The Myth of Social Media
If you are creating a business with a digital footprint, you need to be involved in social media in some way – that part is clear.
However, do not be fooled. Social media is not the end all and be all for marketing your photography business. There are a hundred other strategies to grow your business, and you have to pick those that are the most effective for your time. Prioritize and find the right balance.
Pick the best social avenue for your business, and set aside an amount of time that you can be consistent with on a daily basis. Start from there and grow it over time. If you fragment yourself by trying to have a presence on too many social websites, then you will most likely not have enough focus to achieve success on any one of those services.
There are some that are masters of social media marketing. They are the first to adopt every new site, they have huge followings, and they do extremely well off of social; however, there are also people with tens of thousands of followers who do not make that much money from these followings.
One of my favorite stories regards the photographer Daniel Arnold, who made $15,000 in one day selling prints on Instagram. There is a good chance that you saw an article about this as it was shared all over the web. How many photographers do you think saw this story and flocked to Instagram?
This is a great story. Daniel fostered a large community of tens of thousands on Instagram before trying to sell to them. When he started his first sale, he wrote:
“Hello, I just turned 34 this second. For one day only I am selling 4×6 prints of whatever you want from my Instagram archive for $150 each. I swear I will never sell anything this cheap again. If you’re interested, send a screenshot of the photo(s) of your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org (one d) and I will send a paypal invoice, followed by a signed print. Easy peasy. Happy my birthday. I love you”
While the crucial factors of fostering a community are there, this story probably did a lot of photographers a disservice. It is not actually that great of a story.
Daniel spent a full year shooting, living on a small amount of money while building a following. He wrote, “I’ve been eating toast three meals a day all February.” While his work is great, he was almost ready to give up until he did this deal, and at the end of the day, he still worked for a full year and only made $15,000, in New York City. A second or third sale would have grossed significantly less, and not many people can live on toast for a year. But if you can put everything into growing your business like Daniel did, you have a significant advantage.
There are photographers in New York with no social followings who can make $15,000 or more in a day with a single job. This is also not something that is easily achievable, but it is important to know that both of these extremes exist. You most likely will be somewhere in the middle, but it depends on your business and marketing plan.
Daniel executed a great strategy by gaining followers, building a community, and then selling them something; however, this is far from an overall successful and sustainable marketing strategy. These stories are usually outliers. The press loves them, but it tricks us into thinking that this is the ideal strategy. It is part of an ideal strategy.
In the end, this actually turned into a great story, but it was particularly due to the press received from the story of that sale. The press was eager for an Instagram success story by an artist, and Daniel gave it to them. All of the press from that deal enabled him to grow his following to 120,000 people on Instagram. If it were not for that press, things might have been different.
You can and should aim big, but you also should not plan on being the exception to the rule. Build a robust and diverse marketing and business plan with social as one aspect, and if you happen to be the exception, even better.