Social Media. It’s the latest buzz phrase in the world of the digitally connected, but there seems to be two extremely opposing views when it comes to the usefulness of social networking; and both sides are equally passionate about how they feel. It’s no secret which side of the fence I fall on. I’ve devoted a recurring article series in the PhotographyBB Online Magazine on how photographers are making productive use of the social media phenomenon (authored by Mike Frye – check him out!). There is a misconception (or maybe not!) that social networking is all garbage such as who’s eating what right now, who just watched what TV show, and who just bought a nice pair of shoes. Who cares right? While that is true to some extent, like life, social media is what you make of it. I started out a total newbie in social networking, and now it’s a HUGE part of my day because I have learned how to get the best out of it. Love it or hate it, social media is certainly here for the long haul so we might as well learn how to make proper and productive use of it. Before I dive into what I perceive to be the positive benefits of social media, let’s talk a bit about photographers…
The C Word
I’ve said it over and over, and I firmly believe this to be true: Photography is a form of communication. The vast majority of photographers (be it beginners or professionals) are interested in creating or capturing a moment and sharing it with others. It doesn’t matter what skill level the particular photographer is at; we are all trying to capture a mood, convey a feeling, or better still – tell a story. This applies to all types of photographers too, from nature to landscape, portraiture’s to pets, photographers of all disciplines are communicating to their views through their photos. The ability to communicate with our images comes with experience, knowing yourself, and knowing exactly who/what/when/where/and how to make photos which speak to our viewers. With all this communication going on, social media is the perfect fit for us photographers. Not only because it’s 100% free, here’s why…
Amateurs and Hobbyists
Here’s a group of photographers who I feel have the most to gain from social media. Some of you are in the learning stages, some of you are in the ‘finding yourself’ stages, and some of you are taking photos as your creative outlet as a hobby. While professionals and aspiring pros love photography, I believe it’s the hobbyists and beginners that enjoy photography the most at a more personal level – because you’re doing it for the enjoyment of it. Here are some of the ways that social networking can benefit you:
Share, Learn, Grow: Through sites like flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and forums like the PhotographyBB Forums (ok, a shameless plug), you as photographers are able to share your photography, ask questions, and receive feedback or constructive criticism. You become part of a community of friends who grow together. I love learning through books, but the personal interaction with peers offers a more interactive approach to learning and ultimately improving – or even just enjoying a nice chat with others about their photos.
Meet ‘Real’ People: Did you know that by doing a simple search on any of the websites I just mentioned above, amateurs and hobbyists can find local photography clubs and associations to get involved with, local photo-walks, and meet like minded people who share the same interests you do. Through social media, we now have ways of connecting with others almost instantly both online and in the real world. These are some of the true benefits of how you can use social networking to gain more experience and enjoyment from your craft.
New or Aspiring Pros
This is probably the category I would place myself in at this stage. Social media has some HUGE benefits for people in this category, and using myself as an example, here’s how I have gotten the most out of social networking. I don’t shoot for money, but PhotographyBB is my business. Everyone who works with me on the magazine and website, I have met through social media (forums, Twitter, Facebook, and flickr). We work together as a team because we are like-minded and share the same passions. So here’s why the new or aspiring pros should embrace social media:
Form Partnerships: Social media gives us a platform for meeting each other. All it takes is a very short time investment, and regardless of which social networking site you use, you can quickly and easily find your peers and people who’s work you admire. Since the whole point of social media is to be social, connecting with others (even people you’ve never met) is acceptable and encouraged, and it’s how we all meet each other. From that stems deeper interaction, learning, and partnerships in professional projects. Opportunities are created rather than discovered.
Connecting with Industry Professionals: Since maintaining an active online social presence has become the in-thing to do (remember, not because it’s cool, but because there are lasting benefits), many professionals and companies are active in social media. It offers two-way communication between a large company and their end consumers. But, I’m going to let you in on a cool little secret here (for sticking with me this far). Since social media is a relatively new arena, the people who are hired to maintain an online social networking profile for their organization are often a company’s “head-office” or marketing staff. For aspiring and new professionals seeking future partnerships with larger companies, connecting with these ‘insiders’ is a more personal way (and sometimes the only way) to build a better relationship with a company whom you may see yourself working together with.
Self-Promotion and Reputation Building: If you haven’t quite caught on by now, social networking is the easiest way to put yourself and your work “out there.” Not only is it free, but it gives millions of people access to you and your photography, which simply wasn’t easy or even possible before the advent of social media. Through social networking, photographers are building their own reputations for their work and the type of person they are, which leads to partnerships with others, sales of their photography, and even being hired for freelance and contract work. How’s that for benefits!
Why would professional photographers who already make a living at doing what they love, want to participate in social networking? What could they possibly have to gain? This puts professionals on the other end of the social networking interaction – it affords them an easy way for their clients, customers, and even fans to interact with them.
Keeping Customers In the Loop: They say that the word on the street travels faster than the news, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to social media. Now, things like firmware updates, product releases, conventions, tips and tutorials, viral videos, etc… spreads across the internet like wildfire. Professionals do what they do for a living, and the marketing potential of reaching millions instantly is too large a benefit to simply ignore.
Branching Out: Professionals who have been honing their craft as a business for years have already built their following and their reputations. Many pros are brilliant in their work; busy photographers who earn their living doing what they love to do. But photographers are creative people first, and photographers second. Social media allows professionals a chance to interact with their following to “test the waters” so to speak, for new products, workshops, and courses which they may consider creating. Many professionals have now taken to writing eBooks which have become widely popular, and are now part-time authors on the side!
It is what you want it to be…
In the end, social media is going to be exactly what you want it to be. If you see it as useless, it’s going to be nothing but that for you. If you choose to see the positive potential, then you are going to experience the benefits and growth that comes along with it. It takes only a small amount of effort to become involved and regardless of what stage photographer you are, the results of your involvement can be life changing. Just as photography is a form of communication between us and the viewers of our photos, social media offers a more literal way of communicating ourselves rather than just our images. If you are not already “socially active” on line, here’s my challenge to you:
Head on over to flickr.com and sign up an account. It’s free, requires minimal effort, and is extremely easy to use. Search the flickr groups for ” [Your City] Photo Club ” and see what comes up. Introduce yourself, post a couple of comments, and maybe even see when/where their next meetup is. You may just wind up meeting some nice people, learning something new, and having a great time in the process.