PHO704: Instagram

Much of this module has been about learning to take a professional and consistent approach to one’s practice, without which it would be difficult to succeed as a commercial photographer. A crucial part of that is professional and consistent marketing and client relations. While I have no wish to become a commercial photographer, professionalism and consistency are valuable and useful disciplines that can be applied to many situations in life, so I am taking these lessons on board.

In connection with that, I have been looking at my Instagram account. At stake is changing it from a typical personal account into a business account and then applying ‘strictly business’ principles to running it. After all, Instagram is thought to have more than 1 billion members, more than 500 million active daily users and a repository of more than 50 billion images (increasing by nearly 1000 each second), and not to mention more than 500,000 active influencers and 75.3 per cent of US businesses with an account on the platform (Omnicore 2020).

In practice structuring a business account is not difficult. There are a lot of online tutorials and advice sheets out there. The best I have found so far is ‘How to Use Instagram for Business: A Practical 6-Step Guide’ by Hootsuite, a company that makes management software for social media accounts (Newberry 2020). There is also a video tutorial from the ever-reliable Sean Tucker (Tucker 2020). To this I can add ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’ (Timehin 2020), an excellent video by Ron Timehin who is now a successful commercial photographer having made his reputation on Instagram. Timehin concentrates more on nuts and bolts such as best-practice hashtagging, the grid of previously posted images, and engagement with others (an often overlooked but crucial factor).

All the advice in the world comes with two key provisos, however. The first is that to succeed on any social media platform one must have a clear focus in a distinct genre or subject area. No one becomes known for being a generalist and commissioning editors will pass you by, since there is no obvious message they can pick up. The second is that one does have to have talent. Put simply, people want great photos, ones with a wow factor in their chosen field.

Very few people have either the discipline or the talent to succeed which is why Instagram and other social media platforms can easily become an unproductive lottery. The statistics alone are overwhelming. I do plan to take a more business-like approach to Instagram but at the same time I do not intend to take it all that seriously. I am not sure that in my case the work required would produce sufficient results.

Besides, there are increasingly serious questions about social media generally as a vehicle for addiction and exploitation – see for example The Social Dilemma (Orlowski 2020) or John Naughton’s newspaper column (Naughton 2020). From a business perspective, it is also possible or even probable that Instagram will start to squeeze business accounts in order to extract more revenue from them – see ‘Will Instagram Business Profile Reach Follow the Same Path as Facebook Pages?’ (Hutchinson 2019). As the article puts it,

‘But really, overall, the main tip is to manage your expectations, and understand that such shifts can, and most likely will be coming. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use Instagram – you definitely should where it’s of benefit. But it’s important to do so in the understanding that any results you see may well be temporary. And as such, you need to establish other avenues, rather than building your foundations on rented land’ (Hutchinson 2019).

And that is the crux of the matter. Building on ‘rented land’ is generally a mug’s game, especially when the landlord is known to be rapacious. I have noticed that some really established fine arts photographers do not participate much on Instagram. Instead, they are known from hashtags and fan accounts, via their agents or galleries, or they run a general studio account. Among examples are Richard Misrach, Tim Walker and Jeff Wall. There is a strong case for saying that Instagram is best treated as a game, and a potentially dangerous game, and that in the long run it may well be better to plant one’s flag well away from ‘rented land’ and the appalling sharks that own it.

References

HUTCHINSON, Andrew. 2019. ‘Will Instagram Business Profile Reach Follow the Same Path as Facebook Pages?’ Social Media Today [online]. Available at: https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/will-instagram-business-profile-reach-follow-the-same-path-as-facebook-page/561617/ [accessed 16 Nov 2020].

NAUGHTON, John. 2020. ‘The Social Dilemma: A Wake-up Call for a World Drunk on Dopamine?’. Guardian, 19 Sep [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/19/the-social-dilemma-a-wake-up-call-for-a-world-drunk-on-dopamine [accessed 18 Nov 2020].

NEWBERRY, Christina. 2019. ‘How to Use Instagram for Business: A Simple 6-Step Guide’. Hootsuite [online]. Available at: https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-instagram-for-business/ [accessed 16 Nov 2020].

OMNICORE. 2020. ‘Instagram by the Numbers (2020): Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts’. Omnicore [online]. Available at: https://www.omnicoreagency.com/instagram-statistics/ [accessed 17 Nov 2020].

ORLOWSKI, Jeff. 2020. The Social Dilemma [Film]. Netflix. Available at: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81254224 [accessed 17 Nov 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2019. ‘Instagram: Straight Talk for Photographers’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUfvHioNs_A&t=964s [accessed 24 Sep 2020].