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.