Melbourne, 2013 #portra400

The other day Instagram announced that they will change the way photos appear on the home stream: instead of showing most recent uploads, Instagram will use an algorithm which shows the “most relevant” photos on the tip (based on your history of what photos you liked in the past).

This is a pretty huge deal. When I started to use Instagram, the appeal was that all of the photos I uploaded would appear on the feed of my followers. The problem with Facebook was that it used a “news feed optimization” algorithm that only showed you selective updates and photos. Which means, Facebook didn’t show you the photos of all the people you followed and Facebook fan pages you “liked”.

Why is Instagram doing this?

Well first of all, Facebook owns Instagram. And the problem with Instagram is that most people are following too many people. So on one hand, this new update will make your life a bit easier. You will see fewer updates from people you might have followed a long time ago, but are no longer interested in.

The problem with this new update

Did you ever have this issue: as a Facebook fan page or as a user, you had a piece of news or a photo that you really wanted your friends or “followers” to see.

However once you updated your status or uploaded an image, not all of your friends or followers would see it, unless you paid Facebook to “boost” your post.

Obviously you don’t want to spend money, so you try out other tactics to try to get your status update or photo on everyone’s news feed. Certain strategies: updating less frequently, using attractive images, and trying to get people to comment on your photos.

For a while (I was involved in this) a new industry of “Facebook news feed optimization” marketers came around; promising to get your news on everyone else’s feed.

Now that Facebook isn’t being as much used by the younger generation (most have fled to Instagram or Snapchat), people don’t really market (as much) on Facebook.

But remember: Instagram is a “free” service that Facebook somehow hopes to monetize in the long run (either with paid advertisements, or services that will “boost” your Instagram posts to be seen by all your followers. And Facebook having spent a billion dollars on Instagram: sure as hell you know they want their money back.

What does this update mean for me?

Well practically just imagine (eventually) you will see more advertisements in your Instagram feed, just like you do on Facebook.

Not only that, but over time, fewer and fewer people will see your images on their news feed.

I’m pissed off!

This is going to upset a lot of people, especially us photographers who have large followings on Instagram.

But remember, you are using a “free” service, which means there is (eventually) going to be a catch somewhere. There is no such thing as a “free lunch” anymore. If you’re using a free service (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Gmail, “free” smartphone games) you are either giving away a) giving away your private data, b) being advertised to, or c) both.

I don’t think it is inherent bad to use these “free” social media services. After all, they are businesses and need to make money somehow. And they make our lives more fun, convenient, and pleasant.

However just be knowledgeable about the pros and cons of these services. And don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Other practical implications

If you’re a photographer who (only) has a following on Instagram; you’re in trouble. Suggestion: diversify your following, and if possible, create an email newsletter or another way to contact your fans and followers.

For example, I use Mailchimp to send out newsletter emails to my followers, letting them know about new free ebooks, new workshops, new articles, or anything I think they’ll be interested in. Even though people think that email is “passé” nowadays; (fortunately or unfortunately) it is here to stay. And if you’re a tech worker, you know that most people probably spend 80% of their days just checking and answering email.

So as a photographer, don’t put all your hopes in any one social media platform (Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Snapchat, etc). A few years ago, Flickr was the king of social media for photography. Now it is just a secondary “dumping ground” for photographers.

Eventually nobody will use Instagram (another social media app will come around. Or perhaps all Instagram users will flee to Snapchat). But once Snapchat becomes more like Facebook, people will flee to some other new service that doesn’t exist yet.

The only way to have any lasting impact as a photographer is the old school method: make prints, share them with friends, and print your own books (zines, print on demand books, or self publish yourself).

Take a hybrid approach: love both atoms and bytes. Don’t make it all one or another; shoot both film and digital, write emails and hand written letters, walk and drive your car, send your friends text messages but also meet them “in real life”.

Start your own blog

The last point I want to make is the most interactive and flexible way to do “social media” is own your own blog.

I recommend using Bluehost.com and using WordPress.org and self hosting your own blog (yes it costs money, but you “own” it). You can use wordpress.com if you seriously have no money, but eventually you’ll be frustrated by the lack of customization and control in the long run.

I’m so grateful that I’ve had this blog for the last few years; it has helped open up so many possibilities, given me a voice, given me control over my content, and has given me a livelihood. I used to be suckered into thinking that Facebook was the future; now I realize it is just another social media app (just how MySpace was). I regret spending so much time on social media in general; I wish I spent more time blogging.

So anyways, empower yourself. Start your own blog. Have your own website portfolio. The thing that sucks is that it will cost money, but the benefit: you will have more control, autonomy, and freedom.

For a free open source platform for Web portfolios, I recommend koken.me (the one I use for erickimphotography.com).

Make your blog personal, share your personal photos, thoughts, and express your creativity. Don’t be a slave of a social media tyrant that has control over you.

March, 16, 2016

More articles on social media and entrepreneurship

Prague, 2015
  1. How to Start Your Own Photography Blog
  2. A Photographer’s Guide to SEO, Blogging, and Social Media
  3. Advice for Aspiring Full-Time Photographers
  4. 1,000 True Fans
  5. The “10x Principle”: The Only Difference Between “Success” and “Failure”
  6. How to Teach a Street Photography Class
  7. Why I Teach Street Photography Workshops
  8. Social Media 4.0

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