Text and Photos by Mac Stone
Many people are calloused by social media and I have to admit that I am too. Our audience is so distracted by the constant onslaught of content from all around the world that the photography market has turned into a fast food drive through line. Images that have taken us months to make are quickly posted, commented on, liked, shared and then forgotten about. It seems like a black hole, but we aren’t the only ones facing this problem and there are lessons to be learned.
Consider National Public Radio (NPR) for a moment. All year, they offer incredible content—some of the best podcasts and radio shows around—for free. In turn, they build a large loyal audience and when the time comes for support or premium content, their audience shows up in droves with money in hand. To me, that sounds like the same model of a photographer’s Facebook page.
The photography market has changed so much in the last ten years. Today, it’s not just the agencies that have access to large markets. With social media, we’re able to reach a very specific or a broad range of demographics, potential customers or future enthusiasts for our work.
My online presence isn’t the largest. I’m a relatively small fish, but I don’t mind that because I have a very specific target audience. I specialize in photography of wetlands and swamps, and particularly the Everglades. Identifying this niche doesn’t just help me stay focused on shooting related projects for my portfolio, it also helps me find a group of people over time that connects personally with my work.
If your main business is selling prints, then your posts should focus on the quality of your work, the fine detail, and the intimate process of making, signing, and exhibiting your images. If your main business is workshops, then your posts should be educational, targeting amateur photographers by giving away free information about exposure details, post processing work, and basic ways to improve their photography. Creating engaging content will keep these people coming back to your page, asking questions, and relying on you to be their source for a given market.
When I started working on my book, Everglades: America’s Wetland, I knew that it would be a long project. Throughout the process I would post teaser images and behind the scenes photos that helped to build anticipation for the book’s release. Facebook has changed drastically over the last year, though. Organic reach is almost non-existent so now businesses have to pay to reach new audiences. I had a hard time accepting this at first, but I knew that if I wanted more people to learn about my book, I’d have to invest. It was worth the small price.
Using Power Editor, I could target a specific group of people in Florida a month in advance of the pre-order launch. Building my audience passively, simply by offering fun content that catered to their interests, my page likes increased exponentially with only spending $50. This means nothing, however, if these new fans are in Bangladesh, so be careful with your page promotion. It’s not about the quantity, but the quality of your fans.
By the time the pre-order launch occurred, I built anticipation for the cover image and I had a solid following of people who I had never before solicited for purchasing anything. I have a relatively small audience (~4,600 fans) but they are some of the most loyal and engaging people an artist could ask for. When I launched the book, I received an incredible amount of support overnight. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t invested the time cultivating these relationships through daily posts and free content.
I should mention that I rarely share my best work on social media unless it’s older than two years. The reason for this is that it then puts pressure on me to find suitable publications to run the images first. Also, buyers of my book know that there will be lots of stunning photographs they have never seen before. This is my NPR equivalent to premium content.
My primary goal is not to build a large global audience, but to tell compelling stories about conservation issues. It’s easy to get caught up in measuring the size of your social media footprint. I’m sure if we took brain scans of photographers clicking “refresh” on their photo page, it would look similar to a gambling junkie in front of a slots machine. Simply put, as photographers our priority should be creating new and inspiring work. When you have a good balance, though, it can lead to great things.
Follow Mac’s work on his website at Mac Stone Photo or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MacStonePhotography?ref=br_tf. You can also pre-order Mac’s new book Everglades: America’s Wetland here http://www.macstonephoto.com/everglades-book/place-order.