I have a lot to thank to social media for my “success” in photography and this blog. But what is social media good for, what is it not good for? How do we get more followers, but why do we need more followers?
What do you use social media for?
Everyone uses social media for different reasons. I think for most people, it is trying to get a message across.
Social media is just another communication platform at the end of the day. What isn’t important is what social media channel you use, how many followers you have, but the most important question is: what are you trying to say?
How to get more followers
I think the best way to get more followers in social media is to be consistent, to never stop posting, and also by adding value to your audience.
Of course we are all narcissistic and think that everyone should follow us because we are so interesting, our photos are so good, and people would be missing out by not following us.
But in reality, there are hundreds and millions of people to follow— why would someone follow you?
Why would someone follow you?
To start off, they might follow you because they like you as a person. They might be a friend or someone you know in real life.
Or they might like the message you are spreading, or your images. They are a fan of your work and want to stay updated.
Or perhaps they are just a spammer. They follow hundreds of people hoping that other people will “follow back.” They like and comment on your photos not because they necessarily like your work— but because they want you to look at them.
Build your brand
I also feel one of the best ways to build a following isn’t to focus on getting more followers— but focusing on building your brand.
Your brand is your style of photography, your personality, and the trust people have in you.
You can build up your brand by doing more paid commercial shoots, by doing interviews on other websites, by featuring your work in galleries or online, by blogging, by having a YouTube channel, or by being a photography critic or teacher.
Once you’ve built up a brand or a name for yourself, people will naturally flock to you. They might find out about you through an interview you do on another site, and they might search social media for your name, and start following you.
Or perhaps you have a photography blog where you share tips, advice, technique, and you feature the work of other photographers. They might start to follow you because they love the content you are putting out, and they don’t want to miss a single post.
Do you really need to post that?
Whenever I’m about to post something to social media, I ask myself: “Will other people be interested in this? Am I building value by sharing interesting information or inspiration images? Or am I just posting things to fulfill my own ego?”
Posting on social media is about placating and serving our audience. If we wanted our photography and thoughts to be truly personal, we wouldn’t post it online. We could just do it for ourselves and not share it with others.
When we share our thoughts, images, and concepts with others on social media— we are communicating with our audience and public. We need to keep their opinions, values, and wants in mind.
But of course, we don’t only want to be serving our audience. We need to be authentic and share our own authentic voices and opinions. When you start doing everything for the sake of your audience, you forget about serving yourself. And at the end of the day, if you aren’t expressing your unique creativity and individuality, why are you doing a creative act of being a photographer?
Social media is overrated
Another misconception: photographers think that by building up large social media followings, they will suddenly make a ton of money, become “famous”, and get tons of sponsorships or commercial deals.
In my experience, it goes the other way around. By being famous, successful, and having sponsorship deals— we build huge followings.
For example, Justin Bieber doesn’t have millions of followers because he has some savvy social media strategy. He has millions of followers because he is already famous for his singing and performing.
Who isn’t on social media?
Consider photography— some of the world’s most famous and accomplished photographers either have very small social media followings or aren’t on social media at all.
And these photographers have been able to become successful because they focus on what is the most important— to make great photographs, to inspire others, and to be consistent with their work.
I’ve also realized that for a lot of photographers, social media can be mostly a distraction. Instead of focusing on building your brand as a photographer and producing work, we spend too much time on social media— trying to get more followers, comments, and likes — instead of trying to get more commercial work, producing blog posts with useful content, or entertaining YouTube videos.
For every photographer the value we add is different.
For example, I’m probably best described as a blogger/teacher. 90% of the value I produce is through blog posts, articles, and YouTube videos. If I don’t post a photo to Instagram, nobody is going to care.
If you are a professional photographer, your best value is by producing photos for paying clients. So instead of trying to build your social media following, it might be a better strategy to just get more paying clients.
Practical tips to gain more followers
My apologies for all the philosophical views on why social media is overrated. You probably came here for practical tips on how to gain more followers, so I won’t disappoint you:
1. Promote the work of other photographers
By promoting the work of other photographers, they will in turn start to promote your work. Mention photographers you recommend people to follow. Share their work on your blog, interview them, or help build their online presence. Then in turn, they will help you build your social media following.
Collaboration is one of the best ways for us to build our social media following. Do a joint-photography project and get featured on a popular photography blog. Split the credit, and you both will gain followers.
Do a guest blog post on a popular photography website, and include links to your social media channels. Offer to do a free shoot for a magazine (in exchange for the magazine to publish your social media channels). Offer free workshops or webinars on YouTube or other educational sites.
3. Produce great work
If you produce great work, you will naturally gain a following. Nobody is going to follow you if your work is mediocre, sub-par, or even “good.”
Be “so good they can’t ignore you” (as Cal Newport says). If you make a great photography project, it will be easy to get blogs to share your work, or people to share your work on social media.
4. Be consistent
You don’t need to post to social media everyday. But you need to be consistent. You can post daily, weekly, or even monthly.
The biggest mistake that people make is that they eventually stop posting to social media. If you want to keep gaining more followers, you need to never stop posting.
For example, I try my best to blog (close to daily). If people visit my blog and there is nothing new, they are less inclined to visit next time, or to subscribe or follow me. But if I’m consistent, people are incentivized to follow me to get more useful content.
5. Be you
The last piece of advice is to not read any articles on social media (just like this one).
Why not? Because you are a unique individual. No certain strategy that has worked for others will work for you.
Ultimately just be you.
If you are introverted and don’t like being super-public, don’t post all the time to social media or share personal information.
If you’re extroverted, perhaps you can engage a lot with your audience on social media, share personal life details on YouTube, and be active.
Don’t filter your thoughts. Be open and honest. The more opinionated you are, the more people are going to be drawn to you.
The world is full of half-opinions, people scared to share what they really think, and of “skin in the game.” The more skin in the game you have, and the more vulnerable you make yourself to your audience— people are going to be drawn to your authenticity. And of course, follow you.