“It’s not about the ROI.”
That’s what social media managers and influencers used to say all the time. ROI is short for return on investment–and as most photographers know, you’re bound to invest a heck of a lot more into this industry than you will ever give back.
But in today’s day and age, while many professional photographers spend most of their time on marketing, we should be using our skills as creative image makers to actually market ourselves and the types of work that we do much better. What you’ll learn is that social media isn’t about trying to create a following and gain returns from it, it’s about proving to people that they should be interested in you and your work.
“I wish I’d wasted less time sharing my photos on social media and spent more time building a branded web site where people can buy my work. I have millions of followers on social media and I’ve shared thousands of photos. All my photos are all out there in the ether instead of living in a home base where people can view them and buy them. While I still believe in the value of posting photos online, I believe the race to gain followers is pointless as most followers aren’t your target market for actually making money in the industry. You have to go into the real world and meet real people to build a business.”
Can you believe that? Even a photographer with a massive following wants more followers that actually care about what she’s doing. Many of the people that follow her are probably just fluff–meaning that they just like her work but will probably not in any way support her, buy a print, hire her for work, recommend her to friends, etc. Lisa has millions of followers; in comparison we’re a small fry compared to her on social media. But just imagine this: if you’ve got a million followers, how many of those people will actually be willing to:
– Hire you for a photo shoot: This is a big one. How often do your followers actually need photo shoots done and if they do, are you the type of person that they need to hire? If you shoot food and a friend or follower wants to hire you for a wedding but you’ve never shot a wedding before, you’re absolutely not going to do as great of a job as a serious wedding photographer. If you assist someone, that may better for you instead.
But going back to that point, how many people will actually hire you to shoot food images for you? These types of people are cooks, hotel chain owners, restaurant owners, etc.
Do you regularly network with these types of folks? Or are these the types of people following you on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook?
Now here’s the bigger question–how many of these folks are actual people that hold the money and power versus the people that just like looking at food porn?
– Buy a print or license an image: Let’s be honest, many people unfortunately don’t buy prints anymore because they simply just don’t care about them or they don’t realize how beautiful a printed photo can actually be. But then you need to consider how many people will want to buy a print at the prices that you need to sell it at to make a profit.
Let alone, how many people will want to license your images? Do you keyword them well enough and have a following that people will be attracted to to inquire about licensing an image and paying you a sum for it?
Then, when these people talk to you, how will you convince them to pay you what you’re worth?
– Recommend you to someone that needs photos: Lastly, what about just thinking about you? An argument for the use of social media for years has been that it was just about getting your brand (or in this case, your photography) in front of eyes so that maybe when they have a need for your services or product, they’ll think of you.
But how many people actually think of you when they need photos done? And will those people want to pay you?
That’s what this is about. We’ve found this even more useful and realistic over the years: we’ve got thousands of followers on Facebook, but the company stifles how many people we reach. Additionally, if a couple thousand people see what we post, we don’t get very much interaction or clickthroughs based on the proportion of how many people saw the post. But this isn’t a problem that only we face. We can only imagine what a great site like The Verge or others go through. Even when you choose to pay to reach out to more people, it’s still not always worth it.
Why? Because you’re giving in way too much based on what you’re getting back.
Now let’s break this down into something even deeper: If you promote your latest work on Facebook and then pay to reach more of your followers (let’s say $200) are you guaranteed to make that $200 back and profit from it?
This is how photographers need to think about social media going forward while also trying to find a way to protect their rights/prevent theft.
No, this isn’t easy. But social media is such a big part of photography these days that you’d be unwise to neglect it.