Organic Growth for Photographers on Social Media Is a Sham

Organic Growth for Photographers on Social Media Is a Sham

The days of growing a social media following by simply posting quality content regularly are gone. Without some kind of push to get ahead, you might as well enjoy the exercise on your hamster wheel.

Social media success depends on a lot of factors that have nothing to do with the quality of your photos. Yes, that means I'm saying no matter how damn teal and orange you make your shots, it may not get you the followers you're looking for. The streams or timelines that determine what we see are tightly controlled by algorithms. The sheer amount of users on services like Instagram and Facebook make algorithms necessary.

If you want to succeed, you need to be ready to put in the leg work. Learn the ropes in a way that doesn't involve online research and tips. Making yourself interesting enough for people to want to follow is no small feat. It takes dedication, genuine passion, time, and most of all, sacrifice. Many of the people who have reached autopilot "I have so many followers I can call the shots and earn money for everything" status put their noses to the grindstone for a long time while we were busy complaining about our reach.

I'm not saying you can't get more likes than you currently do by trying some of the tips that are out there. I'm just saying that to make the jump to the next level where brands are offering to pay you to influence and every post you drop gets thousands of likes, you need to be willing to go all in. Most of us simply are not. Just like we all want to be rich but aren't. There is usually more involved than just luck.

So What Can You Do?

So, while I'm not exactly an expert on getting ahead on social media, I have been involved with web trends and the technology behind it since their inception and get it more than most. You have to start building something. Think of it like this hypothetical Lego metaphor. One day, everyone in the world starts getting a single Lego brick every morning. Most people are confused and ignore it. Some people see no value and give them away. Other people don't ask why and start putting them together. As time goes on, most people haven't built a thing, but these patient, forward-looking builders have these amazing structures that are getting noticed and seem to have come out of nowhere. Everyone wishes they had used theirs to build and some start, but most assume it is too late and doubt the real possibility that they could get somewhere down the road.

We could have all built amazing Lego creations, but we didn't put in the time. It is the same with social media. You really can succeed. But you need to be willing to work harder and smarter to get there. Don't think it is too lat don't assume it will be too much work and never start.

Get out there and do what you want, or someone else will. And you will be saying: "I should have done that; I had the Legos..."

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Michael B. Stuart is a photographer at Stu Stu Studio in Lewiston, New York. Besides shooting weddings with his wife Nicole his specialties include long exposure, abstract monochrome creations, architecture, and bokeh. Work has been featured online by Adobe, Flickr, Google, and 500px with the most popular photo receiving over 950 million views.

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Very good point. It is about promoting yourself, getting yourself out there.

Good post.

Thank you, Kevin.

Spot on! I remember starting my photo career and thinking that all I had to do was produce quality images. Then people wanted free images, I saw no prospects for doing so and it turns into a steep climb. How many of us receive a DM on Instagram from someone that wants us to post content for little to nothing? Where does that lead to and is it even worth messing with at that point? I'll stick with the organic approach and keep my self respect.

Heard quite a few horror stories myself...from clients who decided to "go another way" only to ring me back a month down the line.

Look at the Instagram egg that was advert for cracking under stress... It exploded overnight

I thought you were going to ask what's the point of social media anyway?

A squizillion "Likes" means what exactly? I know the tiny buzz it gives and sure, rare individuals turn it into something but for most of us (or me at least) it's a huge vacuum cleaner sucking away time for marginal benefit.

PS Please Like my comment because I'm totally hanging on it. Otherwise my life is a shameful, meaningless void.

Like = one prayer
Share = ten prayers
Buy my presets = World peace

I really don't get why people care so much about likes and followers. I mean, who cares how many likes @TravisAA on Instagram gets? Or how many followers @TravisAA on Instagram has? I don't really see the benefit of any of it, honestly. I'm sure @TravisAA on Instagram appreciates every follow just like @TravisAA on Instagram appreciates every like, but is there really a point to any of it? On a side note, you can follow me @TravisAA on Instagram. Not that I care about that stuff... 😂

Shallowness of the business/art often judges by those likes...unfortunately. People should of course focus on their own thing and keep it moving. Everyone ain't for everything but there's something for everyone

Nope. I was just using that as an example 😁 haha

For many it's all about that sweet sweet dopamine hit. I admit I was susceptible to that my first couple years in my career but thankfully that's faded and now I simply concentrate on doing work that either make me happy or makes me money.

One thing I hate about photography is that folks worry too much about likes and followers. Some of the best images have the fewest likes. If that stops you from creating great images then put the camera down.

Exactly! Why worry about the next man, do your thing unless your motivation is suspect from the beginning. Put down that expense gear and get off the blogs and YouTube so called photography Channel and live life

First of all quality largely depends on one's perspective and opinions. A good photo maybe one technically but not emotionally. Also photography as with any art or business dealing with such expression is a BS business. Sometimes your personality sells more than your craft. Only issue I feel with social media regarding exposure is the algorithms used for said exposure. I mean for Pete sake, IG for example, is photo centric, and there are maybe by now millions of stuff on their already, so do you really expect to stand out against that if you're not doing what it takes to get the exposure? It's no different the days of the Yellow Pages, albeit theses platforms have more reach. Quality photos? Ha! That's your opinion buddy and people are free to disagree. There are a lot "skilled" photographers and find it hard to believe people like their work because to me it's just not my thing.

"So, while I'm not exactly an expert on getting ahead on social media,"
So why you writing this article?

"There is usually more involved than just luck."
What involved? What are exactly you talking about?

"Learn the ropes in a way that doesn't involve online research and tips. Making yourself interesting enough for people to want to follow is no small feat. It takes dedication, genuine passion, time, and most of all, sacrifice."
What sacrifice? Have you achieved any success in being interesting?

"I have been involved with web trends and the technology behind it since their inception and get it more than most."
More than most? You have less than 2k on instagram. 400 followers on 500px. And you probably dont earn enough so that you need to write absolutely useless articles on fstoppers? So what are you talking about? On what grounds of success in social or photography business you are talking about sacrifices, success, and going all in?

Be humble. Write your personal story. That you would be so much better and that this nonsense.
Write what you actually know and have authority on.

So I shouldn't have an opinion because I lack the credentials?

ofcourse not... but have you tried to answer the questions i asked? also you preach brother... and youpreach based on what?
i think its more real and meaningful in writing the same article from your real position... having an opinion on something you never achieved and giving advice on how you "think" it should work based on lack of exp and practical knowledge just breeds ignorance... and it seems to me from your article that ignorance and lack of proper "real" effort is what you are against...
so show some real effort. write something real...

Your comment was insulting. The questions were then, for the most part, ignored and not worth my time. That also includes the above/below comments.
Taking a shot at what I make was a new low for a commenter on one of my articles.
Thanks for reading.

Asking you why you writing this article was insulting to you? Or a question about your success when you preach to other how to achieve it?

If you are running from this kind of questions then there is no real growth... oh wait, it actually make sense.
Here is real advice to achieve growth in social media or creative field... stop running and start asking yourself real questions.

Not running, just above answering questions in comments telling me I shouldn't have written my article.

Now my personal opinion on the title of the article. Cause its the only part I found interesting about this article.

I dont think that organic growth is a sham. Organic growth is the same as the client growth (and growth of people who appreciate your work) in real world. If you connect with people - they connect back... if you dont experience the growth - it only means that you need to work on yourself and improve your work. Period.

Also its ok not to succeed as photographer in social media. who cares? I know pro`s who work for Vogue and have less than 1k followers on instagram.

besides the hurdles of growth there is another big problem with instagram vs facebook when you compare it. I mean most of us will not complain that istagram is more important for photographers these days. facebook is more a thing you still have to do and somehow no one is really loving it… but instagram is much more locked in - nearly no one is visting from an post - to the profile and then clicking on the link to the photographers page. on facebook the path from a certain post to the authors webpage is much more happening. people on instagram stay on instagram - on facebook this is so different.

"I'm just saying that to make the jump to the next level where brands are offering to pay you to influence and every post you drop gets thousands of likes ..."

I think that is an end goal that is typically a bad idea.

I have a paltry number of followers by anyone's standards, yet I still am able to leverage IG as an extension of local word of mouth. I want to take photos, not be an "influencer".

It's pretty much the same thing with having to market yourself in your area, you have to put in the leg work and get out there and make yourself known. My business cards aren't going to pass themselves out. My website isn't going to pop up on everyone's device on it's own. Like you said in a nut shell, put in the work lego by lego and eventually you'll get noticed.

Thanks, Chris! Exactly.

This should be just the intro to a real article. I don't get the short format of FStoppers article. It's getting dangerously close to tweets or inspirational quotes...

Sorry you were left short. Sometimes the real discussion can be in the comments anyway and a brief article is a way to get the conversation going on a topic.

Thanks for the reply. It's not your fault, it's the format favored here - and actually on so many websites now. Search engines love frequent content update, so if you want to do that without breaking the bank, well you order short articles and try to draw comments underneath... Actually it's a bit like what you're talking about in your article. Oh well, I'm getting old :D

At the end of the day Instagram all comes down to a mixture of things: the algorithm, exposure, luck, and quality (this is the least important part). I've seen tons of terrible images (in my opinion) with thousands of likes and the person has thousands of followers, and I've seen stellar work with a smaller response.

Personally, I see the most growth when my work is shared by a larger account (such as Fstoppers). This makes it a little harder for me to grow, as it seems the majority of the Japanese based pages I've found don't share the work of English speaking foreigners. If no one is seeing your work, then they can't enjoy it. Also, a number of these pages likely pick from the most popular images with their hashtag, so any people with more exposure instantly get the advantage. This often results in the pages I follow all sharing the same images, because they happen to be the most visible.
The downside of this is also that when my work actually is shared on Instagram it may get thousands of likes on that page, but may only result in 5-6 new followers, and the likes don't transfer to my page, which plays into the whole algorithm thing. If the same image on my page only gets 70 likes, then goes on to get over 1000 likes on a page with more eyes, then that more or less kills the quality argument.

Having recently joined Dayflash, I feel they've done a rather good job with the whole sharing thing. People can share my images, and the likes transfer to my page, rather than theirs, which leads to my work being seen by more eyes, which has resulted in much faster growth. If I share the same two images on Instagram and Dayflash, the like count is almost identical, despite being on one of them for two years, and the other for two weeks, and the difference in followers being rather significant.

At the end of the day, the response you get on social media doesn't always reflect the quality of your work. Just enjoy the ride, and be nice.
(of course these are just my opinions/observations based on my experiences, so they will vary from person to person)

Ok, so... No more organic growth. No online tips. Go all in, one lego brick at a time. Got it. Super clear.

Apparently I should have been photographing Lego all along!

The Lego analogy is great, not just for this subject, but a dozen others.