I’ll be the first to unashamedly admit that I’m not verified anywhere, and I’m not a poster child known for my adoring followers or social media dominance, but I do something many do not:
I pay attention.
You may not be a pulls-the-car-over-for-the-shot kind of person or a takes-picture-while-driving kind of person. But in Iceland you will be. I miss this weird place a lot.
You might pay attention too, but I dissect; like weirdo-level dissect. I see who still uses certain posting patterns no matter what Instagram or Facebook changes in UI or algorithms. If @1924us didn’t have a really thoughtful caption, I’d notice. If @jude_allen posted a flat or black and white image it would stick out. I see who engages their fans, when, at what degree, and I think about how much time that takes up for them. I consider the kind of work they do, and that they have likely thought through the time investment it takes to engage their audience.
I’ll include a TLDR for you: if you want to see a better response on social media post regularly, post consistent and quality content, care about your captions, share your personality, and appreciate your followers.
For the artist/brand/blogger/or anyone who views social media as a business tool, we ought to think with business minds about it. No serious brand runs a commercial in a market they haven’t investigated; no serious blogger is haphazard about their caption writing, and no serious artist ignores the dynamic of the audience viewing their work.
Take @chrisburkard for example. Dude is approaching 2.7M followers (with an M), and not long ago he just got to 1m – I’m talking like 6 months ago. He still responds to questions, and still engages his audience. Not too many people get to that level, and when they do they are usually celebrities with assistants likely posting updates/pictures or brands carefully scheduling their campaigns. But for those of us who don’t have built-in social media followings or audiences watching every moment – we need to earn this. Some of my humble following I’ve really earned, some was blind luck, and I’ll speak here about how to work both of those avenues.
I’m going to pretend I’m talking to the guy, for pretend’s sake, a friend, sulking at the bar complaining about why he/she can’t get more social media engagement when they feel their work is awesome. I’m also going to pretend I’ve looked at their work and seen a huge compilation of negative habits/traits that I see from people who struggle at social media. This isn’t for the person who sees social media as shtick or sideways energy, it really is for the person who sees the value but thus far has yet been able to capitalize on it.
So don’t despair when I’m saying ‘you’, and being forward and blunt in my responses. Every angle will have “more to it than that,” but I’ll give you a few examples of people who I feel embody the antithesis of the habit I’m critiquing, go have a look, and decide for yourself if that habit has contributed to their following.
NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE (BECAUSE YOU’RE NEW)
Following someone is a commitment. It means I’ll have to scroll past their diatribe about loving cats or burgers if I don’t want to hear it. It means if they are wildly political I’ll have to try NOT to engage. I’m picky about who I follow, not because some people aren’t worth following, but because with 448 people on my feed I run the risk of missing an update, or art, or quip, or beautiful piece of personality in the mix. It’s a LOT of scrolling to see the people I know personally or really am inspired by.
If you’re new to the game, like I was a few years ago, take it easy on yourself. Especially now with heaps of paid advertising on Instagram it’s going to take time to develop trust. When one of my favorites @lee_jeffries joined Instagram he skyrocketed almost overnight, but that is because he earned his stripes in the trenches of other platforms. He came to Instagram with a following of people(myself included) who knew his work, and story, and were itching to follow him.
If you’re entirely new to the art community, photo community, social media community then wherever you start focus pouring your time in there. Give the people who invest time in your life/work a good return on investment.
NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE (BECAUSE YOU’RE HIDING)
I might occasionally check out brands that I think are cool, but if I don’t believe on a deeper level about the people or purpose behind it, there’s really not much reason for me to follow. If your account is devoid of personality or an invitation to who you are, why would anyone follow that over a bigger or better account?
There are funnier, more talented, and more successful people in my field. On a platform with more regular usage than the population of some countries, you have to give a person something to believe in with your work. There are people who’s work is insanely good, like unbeatable, but in my ‘explore’ tab of Instagram I see a picture like that every hour.
Good work isn’t enough.
At a dinner with @jeremycowart. in the midst of being kind towards my work, he told me that it (good pictures) is just not enough. He challenged me to look deeper at how to use my work/skills/passion in ways that other people weren’t. To look at the angles others weren’t rather than leaning on my standalone image portfolio.
The first time I met Jeremy it was at the suggestion of a friend who, once they found out I was shooting an event he was presenting at, basically told me it would be dumb not to say hi. Chances are you’ve heard of him, he was voted the “most influential photographer on the internet” in 2014. I have had a few opportunities to share personal time with him and can tell you that the person you see online isn’t a clever marketing tool, but a result of careful and real transparency. He’s shared his successes, failures, emotional reactions to deaths in his family, and reflections on his own work and its place in the world. He invites people into who he is as a person. His work is incredible, but he has a better heart and bigger ideas than just his photography.
How else can you inject yourself into your work and your engagement with those who follow you, no matter how few? Are you willing to take that next step into the scary space of showing who you are? Are you willing to actually be yourself rather than utilizing it as a tool for follower growth? I have seen when the thread of that lie unravels and you find that behind that rouse was a tired and frustrated person who’s colors of competitiveness and pettiness unfortunately show.
Don’t share a personality you wish you were, share who you are, what you are passionate about, the ways you hope the world could be. People want to follow people, not pictures with captions.
YOU DON’T REALLY CARE
This is one that I struggle with a lot. Some days I really don’t care. I don’t care who sees it, who says hi or gives a compliment, and some days I don’t care to post good or personal work or any work at all.
You need to care more. Care more about the consistency of your work and what a potential follower/client/brand might think by scrolling down your feed. Care more about how your work is received and who you want to reach vs. who you currently reach. Care more about how the platform works.
Right now, you don’t really want to find out who your followers are or what drives them. You don’t want to put in the time to engage other people who don’t follow you. You don’t want to care if people don’t engage your work. You don’t want to keep up with the consistently changing world of social media and how it functions. @finn feels like a great example of someone who cares about the consistency, the connection, and the creativity of his account, for one of many references.
Yes, it’s tiring, it’s work. It’s a hustle, and some days it feels contrived. But it’s a platform where you are either going to build trust or add to the noise, and there is a lot of noise. You’re going to need to care if that image really doesn’t have a purpose, or if you’ve been lazy, or been struggling creatively. There are times where I’ve been on the verge of giving up, and sharing that struggle with my followers has been therapeutic and has actually grown my community even stronger.
YOU’RE AN ISLAND
Don’t be the tortured artist. There are enough people that scoff at art/photography/writing that we need to be a community that holds up the value for and with each other. Being protective of our experiences or knowledge puts up unnecessary walls. Most of the hints/tips/locations/advice people want to talk through aren’t much more than a Google search away, but they want a human connection. I get being competitive and knowing your competition, and trying to be more hirable than the next guy, but your secrets aren’t going to be what sets you apart.
So reach out.
@asenseofhuber is a local artist who I greatly respect and he is constantly meeting up with fans and fellow photogs, building community, and branching out his unique creativity with brands and companies. You’ve got to like, comment, and engage first. Go encourage other people; show love and support; stand in solidarity when someone is going through something tough. This may seem more like a life philosophy but being a person who doesn’t retreat into isolation is going to bode well for you.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t times to step away from social media and remember it’s not everything. But if you are habitually withdrawn from your audience it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s less than inspiring to follow a shadow.
THE CYNIC WHO’S A STRANGER
I find that you can be a cynic around people who know you and see the other side, or a stranger who is pleasant. But being a cynic and a stranger is not going to work out. @ryanmuirhead’s work often comes from dark struggles and intense internal battles, but there is a thread of beauty in that invitation and it never comes across as cynical or hopeless. @humansofny shares some incredibly deep/sad/varied stories and has become one of the most widely known accounts. There is a very tangible humanity in that account that is incredibly basic, but desperately needed. If you’ve ever heard the founder, Brandon Stanton talk, you’d know the amount of hope and beauty he sees in sharing that with others.
Your struggles don’t have to make you cynical.
There are friends whose relationship with me allows us room to be more sarcastic, or cutting, or cynical, but for the most part I won’t meet a good portion of the people who follow me, nor who I follow, and I’d rather spend what little interaction we have investing into the belief that the world, and people in it, are beautiful.
A FEW TOOLS TO STEP UP YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA GAME
Most of those reasons above are about changing the way you think about social media. Here are some practical tools to help you dissect the annoying digital side of the hustle too.
Iconosquare / SocialRank
The engagement analysis is worth the price alone. I know switching to Instagram’s new business profile offers insights, but until I’ve had some time to see how Instagram treats those accounts differently, I’m going to steer clear of it. It is an online site that can help you dissect how and when your social media content is best received, and who engages your account the most.
Using New Features
Instagram is always trying to find people who are utilizing new features they release. If what you want is to get a chance to get in front of the eyes of the mystery people at Instagram you should pay attention to their account and what they are trying to push.
If you’re interested to see who I’ve gotten to work with because of some of these methods check these people out.
Use them. Find out who you want to reach and see if they have a specific hashtag, or campaigns. If you want to reach a specific group of people, think about what they would search on Instagram. Look at the people in your field who are doing great on social media and see which tags they use. You could get reposted and discovered via hashtags. Other people can find you in their searches. I can’t vouch for the usefulness of hashtags on Facebook even though they do use them, but on Instagram if you don’t use them you are cutting yourself off at the knees.
Use Insights & Analytics
Similar to Iconosquare, Facebook has built-in tools that help you understand when and what posts performed the best. This will help you know when the most of your audience is online and what they respond to. Rather than dictating what you post, it will help you make more informed decisions.
In conclusion this is a real part of our hustle now, it’s your work and your portfolio. Don’t shun it, learn about it and utilize it.