“Instagram is dead.”
If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with social media news at all, you’ve most likely heard this kind of wording (or sentiment) being thrown around a few times by now. Perhaps some variation of it, such as “Instagram is dead for photographers” - but let’s not forget that Instagram was initially made for photography in general. So, does this also spell out doom, say, for those wishing to promote their photography business?
The establishing shot
To see whether this is the case for you, first you’ll want to establish what your main objective in running a social media page really is - in other words, what purpose your Instagram page serves. Is it intended as a kind of digital portfolio? A convenient, online business card of sorts? Or do you perhaps use it to find new clients in your area, by keeping up-to-date with the ongoings of your local community?
The fact of the matter is, any photographer wishing to expand their social media presence can benefit from running an online portfolio through instagram. However, the problem will quickly reveal itself should you attempt to use it for self-promotion.
If the various articles surrounding this subject are to be believed, Instagram has undergone a metamorphosis from its somewhat-humble roots, all thanks to influences derived from other successful forms of social media. The most recent (& largest) offender of this has been TikTok, in all of its attention-span-destroying glory.
To shave off all of the details into one short conclusion; Instagram’s algorithm has been fundamentally changed to cater to content largely unrelated to photography, and Instagram’s current management sees a future in functionalities that further stray away from the service’s very core.
We’ll put a rhetorical post-it note on the “largely” and come back to this later. For now, it would be more paramount to cover why your Instagram page is important, even if it may appear increasingly discouraging to use it. Let’s talk about your portfolio.
A page with a view
When social media-savvy leads find you on any one platform, chances are that they’ll want to see if you’re around on other platforms as well. Compound this with the fact that the collective idea of what Instagram “is” hasn’t changed all that much over the years - the widely adopted view of Instagram being this place where users frequently post their photos remains.
Thus, when a lead like that is sufficiently interested in your offer and wishes to see what your work looks like, they’ll turn to your Instagram page. Should you have one, it should be regarded as a convenient digital portfolio first & foremost. Keeping it somewhat up-to-date is also a must, as a lead may see posts from last year at the top of your feed and (worst case scenario) think that you’ve moved on from your photography business.
Of course, nothing beats a physical portfolio at the end of the day. If the aforementioned lead becomes a potential client, you’re not going to be showing them your instagram page at a consultation meeting. Let’s keep it professional!
You need professional print products to seal the deal. Mockups may be a decent way to show your print potential at a glance, but we’re not so far into the future that they can be physically felt and interacted with just yet. By “planting the seed” and showing print products all the way back in your Instagram portfolio, you’re also greatly increasing the odds of a better sale going forward (call it a portfolio-ception, if you will).
Is it still worth it?
So, remember the "largely" part we’ve mentioned? Believe it or not, there’s still a way to market yourself on Instagram - but it requires a shift in your digital medium.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em - at least when it comes to tech giants and their content algorithms. Video, especially in the form of short clips, has been on its way up - at least for the past few years. Therefore, what someone who wishes to make the most of their Instagram page must do, is adapt!
Familiarize yourself with the idea of storytelling through social media - and make use of short clips on Instagram. Show off your photo sessions, the prep work that went into them and the backstage, letting your followers acquire an insight into the work you put in as a photographer. This form of content has a much higher chance of being picked up by the algorithm, increasing your reach and growth, as well as engaging your existing audience. It’s a big commitment, but it’ll turn what could have just been a digital portfolio into an ever-expanding source of revenue.
To take all of this to the next level, you’ll also need to show your audience “you”. People viewing instagram pages aren’t looking for stiff corporate employees straight out of a LinkedIn page, especially in TikTok video format - they want to get to know you. They want something human, something relatable. Capture their hearts before you capture their booking date! Don’t shy away from mentioning your offer from time to time, but don’t make it the centerpiece of your content.
The single thing to take out of all this though, is just to keep your content up-to-date, and to keep it coming with good consistency. Your continued presence and interaction alone improves instagram’s usefulness greatly, should you only keep it at a portfolio level.
This isn’t the end of the story - or rather, its beginning. A time will come where you’ll need to spread your wings and start working on other, less widely adopted social media pages if you wish to get ahead of the competition. Diversifying your online presence, in an online world of increasingly niche and fragmented target audiences will allow you to cover your bases for the near future, and open you up to potentially new leads.
Demographics age, and the well of potentially interested users on one platform may run dry as they move on to the next big thing. Of course, taking this newer, riskier path may seem a little unnecessary if, say, you’re only starting off as a small-town photographer but… who knows? There’s bound to be more Facebooks, more Instagrams and more TikToks to come.