Building Your Instagram Following
Exposure is not a four-letter word. The reason that I mention this is because at least once or twice a week, maybe not that much, but a good amount of time, I'm looking throughout my social channels and I see some photographers complaining about how someone reached out to them, asked them to do work for free. I understand the frustration. I'm not trying to belittle that but the issue that I have is that most people are thinking so one dimensionally about that and mostly in such a personal way about their work, they're offended that another company would try to charge them...would not pay them anything for their hard-earned products they've created, their services. No one likes to be paid nothing and I get that but the issue is is that most people are thinking in such short-term value propositions to sit there and say, "Why would I offer to work for free? I can't pay my rent for free. I can't pay my bills." I understand those are realistic things and you have costs but if you don't lear...
n to leverage opportunities with other companies or entities that don't have the ability to directly financially benefit you, you're ceiling for growth or the rate in which you grow will be exponentially smaller or slower respectively. So, the key is to understand the value that can come out of any sort of opportunity that comes your way. And this is not necessarily endemic certainly to social media, it's the business. Any company that reaches out to you to do anything can be beneficial to you if you look at it in the right way. Now that doesn't mean you should take every job, that doesn't mean you should always work for free, of course not but you need to learn to think more creatively, to think more in a four-dimensional situation or scale than simply look at things as black and white. It doesn't work that way. Publications don't have money anymore, they don't have budgets or if they do, they're very little and they're usually spreading themselves out thin. So, for example for myself, one of the reasons that I offer products and services, I teach workshops and eBooks and I teach classes like this is because those give me extra ability to control my revenue streams and gives me the ability to work with more companies because sometimes I don't care about being paid for something small like a publication because the benefit for me is the ability to get my work and my name and my brand and sometimes market my content for me for free. They're using me and I'm sure as heck going to use them. And so when I get reached out by a company to, you know, do an interview and take the time out of my day to do so or to offer, you know, an image to have use in a, you know, large newsletter that they don't have the ability to pay, I'm going to ask for something. Now, simply a link back to my website would help the people purchasing prints is a fantasy. It's not going to happen. They'll put the link in there but no one's going to buy your stuff. It's just...it's very rare that it happens. What I do because I offer products and services is that I'll sit there and I'll say, "Sure, you can use my image but you're also going to include maybe a link back to my workshop or to my product or my service or to this class for example." So, I was literally reached out to three days ago by a company that wanted to use one of my images from Patagonia and wanted to use it in their newsletter, wanted to use it as part of an article that the woman was writing. And in her email I could tell because she didn't mention money or whatnot that they were essentially looking for free content and I said, "Sure." Right, first off I said, "Hey, I understand, I'm pretty sure you're asking to use my work for free." I was pretty blunt about it, I wasn't mean. I just said, "It sounds like you don't have a budget." And she came back and she said, "Yeah, I don't have a budget. I'm sorry, we're having strap times right now." I said, "Okay, that's fine. What size resolution of image are you looking for and how are you going to use it?" She let me know and I said, "Okay, well what you're going to do is that you can use my image and inside wherever you use my image, inside either the article you're writing or inside the newsletter you're sending out to your 15 or 20 or 30,000 people, you're going to include a link, you're going to include text information and a link to my photography workshops." Now for me if a company was going to pay me for an image to put into a newsletter or an article, it's going to be what a couple hundred bucks maybe, in this day and age, $200 or $300 maybe if they have the budget. I charge $4500 for people to go to one of my workshops. In turn, let's say it was for promoting an eBook. Maybe say I made an eBook and I was charging 9.99 for it. So, that's a much smaller value proposition for clients that partake so maybe I get a couple hundred people or a couple thousand people visiting me from their newsletter selling a bunch of eBooks. At first, maybe that value is only 200 or 300 bucks, the same that it would be but those people are now clients, they're now on my list, that's value to me. So, I don't care to leverage. I don't worry about the idea of leveraging the idea of exposure because I have built a revenue stream or a business model that allows me to think beyond the idea that the valuation of a single image is just what you can get for like a print sale, like a single purpose. I want to take every content that I create and I want to spread it out everywhere. I want X...I want 15 different valuations for a print or for an image. That one image, maybe I will sell a print or maybe I will license an image but I'm also going to use it in my workshops. I'm going to use it to market campaigns. I'm going to use it to try to get new clients. The image that I've licensed the most of for Iceland which is not this one, the one I showed earlier, that image I've used like probably a thousand times. And yes I've made thousands of dollars licensing that image but that image has also gone in a handful of my books where I made exponentially more than that. It's also gone in places like this, it's helped me sell workshops. I go to Iceland and I teach workshops in Iceland a couple of times a year. I make great money doing that. Regardless of your current situation, I want you to think about the idea of trying to control more of your destiny, of offering things like products and services. I'm not saying everyone needs to get into photo education but think more creatively about that so that you can use things like exposure because you're going to be asked and if it's not going to be you, it's going to be someone else and they're still not going to pay. So, you might as well find valuation out of it. You might as well create a business structure that is conducive to the idea of leveraging your content for ways that do make you money rather than simply complaining about the fact that someone offered you...someone offered for the privilege of using your images in their space. In this day and age, in this time in our industry, you don't have a choice to dictate how our culture is going to shift or change within how communication and what's offered between businesses and photographers. So, I like to be more proactive and more pragmatic and more positive. So, when it comes to this type of stuff, don't be offended when someone sends you stuff asking for you to do work for free. Use it as an opportunity to think about what you can do as an individual, what you can do as a photographer or an entrepreneur in order to get value out of it. So, the benefits of exposure, increase brand exposure. You put it into...if it's in publications, even big ones and they don't pay you like there can be value out of that. You can say, "Featured in so and so." It can help you to get other jobs, establishing business relationships, huge. You make connections other than work pro bono with the idea that I'm ultimately going to do work more so with them. So, I'll reach out to a company or entity or publication and say, "Hey, sure you can use my work for free. This is fine, plug me a little bit here and there. Let me know when you guys have something else that comes up that you think is fit for me." Maybe a year or two down the road, I'm going to sit there and reach back out. I'm going to say, "Hey, I'd love to do this." Do a video project. It's going to be 15 or 20 grand or whatever it is but I developed that relationship so they trust me, they know what to expect. Grow your following. So, you can use it to reach more people that are outside of your current base. Increase linked traffic. So, this is essentially your ability for your traffic to link back to your website to things that are important. Include links that are of value to you. So, don't just let them use your images for free, have again some sort of benefit, are they plugging you in some way? Even just a plug back to your website if it's a big website has benefits because that could increase your own search engine results for more organic traffic. Increase lead generation, again the idea that other people are going to see your stuff. I've had a handful of clients, I've had a handful of people that sign up for my workshops that saw images of mine in a publication that I probably didn't get paid or got paid very little for and ultimately came and signed up for my stuff. I've had marketing campaigns come back and say, "Hey, I saw what you did with so and so, I'd like to work with you." Promote products and services. Obviously, you've the ability to do so all within the idea of exposure. So, building your Instagram following, let's talk about this for a little bit. I mentioned Instagram specifically because it is really at the hot platform for outdoor photographers right now. So I'll give some of my tips and advice for this as we kind of move through the tail end of this class. So, tips for building your audience. Number one is going to be post visually stunning images, this is again pretty standard stuff. You really want to post vertical images. Now again I'm mentioning Instagram specifically because there's so much money being thrown at Instagram right now in terms of marketing campaigns and whatnot but having a larger following there is more beneficial than most other networks. So, vertical images, make sure they're high resolution, 1080 is the max size but just...you want bright, visual stunning images. Use hashtags but I highly recommend putting them inside the comments. So, a lot of people...you can put them inside the caption. Right here you can see that inside this, I used Sony Alpha for this specific post which is fine but then all the ones that I was using to gather the tag...I used hashtags to pull in information on people searching for a lot of these bigger hubs or bigger pages were all hidden inside the comments. Instagram takeovers are wonderful. Every time I do an Instagram takeover with large accounts, I gain thousands and thousands of followers. Usually I do it for two or three days at a time, like four images a day, those big accounts love it. It takes a while to find obviously people that are willing to let you take over their accounts, sometimes it's just for an afternoon or something but take advantage of that stuff. Every time I do stuff with Sony Alpha, who has a large Instagram following, generate thousands of new followers, get higher organic reach for my normal stuff, it works out for everyone. Experiment with posting more than once a day. A lot of people are just set, one time, one time, one time. I recommend doing probably twice, once in the morning, once in the evening but experiment and you'll figure out what times work for you. Instagram is a platform that rewards consistency. So, as long as you're consistent in your timing or how many times you post, you usually will be rewarded positively depending on the size of your following and obviously how engaged they are. Follow and engage other active users that are similar to your style. This is Chris Burkard, most people on Instagram already follow him. Chris is an awesome individual, creates stunning, amazing images from around the world. Engaging with people like him and engaging in those comments, you're going to engage with followers that might be similar to people that you're trying to go after. You can spur engagement, people can come back and follow you. It takes work but engagement always spurs more engagement which spurs more followers. Instagram live videos, it's the most flattering photo I could find of myself for posing an Instagram live video which didn't really work so well in a screenshot. I was very tired when I did this the other morning as you can see but they're great ways to not only get extra engagement, this was 3,322 people that watched this and hadn't been around for too long. And the idea that your Instagram stories are actually...Instagram is promoting people that are using Instagram stories. So, you might find that your actual reach is increasing for your normal photos if you take advantage of Instagram stories more than once a day. You also have insights, statistical information about things like impressions and reach and engagement to kind of study what's working and what's not. It's not as verbose or not as detailed as it is with other platforms but it's a good place to kind of check things out and say, "Hey, why did this post do good or why did this post do bad?" or at least which post did positive and which things didn't work out so well. And then you also have cross linking the idea that maybe you have a good following on Facebook or someplace else and link back and say, "Hey, I'm on Instagram, this is what I do. This is the best night of 2015 two years ago." Share it out, share a link, get more followers from people that already follow you, those are the best kind because they're already connected with you in some form or fashion. So, playing the long game is something I want to talk about for a few minutes and this is the idea of thinking beyond the short term. Most photographers, most entrepreneurs think in the mindset that they really have to focus on what's happening right now and they don't play the long game. They don't think 10 steps ahead and I want to use this example and I got 2 examples but we're only going to talk about 1 of them. And in this example, this is a photograph of me using a phone and this is a big marketing campaign I did for a company a few years back. And the reason that I'm showing this is that this image, this campaign was a couple of years in the making. Now what I mean by that is that as a photographer a few years back, I was looking at the industry and I was trying to think of unique things that I could do. I had grown a large social following by this stage and I knew that I had something to offer. I was already working with companies but I felt there was more I could do. And so what happened is that at the time like a lot of people in the photo industry, I was an Apple user. I used all Apple products including the iPhone and what happened was that I realized that people at my level, my caliber of business and brand, most of us were all using Apple products. At the time Apple was doing zero with marketing or advertising, they were just essentially letting their product sell themselves which was great. I was personally getting a little bored with the system anyway but I looked at the industry and said, "Hey, everyone else is over here, no one's over here so why don't I go and check out the other side for a bit?" And what I did is by doing so, by switching over at a time...grab some different Android phones, is that I was able to leverage my brand and my following to make the right connections. And just months after doing that, I was having conversations with the Google team, connecting with them. Eventually that conversations with the product managers led to talking with the vice president of Android. That relationship built up over the years and before I knew it, I was working with some of the bigger companies on that side of the fence: LG, HTC, Samsung, all of them. My simple choice of looking at the industry and sit there and saying, "Hey, everyone else is over here, there's an opportunity over here." Over the course of the last four and a half years has in and of itself probably generated $300,000 to $400,000 dollars for me in terms of revenue. That simple choice of sitting there and saying, "Everyone else is over here, all vying for the same stuff, why don't I see what I can do where no one else is?" Think 10 steps ahead, think about your social following, think about the strengths you have and think about the market trends and try to think about what opportunities are out there that other people are not thinking about. That is how you break through to the next level, that is how you truly start making serious money in this industry. It's not just about marketing campaigns and it's not necessarily endemic to social media. It is a principle of business. If everyone else is doing one thing, you probably shouldn't be doing it. There are more opportunities in places where you have less competition. Think creatively and this doesn't have to be on the global scale, doesn't have to be the idea that you're going to try to make $300,000 from a simple choice but the idea that you can look at your local market or your competition or whatever's happening and do something different. And within that, if you can leverage your social media following that you have built up, that you've learned to harness, the better you're going to be, the more you have to offer.