Photographers have many options online for showcasing their work, 500px and Flicker being two of the most prominent. However, if you want to reach a broader audience of non-photographers and photographers alike, the options become much more limited. One in seven billion people on the planet have a Facebook account, so it’s hard to ignore Facebook as platform for promoting your work. Over the last year or so, it’s become much more difficult to be seen through Facebook. To me more accurate, it’s become about 95% more difficult as Facebook’s new algorithm will bury your posts in your follower’s feed and only allow you to reach 5% or less of those followers unless you pay Facebook.
I was able to gain significant momentum early on through my Facebook business page, where I would post my photos on a near daily basis and share them with Facebook groups and other pages to help generate an audience. Lately, within the last year specifically, Facebook has really cracked down on small businesses by forcing a system of pay to play, making it extremely difficult to be found and have your content seen by the very people who have chosen to follow you, and unless you pay for ads, the vast majority of your followers will never see your posts again.
One would think that your experience would be defined by the people and pages you choose to follow and things like limited profiles and lists. Not so – we’re told that the new algorithm Facebook prioritizes your newsfeed for you, deciding what you want and don’t want to see. After all, Facebook knows what you want to see better than you do! But it’s really all about the bottom line.
With every new post, Facebook is essentially asking, “Do you wish to ‘boost’ this post by paying for an ad so your followers will see it?” Ironically, its when I’ve chosen to pay for ads that I get the most unfollows, because they are not just seeing your post one time, but multiple times for the entire length of the ad campaign. Its hard to blame them when they’re being spammed by your ads. This has trickled down to photographers and small business on Facebook in other ways too. For example, if another page decides to promote your work, the post will inevitably contain a link that will automatically get bottle necked as well, significantly impacting our ability to gain followers organically.
There are many factors that seem to contribute to a normal “unpaid” posts success. Your post is more likely to get buried in the news feed if you share excessively to Facebook groups and if it contains any of the following: external links, excessive words, numbers, and key words such as: sale, buy, shop. Basically, in order be seen, everything we did to build our brand and audience from the beginning: stop doing that.
I know everyone is feeling the squeeze as more complaints have picked up lately from all photographers and small businesses, even from those with follower bases well into 6 digits seem to be struggling. The strategy by Facebook seems counter-intuitive to me. If we are enabled to achieve success by reaching an audience organically, we will be more likely to spend money on ads that target NEW people outside of our audience, right? I used to purchase ads for that very reason.
Likely, it won’t make a difference to Facebook HQ as big businesses will have the budget to spend on ads regularly and our contribution will seem like a drop in the bucket anyway. More importantly, Facebook is now a publicly traded company whose interest lies in keeping investors happy. The reality is, we don’t matter and even though Facebook has become so integrated into our lives so as to seem that it is here as a public service to us, it is not and we’re not owed any sort of experience to fit our own expectations.
All that being said, I don’t know what the answer is for someone who is trying to strike out independently to a broad online audience today. I would like to say that I’ll never pay for another ad, but that just isn’t realistic and it is the only thing that has lead to sales lately. As if paying for a website, software, hardware, storage space, transaction fees, and a plethora of other things wasn’t enough – a budget set aside for ads is almost a necessity.
One thing you can do is ask your followers to turn on notifications to your page, this way the people who truly want to see your work will never miss out on a post. This is not exactly a straightforward process, but I’ve made a graphic that explains how to do this below.
There are other things I’m doing, though nothing has been as successful for me as Facebook has in the past. Instagram is still very good for me, and even though I have less followers, they DO still see my work and engagement is much higher. I don’t expect this to last though since Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has been slowly shifting toward the same algorithm used by Facebook to encourage pay to play. For now, posting consistently using photos of a consistent theme and using the maximum number of relevant tags seem to be key. To help find tags and feature sites, I use a website called Dehaze.co.
Additionally, I still use Flickr and 500px, but you may as well be posting to a vacuum on those sites unless you’re constantly interacting with the communities. I have just begun to use Reddit as a way to promote my work on Flickr but have not been using it long enough to report results. I have a YouTube channel for time-lapse and video footage. And of course, I have this WordPress blog, that I need to be writing in more often, hence this post! Having a blog on WordPress provides other long term benefits as well, particularly with search engine optimization or SEO. Good SEO is what puts websites near the top in Google search results (as well as other search engines like Bing) and it’s hard to beat WordPress when it comes to SEO. This blog is also linked with my main website and store, with the idea that #1 it provides a seamless user experience for all the things that ultimately matter: my portfolio and store; and #2 it helps bring new people in from search engines who might never have discovered me before.
Got anything to add? Be sure to leave it in the comments!