Can professional Photographers ditch instagram?

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It seemed like just yesterday. The excitement of a fresh app where you could post your favourite images with your friends and fellow photography community. It was a golden age when posts weren’t curated by big tech. A time where there was inspiration and everything seemed fun and carefree.

Advertisers quickly saw the new carefree social app as an opportunity to exploit our attention. I mean you can’t really blame them. Fast forwarded nearly a decade though, and is the app still working for you? I hear it all the time though, “I’m a photographer, I need to be on Instagram. It’s where everyone is”. Fair enough. But is that who you need seeing your work… everyone?

We’ve all seen the documentaries like the Social Dilemma. I think we’re all universally understanding that Instagram and much of social media is an energy sucker. It uses us more than us it.

I’ve personally always had one foot out of the water with Instagram. I love connecting with my community but the cost has always seemed so high. The bad always outweighed the good for me. I want to use social media as a “value add”. Meaning when I’m sharing something I want to provide something of true value to my following.

Instagram falls short in so many ways of creating a space where value can live. That’s why I started this blog in 2018. I wanted my guides and my posts to be keyword searchable. I believed that my posts could have timeless value for fellow photographers and outdoor enthusiasts. Not just an hour’s worth, or a days’ worth if I’m lucky.

Let’s talk about lead generation. Because that’s the main reason most photographers think they need to be on Instagram.

Let me ask you this. If you’re a photographer on Instagram, you’ve put in the work, you showed up, you’re consistant, and you add real value to your network… How many warm leads have you generated through the app?

Many, some, none? I’ve been a professional, full-time photographer for nearly 5 years. I have never generated a single paid lead from Instagram.

This is totally subjective and will vary for everyone. But I want to paint an accurate and transparent picture for you. If you’re an amateur who thinks you can’t go pro without a big IG following, that’s simply not the case. If you’re a pro that thinks you need to focus your efforts on growing on IG but simply don’t have the time, go easy on yourself.

The majority of my leads still come from word of mouth. When I work for someone, I usually meet people along the way. More times than not, one job turns into another. That other job turns into another one. Word of mouth is by far my strongest lead generator.

My second largest lead generator is Outlook. That’s right, my email. If I think I can provide value to a business or solve someone’s problem with the skills I’ve acquired through years of hard work, I’m going to tell them. I try to find a few prospect clients every week and I’ll pitch them projects over email. Guess what, it works pretty well!

My third greatest lead generator is this blog. I have about 150 articles so far. I intentionally create these articles with the intention of helping my fellow photographers and outdoor industry pros elevate their skills and business. Because it’s on a blog and not just an instagram post, people can actually find it. Google is my biggest referrer.

What about other social apps you say?

Let’s not throw the bathwater out with the baby. Instagram has run its’ course in this adventure photographers humble opinion. Does that mean that all social media and big tech isn’t worth pursuing for business as a professional photographer? Not at all.

I haven’t utilized Facebook groups the way that I should, however I personally know many photographers who have had great successes providing value on Facebook groups. The engagement I get from Facebook is 10x what I get from Instagram. People will also SEE your stuff. Unlike Instagram where maybe 10% of your following is aloud to see your content.

LinkedIn is also a great one for professional photographers. Here’s why. Remember early when I said, “But is that who you need seeing your work… everyone”? Think about that for a second. Who is your target market here as a professional outdoor photographer for example. For me it’s athletes, creative directors, and account managers. I mean who’s doing the hiring and writing the checks? Make it real simple, those are the people you want seeing your work. Who cares if your grade-school pals don’t see your work, they’re not the ones writing you a check.

What about paying it forward and providing quality content and value to your community? Are they seeing your stuff? If you learned something on your journey and wish to share it with others in order to help elevate their understanding or chances of succeeding, are you reaching them effectively on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter? Or do you think maybe they’re doing what you’re doing when you need to solve a problem or learn something. That’s right, google (which means you’re looking for blogs), or Youtube – which means you’re probably looking for vlogs.

That brings me to what I think is the greatest social app there is for generating new leads and for providing value to your community. YouTube. I’m pretty late to the game for YouTube. If you’re reading this, you might be too. That’s alright though, because I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter.

Within weeks of posting to YouTube I was seeing better traffic on my website, more viewers on my blog, more leads from the app directly, and even generated some stock sales for some of my video clips.

YouTubes value is hardly a secret, but maybe you think it’s just too tough to get a million subscribers to monetize your content. You don’t need a million subs though, you just need a small group of people who share your passion. A community where you can support each other and elevate each other. I think YouTube is the greatest place for that in 2021.

In conclusion

I haven’t had Instagram on my phone for months. Sure I post occasionally if I have something exciting going on or a new idea I wish to share, but let’s be honest, it’s kind of just a rabbit hole. It sucks you in and zaps motivation. It’s a tool, it’s still a tool, but it’s getting harder and harder to extract value from. Try giving it a break and refocus your efforts on a new blog, YouTube, or LinkedIn.

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