I come from a generation born before televisions were common in middle class homes. We relied on a radio for news and our only “social network” was the people we knew in the neighbourhood, at school, through our parents or through our church. Getting your name out there was done by word of mouth and by advertising on the radio and in the “yellow pages” or other print publications.
Yet just a couple years ago, I was told that repuations were made in photography by having a presence on as many online sources as possible, particularly social media and sharing networks. Word of mouth is still very big in photography, but increasingly, I was told, new business comes from being discovered on these sites. Word of mouth, while still important, was also now equally “word of post” or “word of tweet”.
So, I dutifully signed up for as many services as possible (12 at its peak), crafted the required biographies, uploaded content regularly and waited for the phone to ring. Well, not exactly, but it sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?
Despite my skeptical nature, I did have some early evidence that social media was a necessary part of the new photographer’s toolkit. Many of my digitial photography classmates spent a great deal of time online on social networks, unfortunately some while attending the very classes that taught us about their use. Among my family and friends, a whole generation of potential future clients was living a good part of their lives online. And in the past couple years, I’ve come to see that even my own generation relies on Facebook, Flickr and Instagram to share much of their daily lives.
So, I’ve been posting, tweeting and sharing for the past two years.
This week, I turned most of it off. I’ve evaluated all of the online sharing services I previously signed up for and have cancelled all but three: Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. I also still have a website on WordPress.
So why the move away from a blitzing online presence?
The use of social media for business purposes is only a small part of a larger plan. For a creative business like photography, even social media needs validation through personal contact. Finding opportunities for personal contact has become much more important to me than crafting the next “tweet”. In my case, volunteering to help with community events, joining clubs with an artistic focus, presenting my work to interested audiences and doing short talks on topics in photography has lead, surprisingly, to more online connections, more online likes/comments and more interest in my work.
But I’m also in the fortunate position of not relying on photography to keep a roof over my head. I call myself a professional hobbyist. So, the effort to manage all forms of online and direct interaction with potential clients is proportional to the enjoyment I get from the effort. The online effort was becoming really, really troublesome.
Every time I had an update, I needed multiple messages, tailored for each service. Every time I wanted to show off my work, I had to size and prepare images, content and links in formats that sometimes made little sense and didn’t “show off” anything at all. Some followers would be bombarded with all of the messages, while others weren’t following me on the service that best served them.
But more importantly, the ugly underworld of social media has recently been revealed in all its glory. Anyone who bothers reading the terms and conditions for any of these services (and few of us do) already know that you give up a lot of control over what you post, even in some cases losing ownership completely. But it’s also recently been highlighted in the news that two of the ways social media services monetize their offerings (and keep a basic service free) are to:
- analyse user data to determine interests and activities and then help advertisers target advertising to users with those interests and activities
- sell user data to third party developers to help them target products and services (supposedly with contracts to limit use of the data)
But once a user’s data leaves the safety and supposed security of the sharing service, there is no real way to know what happens to it. As it turns out, the interests and activities of millions of Facebook users found its way from a developer into the hands of a political research firm, who then used it to shape political strategy and direct political propaganda to those same users AND THEIR FRIENDS in various elections around the world.
And while all of this was being reported, I received not one, but two, notifications from companies that breaches had occurred and my personal data may have been compromised. I immediately updated my passwords, reviewed fully the terms and conditions (yes, I was one of those who didn’t) and stripped as much personal information as possible from my accounts.
So, I’m beginning to see a real disincentive to putting a lot out there. On my three remaining accounts, I hide as much personal information as possible and I no longer use any of the accounts to post personal activities.
I’ve concluded that I still need a way to share a professional profile, with details of work experience and skills. Somewhere that also offers the opportunity to share articles and information relevant to my “professional hobby”. That’s LinkedIn.
I have used and hope to use YouTube more to expand my visual offerings. And, of course, YouTube is a primary source of all things educational about photography, so I would have an account even if I didn’t post to it myself.
I also need a place to store all my work, and to offer articles on topics related to photography. That’s my website. But you know that already, since you’re reading this post. All things considered, it’s the anchor for anything I do publicly.
Lastly, I do need a service for instant contact, where followers and friends can receive timely updates and where they can (hopefully) share them broadly. Sadly, that service has been and will remain Facebook, despite their problematic policies and practices.
But I’m adding two new elements to my online interactions. I’m now commenting on other people’s posts more regularly, hopefully in a thoughtful and meaningful way. I’ve discovered that it’s a great way to open a conversation, showcase my own expertise and encourage people to click on the link to my website, which is often included in the comment.
Second, no email related to photography now goes out without a link to my website. As I meet people, my contact list expands and I always follow-up a direct conversation with, you guessed it, the link to my website. And my website itself offers the opportunity to sign up for updates and to contact me directly, which is pretty typical for a website.
I’m looking forward to seeing what impact these changes have. But I know for sure that I’m now investing my time where it’s best spent – working on my photography and connecting with people directly. I look forward to meeting you soon.
But don’t stop reading and commenting on these posts, of course…
Postscript: There are lots of articles on how best to safeguard your privacy on various social media platforms. Here’s one example that covers Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.