Photographers: Put the Social Back in Social Media

Photographers: Put the Social Back in Social Media

Social media is changing. The algorithms are changing. The type of content and media is changing. And change is uncomfortable. Change can be frustrating. What is a photographer to do? I say put the social back in social media.

Evolution of Social Media for Creatives

In the early days of social media, it seemed much easier to grow and share your work compared to today. Back then, organic reach was at its peak. You saw primarily only content from people you followed, and when you posted, you could be confident that people that followed you would see it as long as they were browsing social media in that general timeframe or scrolled far enough back.

For photographers and creatives, this was a great time to build your network and get your work seen. There weren’t algorithms introducing content into feeds from people you didn’t follow or manipulating your feed by predicting who you wanted to see content from based on your previous actions. Photographers could be relatively certain our followers, people who had taken action to signal their interest, would see our work.

As these social media platforms became more established, they acquired more data and began using more complex algorithms to determine what to show people in their feed. These “advancements” gave social media companies the levers needed to keep people engaged on the platform for longer periods of time. 

This led to the ability to gain more advertisers and eventually, pay more for those advertisements, the actual money that keeps these social media giants in business. 

Fall on the Scioto River

Social Media Is Still the Best Organic Reach

As photographers we want our work to be seen. It is one of the primary drivers for us to participate on social media. Whether you are a hobbyist photographer or a working professional, we like our work to be seen and appreciated, whether that be through likes on the images or comments. Currently, there still isn’t a better alternative to the reach you can get on social media. 

We can create websites with galleries full of wonderful images (and I do encourage photographers to have websites as a true home for their work). But to actually get people to visit your website is a challenge, still subject even then to the whims of search engine optimization strategies.

You can network locally and participate in local photography groups and meetups, many of which might provide opportunities for public display of your work. But even these opportunities require some form of marketing to make people aware of your work and are often limited to just your local area of visibility.

What Is a Photographer To Do?

My number one approach with social media is to put the social back in social media. 

As photographers, I think we often forget that using social media networks to share our work is a two-way street. If we just post content, step away, and then complain that social media isn’t what it used to be, then we are part of the issue. We aren’t putting the social in social media, we’re using it as a one-way content-sharing platform. 

Even with reduced organic numbers compared to years of past, social media networks are still amazing ways to interact with photographers from around the world. Here’s how.

Kennedy Falls in West Virginia

Reply to Comments

First, if you post content and get comments or replies to your stories, acknowledge that and reply back to all of your commenters! Someone has taken the time out of their day to stop their scroll and not only like your post, but to leave a comment. You can take the time to reply to that comment. 

Sure, some comments are quick ones like “amazing shot, bro!” but I even reply to those. In most cases, I reply with a thank you at the very minimum, but try to add something like: “it was a great day out” or “appreciate the comment.” Who knows, that could have been someone in a hurry or maybe they just didn’t know what to say.

If someone comments on one of my images with something more verbose, I always take the time to make a thoughtful comment back. People that leave more verbose comments are looking for a way to build a connection with you; encourage it with a reply.

This alone has helped me have much better interactions on social media. It has helped build online connections and relationships with people. Building these connections is more rewarding than counting the number of likes on my images (and no, the number of likes on my images and growth isn’t like it was in the old days, but I feel pretty good about my social network).

Engage With Other Photographer’s Posts

Social media is supposed to be a two-way interaction. If we as photographers are just pushing content out into the world thinking it will get likes and comments, but we aren’t actively participating in return our social media, the experience is one-sided.

Comment on the posts of people you follow. And try to make more thoughtful comments than just “amazing shot.” Comment on what drew you to it, or that it looks like a great day out, or something that shows you actively appreciate the image. 

See something interesting on their story? Comment! It doesn’t even have to be a photography-related story; maybe it is just something they are doing that resonates with you. Comment!

And don’t just engage with people you follow. Work to expand your network. Seek out other photographers, ones that you don’t regularly engage with. Maybe check out a few of your favorite hashtags and find some photos that catch your attention and leave some comments, remember thoughtful comments, and give them a follow!

Often, if I am busy or don’t happen to have an image ready to post, I’ll take some downtime to do just this. I will check out some local hashtags or locations I might be visiting soon and find some new folks to follow and leave comments. It puts the social back in social media.

Whispering Falls in Hocking Hills State Park

Moving Forward With Social Media

Social media is different now and will continue to change and evolve over time. But as photographers, we can build the communities we want by simply putting the social back in social media and not dwelling on “how things used to be.” 

Stop thinking about the algorithm and how many likes your posts get and focus more on enjoying the content you consume, be social with other photographers, and acknowledge anyone that comments on your posts. 

Focus on the social aspects the social media platforms provide and build connections with photographers across the world. 

Give it a try for a few weeks and come back and leave a comment to let me know if this helped change your mind about social media for photographers!

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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It's hard to come up with a strategy that you'll invest time in, because the rules have changed so many times, and might change again next week.

Meta is an advertising company, so Facebook looks increasingly like a pay-to-play ad stream. The real issue for me isn't just paying to have my followers see my posts - it's that the ads are too expensive for what you seem to get in terms of reach.

The platforms certainly change within themselves frequently. None of them today look like they did at launch!

From the time this article was originally written to being published a whole new social media platform launched in the form of Threads! Just a testament to how fast things change!

For the time being, my website is the most important channel to display my work. Instagram now indicates transparently that my account cannot be recommended to non-followers, hence my posts do not appear in search, explore, suggested users, reels and feed recommendations. Yet, Instagram still would like me to pay 204 euro/year for a blue verified badge. I rest my case.

I think a photographer should always have a website. It is really the one place you have the most control of how your work is curated, displayed, etc.

Do you work on SEO for your website to help people discover your work? Or rely on other connections for people to be directed to your website?

I am not sure I understand what you mean by ‘Instagram now indicates transparently’? Could you touch on that a bit more?

These days I don’t really think a blue veririfed badge means much (and I say that as a person with the badge on my IG account). Once you open the doors to just paying for it, I think the value of it is diminished. At least my little experiment with having the badge hasn’t really done anything significant than siphon some money from me.

Thanks for your comment!