It can be difficult to get the best out of social media without dedicating your life to it, but you can still make it work for you on your terms, as explained by photographer James Abbott
Social media has become an important part of our daily lives, not least because it allows us to easily connect to family, friends and the wider community of people around the world. And for photographers, it’s a great way to get our work seen by a much larger audience than we could otherwise. This alone makes social media success a tantalising prospect for any creative.
Love it or loathe it, social media is a useful marketing tool and a great way to build a community with other photographers. Photography can be an almost solitary pursuit, whether you’re an enthusiast or a professional, so the ability to join conversations and share work helps us to burst out of our bubbles.
Since social networks are algorithmic, and each is slightly different, there’s no definitive way to guarantee success. Users who post daily, create stories/reels, comment on other posts and reply to comments on their own posts among other actions, often get the best results, but not everyone has the time to ‘play the social media game’. So, here are 10 tips for getting your photos noticed on social media without having to sell your soul...
1 You still need to have a dedicated website
One thing all photographers must have is a website (here's my photography website), ideally with a blog attached. Websites may not feel as attractive as they once were since the arrival of social media, but they’re arguably more important now than ever.
A website, web store (like Picfair Stores) and blog provide a safety net in terms of an online presence because social media networks aren’t immune from closure, think about Myspace and Google+, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be free to use forever. YouTube and Twitter already have subscription-based services, and Facebook is trialling them.
Websites also provide a more professional place to refer potential clients, as well as a way for those simply searching the internet for a certain type of photographer in a specific location. It’s your place to share your work, one that you control and will remain active and online for as long as you keep it that way.
Blogs are a useful extension because they provide a great way to share images that don’t necessarily fit into your standard galleries, for sharing behind-the-scenes images and videos, general updates and even tips and tutorials. This is all great for SEO (search engine optimisation) and can help to draw in more visitors and ultimately, potential clients.
2 Keep branding consistent across platforms
With an online presence, it’s important to make yourself instantly recognisable; using the same branding across your website and social media accounts is a simple way to achieve this. If you use a logo as your profile picture, make sure every network shows this logo and that it’s the same one as on your website.
An even better option for your profile picture is to use a photo of yourself, and once again make sure you use the same photo across networks. When someone employs you as a photographer, they’re employing a person with skills rather than a faceless brand that delivers a service. This means that you are your greatest commodity, and people connect with other people better than a logo.
This is a little more difficult with a website because having a grinning portrait of yourself in place of a logo looks a little strange. But that’s where the all-important ‘About’ page comes into place. Not only can you introduce yourself and what you do with words, but you can also include a portrait of yourself or even a behind-the-scenes shot of yourself shooting.
3 Develop a consistent style
You’ll have no doubt heard how important it is to develop a personal photographic style; ideally, one where people can recognise your work and identify you as the photographer, without even seeing your name. This is easier said than done, but it’s not impossible regardless of the subject you shoot.
For social media, the best way to be consistent is to pick a subject for your accounts and stick to it. A feed showing a single subject area always looks vastly better than one made up of a mixture of subjects. In this situation, not only will your feed look consistent in terms of the subject you shoot, it will look like a more carefully curated selection of images.
It has been suggested that some networks increase the visibility of posts made by accounts with this kind of consistency. It may or may not be true, and the algorithms may have changed if it was, but the main point here is to develop consistency to identify yourself as a photographer who shoots a specific subject, and does it well.
4 Schedule your posts in advance
Most networks these days allow you to schedule posts in advance, and even if they don’t there are third-party apps such as Hootsuite that allow you to schedule posts in advance to several networks from a single user interface. Hootsuite used to offer a free account, but after a free trial, you now have to pay for the service. Post Planner is similar and less expensive.
The ability to schedule posts means that you can line up a series of posts at once when you have time, rather than trying to fit in posting on an ad hoc basis. This also allows you to set an interval of a post every day, every other day or even just once a week – whatever works best for you and your followers.
Instagram, for instance, favours accounts that post daily alongside posting reels, which are short videos. This can be too much for some people, and also their followers, so pick a posting frequency that works with both your ability to produce new work and, of course, your lifestyle.
5 Use hashtags and tagging
Hashtags are like keywords that can be used to search for images, either by typing in a word or phrase or by clicking on a hashtag in a post. For that reason alone, it’s worth using hashtags because although there’s no guarantee that they’ll bring in more viewers, the likelihood is that they will help some to find your images.
Another reason for using hashtags is that image-sharing hubs and companies such as camera, lens, filter, lighting, tripod and bag manufacturers share images their customers have taken when using their kit. If a company does this, you can usually find the hashtag they use in their profile. For example, Sony Alpha has 2.2m followers on Instagram and uses the hashtag #SonyAlpha for finding user images.
So, what hashtags should you use? Single-word descriptive hashtags such as #landscape for landscape shots and #portrait for portrait images, it’s really that simple. This, alongside using hub and company tags, could help to get your work seen by a huge audience. Plus, to save time, there are free hashtag apps where you can save custom hashtag lists so you don’t have to laboriously type hashtags every time you post.
6 Add descriptions/alt text if the function is available
A feature of many social networks that’s far too easy to miss is the ability to add descriptions/alt text to images. This is a description of the image – you might already be familiar with adding a description to images, based on what they show, in Lightroom and Photoshop. The main reason for using this is to help people with visual impairments to understand the visual content in posts, but it can also help with searches.
Descriptions should be short and to the point, and relate to what’s shown in the photo. For most social networks you have to do this manually, but Instagram uses image recognition to add alt text automatically. It’s not always correct, so it’s worth diving into advanced settings when uploading an image to add your own description/alt text to ensure that it reflects the content.
7 Add a location to make images visible in location searches
Just like with hashtags, you can search for images based on location so it makes sense to take advantage of this and add the location where images were taken to widen your potential audience. Individuals can search for images taken in a specific location, or click on the location in other posts to show the most recent and most popular images tagged at that location.
If you’re a landscape photographer and don’t want to share the exact location of a photo because you’ve worked hard to find it and don’t want it to be replicated, this is understandable. But it doesn’t mean that you have to forgo location tagging. The alternative is to tag the image to the county, state or region where it was taken. And if this is still too close to giving the location away, you can alternatively tag the country where it was taken.
8 Work out the best times to post
The best time to post to any social network is when most of your followers and people in the same demographic are active and online. This varies from one network to the next and can depend on other factors including your location and the age range of your followers.
For me, posting on Twitter before 9am works best, around 6pm for Instagram and around 8pm for Facebook. The best time to post largely relates to your network and when it’s most active, so you can use analytics tools within social media apps, alongside experimentation, to see what works best for you. You can also experiment with posting frequency to discover how often posting affects your engagement.
9 Make it personal
Just like using a photo of yourself in your profiles so people can see who you are rather than hiding behind a logo, show who you are by shooting stories and reels. The content of these will be personal to you, but you could shoot behind-the-scenes videos, updates on what you’re up to, photo tips, techniques and anything else that’s relevant to you and will hopefully be of interest to your followers.
People like to connect with other people, humans are social animals, and showing yourself and your personality is a great way to build community and engagement. This isn’t for everyone, so if you’re not as comfortable in front of the camera as you are behind it, you can shoot back-of-camera/location videos or create captioned slideshows or comparison videos using stills eg. showing before and after images or to illustrate how an item of kit changes or enhances an image – the possibilities are almost endless.
10 Engage with your followers
The last tip goes without saying, when someone comments on a post or asks you a question, it’s always polite to respond in a friendly way, even if the comment is negative. It also works both ways, comment on the images that you enjoy and engage in the conversations that people have about different photographic topics. On Instagram, this boosts engagement, but on Twitter and Facebook, comments can also show up in people’s feeds so it’s another way to potentially gain more visitors to your profile and viewers of your images.
Negativity is generally frowned upon because malice is easy to spot, but constructive criticism, explanation and discussion aren’t, so you don’t always have to simply say how wonderful a photo is. This area of commenting is much more of a minefield, but it can generate interesting discussions and as long as your intentions are good most people will see that you’re not simply trying to troll them. Keep all comments friendly and constructive in all situations.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles