Top tips for building an audience on social media, engaging with potential clients and finding your best fans
However good a photographer you are, your photos are unlikely to be seen unless you devote time to building an audience. The big social media platforms offer one way, but there are other equally useful routes…
1 Quality over quantity
Just like a photography portfolio, when it comes to building an audience, aim for quality over quantity. 20,000 followers may sound exciting, but if those numbers don’t translate to engagement, work opportunities or sales then what are they for? So don’t obsess over numbers and followers, instead think about the audience you want to reach, and where to find that audience. It helps to start with a goal, and a clear idea of what your audience looks like. If, for example, you’re aiming to sell high-end wall art then you might be better off building relationships with interior designers, hotel chains and local galleries than plugging away at Facebook marketing.
2 Find a niche
Becoming ‘known’ as a photographer can be too big an aim when you’re first starting out. Instead, think about how to become known as a certain type of photographer. Carve out a niche and you’re more likely to find an audience. This should influence the kind of content you post. If for instance, you want to be known as a photographer of foxes, don’t follow a post of a great fox photo with a nice landscape and a snap of the kids. Instead, a half-dozen stunning foxes will be more effective for connecting with your fox-mad fans.
3 Which social media platform?
Social Media can play a huge role in helping you find an audience. But which platform do you go for? Facebook, Tiktok and Twitter all have their benefits. But before you devote hours to one or the other, do your research and find out which will help you reach the right audience for you. Do you want to sell prints, find work opportunities, or simply get your photos seen by the most number of people? For instance, if the aim is to engage with like-minded photographers then Instagram or Flickr might be best, whereas if you want to reach potential clients then Facebook, 500px or Twitter may be more beneficial.
4 Become an early adopter
Rather than trying to make an impact on the biggest platforms, you may see better and richer engagement by making your mark on newer social media players. The benefit of being an ‘early adopter’ is that it may be easier to establish a following on newer platforms. But where to look? Vero is a photo-sharing app that has been around for a while, but has grown in popularity over the last few months. With high-resolution images and direct engagement with the photographic community, it could be the next big app photographers have been hoping for.
5 The power of Instagram
Instagram is the biggest, and still one of the most effective places for new photographers to get discovered, to connect with potential clients and to grow an audience. To do so you’ll need to post regularly, use hashtags and tag people and places. The Instagram algorithm craves content and activity, so to reach a new audience - and keep the audience you have - you need to be posting daily.
However, because there’s so much content churn, your best work can easily get lost in the constant flow. What’s more, the platform can change at a moment’s notice. Lately Instagram has shifted towards video content, first to accommodate the Snapchat kids and now in courting the Tiktok crowd. In 2021 the CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stated that Instagram is no longer a photo sharing app. This has annoyed plenty of photographers who have spent years building up a following.
6 Don’t put all your eggs in one algorithm
Instagram’s shift in focus towards reels and video content highlights the lack of control we have over social media platforms. Many of those who’ve spent years carefully cultivating an Instagram audience of thousands now find their photos don’t have anywhere near the same reach. With their follower’s feeds crowded out with videos and ‘recommended content’, a newly posted image may now only garner a handful of likes. Users have also complained that the algorithm may dangle the carrot by boosting engagement and views for one post, then nothing but tumbleweeds for the next dozen.
Of course, other social media platforms could equally change without warning. For this reason, it’s best to think of them as a conduit to your website. Split your energies between two or three platforms while channeling your audience to an online space where you have complete control over the content.
7 Try Pinterest
If the thought of posting tirelessly on a social media platform for years to get to 10,000 followers puts you off the whole idea, then there are other options out there. Pinterest is a great place to showcase your work. Like a digital scrapbook, users can gather together images and ideas, plan projects and events.
Crucially, it’s not a numbers game, so nobody can scoff at your paltry 26 followers. Instead, individual images will grow purely based on how many times they’re pinned and shared, so whatever the subject or theme, the cream rises to the top. This negates one of the main challenges with building an online following- it’s often as much about who you know as what you know.
Platforms like Pinterest are more of a meritocracy in that it’s the content, rather than the content creator that’s the star. So if you’ve got some killer images you want to get out there, then post them to Pinterest. Each time someone views or repins the image, that someone can potentially view your website (or if you like, your Picfair store). If you’re a wedding or portrait photographer this sort of exposure can help your best photos reach an audience of potential clients (especially as Pinterest’s demographic skews heavily towards women). And if you’re looking for inspiration, Pinterest is also one of the best places to explore ideas for future projects and create mood boards for upcoming shoots.
8 Build your website
A website is the ideal space to show off your work. It’s never been easier or cheaper to build your own website, so there’s no excuse not to have one. Website and store-building platforms can have you up and running with a new site in a couple of hours. You’ll find lots of slick photography templates to choose from, and it’s fairly easy to bolt on functionality like a booking page or client portal. All you have to do is choose a template, upload your photos and add a few words. But don’t just put up your best work, instead put up the kind of work that you want to do more of.
Of course, nobody will visit your site until you start marketing your skills and pushing people towards it. This is where social media and photo sharing sites like Pinterest can play a part. And if you’re not quite ready to build your own website then Behance is a great platform to showcase your portfolio and curate your photo collections. As an Adobe platform, it’s also ideal for Creative Cloud users as you can post directly from Photoshop or Lightroom.
- AuthorJames Paterson
James has been a professional photographer and award-winning journalist for the past 15 years. He is editor of Practical Photoshop magazine and contributes to leading photography publications worldwide.View all articles