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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Previous comments

A great article and well worth the read, the best one I've seen about Instagram and from a unique perspective. A lot of people really can't get their head around how it can benefit them. Even spending 5 or 10 minutes a day whilst you're taking a dump is all it really takes to reap some benefits.

Iain Stanley's picture

Your last sentence is very important. Most people say to me “who has time to be on Instagram every day?”’s 5 minutes. Literally. And as you so colourfully pointed out, there are lots of different ways to find that 5 mins....

Sorry re last sentence, I couldn't resist!

Here's a quick tip for people using desktop. Install the chrome extension 'oh my IG' it allows you to browse your feed efficiently in chronological order and like individual images with one click. So much faster than scrolling down your feed and double tapping your mobile. Again, five minutes a day and you'll be able to share some 'like love'.

Iain Stanley's picture

Excellent tip. One thing people say they dislike about Insta is that it's phone only. You can actually access it from a PC Browser and this advice of yours helps the experience further. Thanks!

As a social media instagram is one of the popular website in the globe, and here amount of the traffic is huge. Every point is very understandable and images made it so easier. I also tried in instagram to bring more followers but it didn't happen in a right way. These all methods are explained in a nice way, this is the one of the way from where people can learn something new and better. And this site works good for selling images, as a business platform instagram works great.

Thank you sire for your exceptional ideal information, in one word? awesome.

Leigh Miller's picture

I don't disagree but pretty much your entire article boils down to "how to game the IG system" in order to make it work for you...

We professionals have to figure out ways of driving engagement to our work...that much is true. I think our industry has largely been lazy on that and we missed the Youtube/IG wave now primary spaced out by "younger" users who post a lot of aspirational images/video of exotic locations, etc. Many of those popular content creators are tied into PAID content yada yada yada.

Exactly how does that work for photographers that are stuck in one place...families, mortgages etc?

Just sayin...there is more to it than what you have described.

Iain Stanley's picture

Absolutely, you're right. There is far more to it, but I have a limit on the number of words I can write! I picked out some essential points that might appeal to a wider audience and show them different ways in which they might take advantage of Insta that they may not have thought about before.

I wouldn't necessarily say it's "gaming" the system, but more about being aware of exactly what you can do and how you can exploit it for business/marketing purposes. As photographers, we'd all love nothing more than to take photos all day, edit them, make them available, and watch the sales fly in. Sadly, that doesn't happen, and we need to find ways of getting our work in front of as many new eyes as possible.

Armando Morales's picture

Good article, I actually have smugmug site, my subscription will expire and I had already made the decision to not renovate it. I have an IG account and consider it useless, I'll give it a try with the tips you shared. Thanks

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I like Smugmug and the service they provide but the fact is I've made so few sales directly from my site that it just isn't worth it any more, unfortunately. It's nothing against SM, it simply isn't profitable for me to run that site, as I do 95% of my business through Instagram.

Strat Ographic's picture

Instagram is a strange thing.
I did a full study on it a while back.
There's loads of profiles with many thousands of followers, yet when they post they get a dozen likes, this is often down to buying followers, for a small fee you too can have 50,000 followers.

Of course, once you get a load of followers, you can become a "reposter" and charge people money to put your picture on their profile. I've done this, i paid a small fee to get my picture on two of the biggest repost profiles, it got me zero new followers (though the picture got 2000 loves on their profile, no one clicked through to mine).

I've tried really hard, i did all the tags, posted at the right time of day, did the "follow trick" where you follow slightly popular people so they follow you back, done it all (for science), I'd get a few new followers, then they leave a week later.

If you already have a big following on other sites then yeah, drag them over to instagram and you can have a following. At this stage, it's really hard for new people to build a decent following, the god awful practice of follow/unfollow means you'll end up following a load of people with few of your own.

The thing that always annoys me, if you look at the biggest players on there with millions of followers, they follow virtually no one themselves, which makes you wonder how they got so big? After all, no one sees your posts for more than 5 minutes on any popular hashtag, usually less. I often feel these people should give back a little and make an effort to follow people and like pictures themselves. It's a social community, supposed to be.

Finally, yes, you could indeed generate some income, designers and companies often pick out trendy instagrammers to use their "influencer" status to promote their brands. But again, this isn't really going to happen if you have 100 followers, and if you want more you'll have to play the game.

It's still useful, just don't expect miracles. I've had a few requests to do shoots on there, nothing paid though. Unless you have the means to draw people to your profile from other places (Facebook, Twitter, etc etc), i genuinely don't see how your going to get a big following and lots of work offers these days, unless you make friends with the reposters or know people who are willing to promote you.
I'm stuck at just short of 5k followers, it goes down a few each day, if i went on a spree of loving everyone elses pictures, adding people, commenting, then yeah I'll pick up some more, but that's pretty soulless, and almost a full time job :)

Iain Stanley's picture

A lot of really good points in there. One thing is your point on hashtags. If you choose relevant hashtags that only have about 20,000-200,000 media you have a high chance of getting in 'Top Posts''. This means your pic is at the top of that hashtag's feed for up to 72 hours sometimes. That works really well rather than using a hashtag like 'photography' which has millions of media and isn't very targeted anyway.

Charles Gaudreault's picture

When bigger brands need to shoot stuff in my small city, they contact me from my personal website because they probably searched photographer from... I also have a google my business profile so I am referenced to be from this city so when someone needs a photographer where I live they can find me with my website made with Squarespace if you wanna know... with Instagram I never got to apply for a gig or something I only get DM's from amateur models that wanna shoot for free.. I guess its different from everyone to and maybe its different for others city's, I do feel sometimes my portfolio is worthless but then I often gets emails from people I don't know and brands I don't have in my town looking for a photographer from my town! So I guess then its pretty useful because it lets people and brands know that I exist :P

Iain Stanley's picture

Very good point. You could use keywords in your website's About section and in any captions you might write that have your city name in there. That will certainly help with SEO too. I live in a tiny surfing town in far SW Japan, so there aren't too many searches for 'photographers in Miyazaki'. None in English either haha! But yes, websites can definitely help.

Kirk Darling's picture

A lot of things depend on the kind of photography someone does and the market he's trying to reach. What I've discovered with retail portraiture is that the following of one's clients is far more important than the following of the photographer, and gaining a client with high social media influence is by the same method as gaining a client with powerful word-of-mouth influence: Such people don't sit and scan for fun photos on social media all day, they're out in the world being influential people. One has to get out where they are and meet them.

Iain Stanley's picture

This is very true. It's not just about networking, it's about networking with the right people and spending time creating relationships with people that you think might help you. And you must be able to help them in some way too, if at all possible.

Ryan Burleson's picture

Well I’m opposite of all this, instagram is a rat race for a algorithm. I do what I expect from my own website and others. I think people are putting way too much stock into Instagram, sooner or later people will realize the majority of people and profiles on it are fake, leading to false recognition in the first place. I will have a smile on my face when a competitor puts it to shame.

Iain Stanley's picture

There are 800 million users on Instagram. I'm not sure the 'majority' are fake but I see where you're coming from. If there's a better option out there I'm all ears. I've tried them all and for me, at least until this point, Instagram has been by far my most successful. I'm always open to new alternatives though so if you find one, please let me know!

Andre Goulet's picture

First I read a post here on Fstoppers about why I need a website and should dump social media, then I read a post like this about why I need social media. So contradictory!

My experience with social media compares well to gold mining: one needs to sift through tons of dirt to find a nugget. Some photographic areas do better with social media than others. It would seem that, for example, many product photographers land good gigs via Instagram by tagging brands and such in their posts. However, living in a big city where there is a ton of competition for each portrait dollar, social media doesn't seem to cut it. A great website with good SEO optimization does seem to be the better route (I am just building one now) but social media seems to be a time sink with little return. Part of the problem is that, quite often, your viewers/followers are not your target audience.

Sadly for us curious photographers, the other method of succeeding in photography is to have one genre, with mostly one look, that you shoot almost all of the time - basically, going vertical with what you do. You can get known for that, and get good business from that. But, it's mostly boring. So, if you want photography to remain your passion, this method sucks, but if you want photography to be your main business, this method works. At that point, any marketing tool and enough persistence will get you work if you're even half decent at what you do.

Iain Stanley's picture

I think the good people at fstoppers try to bring readers as many perspectives as possible so that when you make a decision that's best for your particular circumstances you have as much great information as possible.

A website with targeted SEO is a good option but you'll need to spend a lot of time creating lengthy, compelling content and optimizing it with specific keywords if you want to rank on Google Page 1. I didn't have the time nor the patience to write 1,000+ word articles to see them land on Page 8 and then trickle towards page 4 if I was lucky. But that doesn't mean you can't have success.

I've simply found Insta to be a better avenue for revenue than my website. Perhaps the two together can work well. Could be double the benefits, or double the effort.....

And as for your last point, I can think of nothing more soul destroying than shooting the same type of shot with the same type of look and the same type of mood forevermore, regardless of how successful it might make me.

Andre Goulet's picture

But that website content will still get views a year later. On social media, tomorrow is already out of the picture most of the time, and a week later it just won't happen.

Andress Kools's picture

For me and a lot of other photographers in Europe, Instagram is useless as a marketing tool. Its main demographic is kids, 15-25 years old and most of the audience is either american or asian. Facebook, where the moms are, is how I get most of my exposure and the only reason I'm still on that network. Still thinking of quitting though, because almost all of my work, from both businesses and families, has come from face to face contact or through referrals.
Not sure if social media is necessary to keep a business going.

Iain Stanley's picture

Some Instagram user stats for you Andress: 18-24 (31%), 25-34 (30%), 35-44 (17%), 45-54 (9%). This means 56% of Instagram users are aged between 25-54. Also, 80% of Instagram users are from outside the US.
I think a lot of people don't realise just how much Instagram has grown since Facebook became pay-to-play. If your target market is mothers and/or women then Pinterest might also be very good for you too, as long as you're blogging or posting content. Good luck!

Andress Kools's picture

Thanks for the reply, Iain. Pinterest is indeed another way to engage, but I use it more as a way to communicate ideas, build a moodboard and such. I've noticed I get mostly international attention on Instagram
When I ask them, the people I photograph never mention Instagram as a place to find a photographer, only to find ideas or share their own pretty pictures with friends. They mostly follow 'Grammers that post motivational quotes or 'regram' others (use #hahawegetpaidforpostingyourpictures to get featured!).

If I post something on Facebook, it gets a couple of thousand views from people in The Netherlands (my target audience), no hashtags necessary, no money spent. Yet most of my clientele comes from word of mouth. I consider myself lucky, because I've seen other photographers, better than I am, struggle to get clients.

Maybe I'm just not good enough for Instagram... ;-)

user-162578's picture

I don't know how you manage it, but I have found that almost nobody clicks on links in IG, actually everything FB/IG does leads to keep the readers on FB/IG and you can't even use links in captions on IG. And as mentionned earlier, the ratio subscribers/reach is surprisingly bad, even with no fake subscribers bought. My girlfriend is a model, with more than 17000 subscribers, she rarely gets more than 500 likes.

I find IG DM's really annoying (like every messenger actually), it's just good for chit-chat for which I have no time, but as soon as serious data pops, it's almost impossible to archive for later use and it's very difficult to keep track of things. Moreover, it works only on cellphones (aka spam boxes), so you can't be productive and efficient (meaning work on a desktop), you are disturbed any minute by notifications otherwise you miss stuff, so this leads to a very poor life quality (stress, focusing issues, sleeping issues etc.)

At the end, optimizing posting hours and hastags is a whole job by itself. Same for posting likes and comments on average pictures from people you don't care about, just to whore yourself out for some more likes and subscribers.

And obviously, as soon as your work is a bit more provocative than pretty girls similing in sunsets (I mean… offensive nipples and such), you get banned or content removed.

In addition, as a photographer, I want to stay aside from the mainstream and I try to not look at other's pictures because they are disturbance more than inspiration.

So, to sum up, IG is not efficient to manage by design, very time-consuming, very disturbing as a creative, not that rewarding as an artist and as a business owner, and subject to arbitrary changes and censorship. I don't know how you can be so overly optimistic about it. No mention to private data-leaks…

My life just got better, slower, more relaxing, and more productive, the day I wiped every social app out of my phone.

Andre Goulet's picture

Yes! To everything you said, but in particular to the last sentence!

Iain Stanley's picture

In terms of getting clicks you need a strong call to action (CTA) that's clear and tells viewers exactly what you want them to do. for example, "click the link below this picture to read the full article". So many Instagram users say something "link's in bio". That never works.

I would also love nothing more than to never use a social media app again. Sadly, doing so would cause me to lose most of my sales. Thus, I try to make the most of what's out there at minimal cost.

Matt Pluz's picture

Great article! I built most of my career off instagram @MattPluz and super thankful that the platform is there. Yes, running your IG correctly is a full time job, but it is very rewarding.