Why Do Followers Matter
Who cares and why does it matter anyway? It's funny I have taught this class so many times and the demographic of the audience is so different each time that I get really into it, 'cause I obviously care a lot about this and I find it really interesting. But, like, at one point I taught this class and some guy raised his hand and he was like, but who cares, like seriously why are you telling us how to do this because who wants to see what you ate for breakfast? who wants to see who you're hanging out with? And it turns out that a lot of people actually do care. We get into it because it's a good way to combat boredom right, we wanna, we're sitting there we're waiting in line at the DMV, what are we gonna do? Like we might have a book, we might not have a book, sitting there for a lot longer than you expect to be sitting there. What are you gonna spend your time doing? You wanna know what your friends are doing, you wanna see what, you know, are there kids graduating this week, whatever...
. They have found that it is actually mood-enhancing, it triggers the same receptors in your brain as drugs, or hugs, depending on what's your jam. But it really, it triggers the dopamine receptors in your brain and it makes you feel good. Which means that it's addictive, right? There are actual medical properties, things that are happening in your brain that make it addictive, so we just keep coming back to it more and more because we like it so much, and it sort of feeds that habit for us. It is an addiction, it is wonderful also because as a greater social phenomenon, what it's doing is that it's giving each person their own individual platform. Like, how else, you know 30 years ago, 20 years ago, how would I have broadcast my photos to hundreds, or thousands of people, right? Kinda like this goes back to the story of my dad. How could he, as an artist 50 years, have shared his artwork to such a wide audience, right? It means that everybody in the world can have their own platform, can make a difference, can share their work, can have an impact in some way. Which is really cool, so people keep coming back to that. There's also this idea of FOMO, right? We get addicted to it, because we don't wanna miss out. FOMO stands for fear of missing out, right. We don't wanna miss out, we wanna know which of our friends are getting married, and which ones are having babies. I have like all these high school and college friends, I'm always like, I haven't to them in years, but what are they doing, right, what do their kids look like? You know, do they look like they did, when they were kids when we used to play together? It's really fascinating, and really in terms of addressing the idea of why do it at all? Social media exists because it is a social phenomenon. We want social media, we want it to be social, so make it social and sort of keep using it, and keep coming back to it. And then the other question is why do followers matter? So this is really important, why do this at all, right? It does help to validate your work. It can establish you as a leader in your industry, it serves as a way to legitimize you as an artist, as a professional, as somebody who's doing work in your industry. Whatever industry it is, right. It's kind of like, would I hire you as a photographer if I can't see your photos? Probably not, I wanna see what you're doing, and if this is the way to do it, then I'm gonna go look at Instagram. It helps you to take your audience to a global level. Drives traffic to your website, and then in turn gives you a chance to turn that audience into paying clients, right, I have this wonderful audience that follows me and what I found is that I actually get jobs as a result of it. There are creative directors, art directors, producers, other photographers, who have followed me for years and they haven't had a reason to hire me for most of those years, but then suddenly something comes up that they're like Pei's the perfect person to do that for. And it's given me plenty of jobs over the years which has been really incredible. It also, on a non-selfish level, enables you to be an agent of social change. So you'll see a lot of people who have developed larger followings, who have turned this into a way for them to do good in the world, to give back to the community, or to make a difference in somebody else's lives because now they have an audience. They have this loyal group of people, who's interesting in what they're doing and may then help to support whatever other cause that they're supporting and that's really powerful. I think the photographer who's profile I screenshot earlier, Cristina Mittermeier, she's the Nat Geo photographer who founded Sea Legacy with Paul Nicklen. They're doing some really incredible stuff. They wanna change the world, and make it a better place and they have these really huge platforms and audiences now that is helping them do just that, so it's really cool. As a photographer can I still get work if I don't have a ton of followers? And the answer is yes, and there are some ways, here are some ways that it can help really. So Instagram can serve as your portfolio, it sort of helps you become an established, reliable personality. So kind of along the lines of what I was just saying. People know who I am, they know what I can deliver, and they know that I can deliver on it consistently because they've been following me for years. So they see what I do and they see that I haven't really wavered from that sort of consistency and quality. It really also helps to enable you to be a part of a community and a network. So even if it's not like they're coming to you directly, maybe it's that they're coming to somebody in your network who can't do a job, or who thinks you would be a better fit for a job, or who just loves and respects the work you do so much that they wanna refer you, or recommend you to somebody. But in reality, the important thing to remember is that your success, you know, as a photographer especially in this particular instance that I'm talking about, really depends on how much other work you're putting into what you do, right. Your photography should always come first because of course right, content drives everything. Photography should come first, the social media is there to give you a little boost, to help you out, to help you get the jobs. But in reality, it still works like a traditional photography job would in that you still need to, you have to produce the work, you still have to reach out to people that you wanna work with. There's still cold calling, cold emailing, making pitches, all that sort of thing, that's involved in your work. So you shouldn't adopt social media, or Instagram thinking that automatically it means you're gonna get more work. Growing a following doesn't mean that the jobs are just gonna come your way, I know plenty of photographers who have tons of followers on Instagram who are struggling as freelancers, right. I have to do a lot of other work that's not photography related, I want to do other work as well, because I'm so interested in doing things like teaching, and working for non-profits. But I balance my career, and build and earn my full living in all sorts of different ways. Instagram, my audience, doesn't make me an automatic success in the world of photography, there's so much else that goes into it, and that's really important to remember. This is not the be-all end-all, solve all your problems thing. It's just one step along the way, that helps you get to where you wanna be.