generate income, as opposed to my own paid website that wad generating very little. But you’re right, ultimately ‘free’ is ambiguous depending on the context you’re talking about

Iain Stanley's picture

I’ve written many articles in fstoppers, and none on Instagram thus far. This is my first Instagram related article. And as the first line says, it has been fantastic for me. I put time and effort into learning Insta’s quirks and it’s helped immensely. So then almost all my photography (and art) friends asked me to help them. So then I wrote a guide. It’s 120 pages. There are no direct links to that from here, it’s just a link on my website. Should I apologise for writing it? And having it on my website? Instagram can help anyone if they’re willing to spend time on it. I did, and it’s rewarded me. I think it can help others too, hence this article. I’m not promoting myself here, simply the fact that Instagram can be a great tool for your business. If you want it to be. If not, just ignore it and enjoy our passion for photography

Vincent Alongi's picture

It's not a direct link, no. But research is incumbent on the reader to gauge any value in the content here. So when you're talking about your website, I go to it. Which is marketing related at this point (I don't know what it was before).

I'm all for people making money. I'm all for photographers getting paid for their work, hard-earned as it is. I will not throw shade at you for that, in fact I applaud the effort you put into it, and hopefully it's truly paying off.

But again, it's about checking the credentials behind the message here. I don't take advice or follow guidelines unless it's from a valid source. The source led me to where it did... so indirectly, if you follow the path it goes from an article on Fstoppers to a paid guide.

Iain Stanley's picture

Well it goes from fstoppers to any number of links, including my Facebook profile, my Instagram profile and my Twitter profile. As well as my website. When you make a profile here on fstoppers it asks you to list all your links, so I filled them in accordingly. Every time I write an article here on fstoppers my social media profiles and website is automatically linked to the published article. I have no control over that, nor request it. So if you go checking out all the links, sure it could take you anywhere. The point of this article is to say that almost all my paid work related to all things photography comes from Instagram. Not my website. Which is kind of ironic I guess

Vincent Alongi's picture

Without question, I'll be checking out your guide. The price isn't prohibitive; I can economize few cups of coffee out of my week- and contribute to your bottom line while picking up some pointers. I’m all in on research, keeping the open mind and having some reference points.

I enjoy the IG experience as it does lead to some inspiration from others, while offering some challenges to my creativity.

Have a good one, Iain... looking forward to the read.

Facebook owns Instagram, Facebook has ruined itself. Everyone I know hardly post there anymore. And now we are all seeing the same thing happening to Instagram as well. Not banging my head against their nonsense to get a few likes. I make a living off word of mouth, not likes. And thankfully, neither of these sites have control over that unless they disable messenger functions.

There is no magic formula when you are dealing with sites that just want to start you off strong, get you addicted to likes and engagement and then slowly yank it away while pushing boost buttons in your face to get it back. They make money off adds, selling information and money people spent promoting themselves. So maybe the magic is everyone using them less until their revenue takes a hit.

Iain Stanley's picture

Absolutely, Instagram is going down FB’s road bit by bit. My engagement on Insta is still at about 10% and my reach well beyond that. It has stayed constant but I have had to work harder to keep it there. Insta’s algorithm penalizes you the more followers you get, but in return having live links in DMs and through Stories has compensated significantly for the loss of organic reach I may have lost along the way.

And having multiple accounts gives you multiple options to get your work to different audiences. That’s what I’ve found so just passing on my thoughts and experiences.

You’ll notice I have the grand sum of 9 followers on Twitter so I know nothing about that. Nor Pinterest. Instagram has been great for me but I am not averse to exploring any new avenues that might be better.

For now, for me, I haven’t found any when it comes to monetizing my photography. Thanks for your thoughts

It's not really a penalty as much as a push to get you to pay. People that are new on these sites argue they have no idea what I am talking about cause their engagement is top notch up to 10k followers and then Facebook slowly starts to hold them hostage from your post until you pay their ransom.

On Instagram I haven't bothered to change my profile to artist, etc because that will most likely get me in the pay us bracket. The people I shoot with post daily and all have high follower accounts so my engagement should be higher but I stopped putting stock in it. Rather work on my images than try and hack social sites to let me actually make use of them.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah can't disagree with anything you say, really. Perhaps 'penalize' is not the right word but your reach definitely moves in the opposite direction to your follower count. When I had 1,000 followers I was getting 30-40% engagement. Now I've plateaued at 10%. but you look at people with 1 million plus followers and they're lucky to get 1% engagement......

As far as working on images goes, I'd love to do that 24 hours a day and never have to worry about Instagram, or social media, or marketing ever again. But I get equally frustrated when I hone my photographic craft and my editing skills and produce images I'm immensely happy with - then no-one sees them....

The battle continues!

Felix Wu's picture

Facebook is too connected and its lack of privacy is the real issue there and they purposely made it that way. I haven’t posted a thing for a long time. Garbage.

Instagram is moving really fast. Hard to keep up these days.

Yes, real interaction is way more efficient than spending countless hours on social media.

Well they have the market because anything competitive they either steal from (snapchat) or buy (instagram). Vero is cool but no desktop version yet.

Iain Stanley's picture

Where does your real interaction come from though? Mine (mostly) comes from Instagram. You have to get out there and market yourself somewhere (f you have any intent of monetizing your work). Many people work many different ways but in my personal experience, Instagram has been by far the best. It doesn't mean that will be the same for everyone but you certainly can't discount it (or any other social media that has been proven effective)

Felix Wu's picture

It’s called getting out and talking to people. ; P

JUAN SOL's picture

I prefer Flickr or 500px. They don't establish any restriction about which platform you are using to upload your pictures. It's totally nonsense what Instagram does with this restriction, even knowing that using an Android emulator, or whatever, I can bust the restriction and upload pictures from my PC or Mac. Do they get any money from cellular phone brands? Nonsense. Goodbye Instragram!

Iain Stanley's picture

I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. Instagram, or FB, or whatever social media platform is a way to get your work in front of the wider, general public. Sites like 500px and Flickr aren’t viewed by the general public.

500px, for example, is photographers uploading to a photography-centric site, where other photographers rate/critique pics and you get a pulse of 90/95 or whatever.

But how many people in the general public log into 500px every day? None. They don’t even know it exists.

Instagram (social media) is accessing the masses. Personally, I’ve found Insta the pick of the bunch, hence the article.

I quit 500px a long time ago. Most of the pics that do well are nudes regardless of how well the image is done and I wasn't crazy about their privacy policy as well. Not interested in letting anyone sell my work so I can get take a percentage.

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