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Why You Must Own Your Own Platform

MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER: Marketing, Branding, Entrepreneurship Principles For Success
MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER: Marketing, Branding, Entrepreneurship Principles For Success

I am shocked, amazed, impressed, and awe-struck at the same time. SmugMug has acquired Flickr. What does that mean? It means that as photographers, we should NEVER trust the platform of another company/social media network. Why? Because we become ‘digital sharecroppers’, and build our own empire on the land of others, or in other words, we build our own kingdom on quicksand.

To clarify, I think SmugMug acquiring Flickr is a good thing. Why? Recently, Yahoo (which bought out Flickr/Tumblr) was acquired by Verizon, which created this new media corporation called ‘Oath’. When I heard that Verizon bought out Flickr/Tumblr, my thoughts were:

Okay, I guess Verizon is either going to kill off or let Flickr/Tumblr die.

There has also been lots of acquisitions in the photography/online social media space. For example, 500px was acquired by a Chinese company. A while ago, Instagram was bought out by Facebook for around 1 Billion dollars.

The good thing with SmugMug buying Flickr: I know the team of SmugMug and they are really cool folks, who genuinely love/care about photographers. For example my friend Ivan Makarov who works at SmugMug is also a really good street photographer. Instead of letting Flickr just die, I think they will build/integrate the Flickr community into their platform, for the better.

But the downside:

All the work, effort, and toil you put into building your Flickr following and portfolio was in vain.

While I’m not 100% sure how your past content on Flickr will continue to live on SmugMug, the lesson is simple:

Don’t trust your photographs/content/images to a third-party platform, especially if it is “free”.


Right now, the hot platform for photographers is Instagram. But why did ERIC KIM (at the apex of 60,000+ followers) delete his Instagram? My rationale was the following:

  1. I didn’t want to get trapped to the platform of Instagram, and become a prisoner of Facebook’s algorithm (who owns Instagram, and is essentially merging the two platforms).
  2. I didn’t like how Instagram was fucking up with my personal psychology — giving me quick dopamine hits when I got a lot of likes, and when I would get spurts of cortisol (stress hormone) when I didn’t get as many likes on my photos as I thought I should.
  3. Distractions in building my Instagram following, instead of building my following on this blog, or building up my newsletter.
  4. Ever since I deleted my Instagram, I have been happier, and also have come up with more innovative ways to share my photos/content. For example, I recently have re-vamped my erickimphotography.com portfolio page to create a stream of images. The concept is that I’m trying to build my own Instagram for myself/my own platform.
  5. Trying to start a movement of people deleting their Instagram, and instead of getting trapped on Facebook’s platform, to encourage photographers/creators/artists to build their own website/platform.

Do you remember MySpace?

I’ve been on the internet since I was around 12 years old (AOL 3.0 on my 28.8k modem). I’ve seen so many social media platforms and websites come and go. Do you remember LiveJournal, Xanga, Friendster, and Myspace? Yup, all of them were supposed to take over the world, but they all died off. The same goes with Yahoo (essentially dead, when compared to Google).

At this point, unfortunately I do think that Google/Facebook is “too big to fail”. I am still pretty pro-Google, because they encourage open access to information, and are more democratic in their approach. But still– Google is going in a bad direction, by getting more and more personalized data/information on us, to serve us more targeted advertisements (I think society with fewer advertisements is a better thing). But ultimately, I don’t think ads are ‘that evil’.

However Facebook on the other hand, is “bad” in the sense that it is changing our social dynamics (I think for the worse). We care too much about ‘crowd-sourcing our self esteem’ by trying to feel better about ourselves via how many likes/followers we get. As proven by the Donald Trump Election/Russian Hackers, the news feed algorithm can be easily gamed for the worse. I don’t think that Facebook as a corporation is “evil”, but the truth is that their algorithm is becoming almost a little too powerful.


I don’t want to be a nay-sayer. I still think that Google, Facebook, and these other technological giants are doing us and humanity a net-positive. But I think it is our personal imperative to educate ourselves to get the maximum upside from these digital technologies, while minimizing the downsides.

Some practical tips I would give you to gain more control over your photography, content, life, and self-esteem:

  1. Create your own website/blog. I recommend bluehost.com or 1and1.com and install wordpress.org. I personally prefer the ‘Genesis theme’. The benefit of starting your own website and owning your own website/hosting/server is that you have more control, flexibility, and ultimately freedom with how you create and distribute content.
  2. Uninstall social media apps from your phone. I got rid of my phone about a year ago, and man– I have been so much happier. I am now a lot more focused, less distracted, and less anxious than when I owned a smartphone. If you want to upload your photographs to Instagram, you can use the Mac-Based app called ‘Flume’. If you want to access Facebook, you can use your laptop browser, and I recommend installing the ‘news feed blocker’ plugin, and to install the ‘Adblock ultimate’ extension for your laptop. Social media can be good in small doses, but when it is always with you (in your phone) I think it is a bad distraction.
  3. Turn off all your notifications: If you want more sanity, this will help you not get constantly interrupted. Turn off notifications on your phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, or whatever device.
  4. Focus on building an email newsletter following: Sounds old-school, but email newsletter marketing works a LOT BETTER than any other form of social media to stay connected with your fans, followers, clients, and potential customers. I have used mailchimp.com and am a HUGE FAN. Whenever I get people to signup for my workshops or purchase my products, 90%+ of the sales/sign-ups come from my newsletter.
  5. Reflect and ask yourself: “Why are these online services and products free? What is in it for Facebook/Google or these other ‘benevolent dictators’?” Essentially the answer is this: they use your personal data to sell you more stuff or advertisements, and they will subtly tweak your behavior (in their favor).

Long story short:

Upload fewer photos to Facebook/Instagram, and upload more photos to your own website/blog.

OWN YOURSELF,
ERIC


Photography Entrepreneurship 101 by ERIC KIM

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