Way back in 2006 I got started with my first Web 2.0 account on Flickr, a precursor to IG which was famously the very "first" photo sharing application. At first I didn't think it would be worth it. I had my very own website! But after viewing a friends travel pictures and getting a taste of the groups and different peoples work on Flickr. I decided to give it a go, joined up, started to post my own shots; and soon became completely addicted. And I know I was addicted as back in 06 and 07 Flickr would often go down with server problems and I would freak out! OK not exactly freak out but it always seemed much more serious than it really was. I had real friendships with these people online that I would also meet up with in real life. Conversations took place beneath photos; continuing across different photos. And, although Flickr could be about just about anything.. my group of friends were all about and there for the Photography. Yes capital P Photography. And Flickr was world-wide and ran 24/7 (except when it was down). I am pretty sure I pulled a few all-nighters looking at and commenting on peoples work; and Flickr is where I first experienced high volumes of picture viewing; any-time I could manage the time, on my computer, I was on Flickr.
Flickr really was great fun; before Facebook came along, and a lot of people quickly jumped ship to that 'new' and more flexible platform. Those people didn't seem to be bothered by the poor job FB did on image resizing, or the constant changes to how things worked.
I stayed with Flickr and along the way I learnt five valuable key lessons about being a photographer online.
- New = First..The first thing I learnt about posting on Flickr or any timeline-blog is that your most recent picture is always top of the page. Unlike a website where you choose your order; you have no control over keeping on-top the picture you hope viewers will see first.
- More = Less.. Pictures in a series deliver greatly diminishing views. Meaning the first picture in a series gets the most views and by the time you show the fifth or sixth - forget it. (So don't leave the best for last..) New New New is the mantra of picture sharing sites.
- Blogs Matter. If you want to show a series as a story, start a blog. I started my blogs so I could show sets of my pictures on one page to try and get around this phenomenon of diminishing views, and at least I feel like people are seeing the whole set, although I can't say so for sure.. It seems to work. I just show the key picture on Flickr and link to the blog.
- Less = More! You should only do one thing not many. It won't matter if your urban landscape abstract shadow shot is as good as your high fashion picture or your street life photo.. Any change in style and subject mater will confuse and alienate your audience. The minimalists won't like people pictures and visa versa making it very hard to grow your following.
- More = MORE! You need to post daily or with a clear regularity if you want to grow your network; and the work must be consistent. Which is a very big creative call; quantity & quality, especially when they should all be the same only different!
Reason #4 it should be obvious is the reason I ended up with three IG accounts. Although I had developed a reasonable following on IG with the original Kent Johnson account I was not getting any inquiries about professional work, or messages from PR's about attending events; inquiries were all being driven by the blogs and my website. But I kept hearing about how awesome IG was and people getting work etc.. so I decided I need to specialise. I had made the Flickr mistake again, I was being too diverse in the style of picture I was showing. I needed more followers, more likes, I needed to narrow it down; and focusing on modelling portfolios would be a good test. Within a couple of weeks of launching the new IG profile I had done a paid beach fitness shoot with a a very nice male instructor via IG. Then nothing. Nothing at all. Still the views were increasing slowly, and followers were increasing with each post, slowly. But my best liked photos would top out at around 60. Not exactly earth shattering! A couple of months back there was one headshot that freakishly did over 500 likes over a couple of days! Then back to same same..
So now I had two accounts, one I could happily post whatever I liked to and some people would like them, say 30 to 50 likes with a following of 600ish; and one I would post modelling shots, headshots, fashion tests or the occasional fashion shot on and for 300 to 400 followers get 30 to 50 likes..
Top bloggers, super bloggers get 10's of THOUSANDS of likes on each shot. That is of course why they are super bloggers and I decided that OK, (commercial) photographers are not super popular on IG, no really they are not.. But if I want to get noticed at ALL I needed some serious following and liking going on. On the new account I would #tag hard. I would like a LOT of peoples pictures. Like the same #Tags as I was using, as soon as I posted. Nothing! Or so close to nothing for an hour or two of solid work it just seemed impossible that this could ever work.
Regardless of the work and mediocre level of success.. as my Street Fashion Sydney (SFS) blog continued to do well I wondered if perhaps its less elite, more people based approach and imagery might work on Instagram, it was worth a try at least, and then if things didn't work out..
It kicked off well, no struggle to gain followers or likes and the new SFS was pretty enjoyable and was growing along similar lines to Model Portfolios. It was not receiving the same level of likes, 30 to 40 was good and again 50 or 60 (rare) would be great! Which lets face it it isn't. All three IG accounts seemed to tap-out broadly speaking at the same level. And I had a continual nagging feeling that the IG Gold Rush was long over; the Super Bloggers had bagged all the followers and the Hot Golden LIKES; and the rest of us poor wannabe's were standing in cold water sifting dirt looking for a grain of hope! It wasn't enough, it was NEVER going to be enough.
So on New Years Eve I pulled the plug on Instagram. On waking the next day I was a little apprehensive in a morning-after a big night, "what have I done?" kind of way, but it has quickly worn off. I looked through my websites referring sites statistics; both my blogs deliver click through to my website daily, twitter blasts return click through to my site, IG delivered only 3, that's three click throughs in December, and as best I could tell NO click through at all in October/November. IG is not really interested in helping people get to your website; and it seemed that the consumers of my IG pictures were not interested in looking at my website either.
So here's the commercial riddle of Instagram. Super Blogger X is commissioned by Mega Brand Y to flog some stuff with Photographer Z doing the shots. All three players then post the same shot on their respective IG accounts. Super Blogger X gets the routine 30k+ likes KAPOW! (2k in the very first measurable time bracket). Mega Brand Y using the same shot but not the same following get 5k in likes. Not too shabby.. Photographer Z who admittedly is NOT Terry Richardson.. and does not have the same following receives 275 "Likes" for the very same photo, that he/she actually took!
So that's the riddle of Instagram, and it's a fun social media riddle to puzzle over. And it can be very tough for commercial photographers.. Pick your own super blogger and check out an IG campaign they have done. Typically all the major players will be @ or #tagged and be playing along. So you can check it out yourself. Dreaming the living can be tougher than people 'living the dream' may ever suspect.
Will I be back to IG? After all for two years I have been telling people "well you just have to be in that space". Lets not start a second riddle about if you are on IG and no one knows you are there..
If I can work out the answer to the first riddle, I may be back. But in the meantime; I am going to work on being a photographer, work on projects, work on my creativity and work on the areas that work for me, my blogs. And I still do Flickr; sure it's not what it was, it's different now but what isn't. As people keep telling me about IG in a way I don't quite get, Flickr is still whatever you make it to be.
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