Social Media for Photographers
Social Media for the Anti-Social
Part 2: Facebook
A while back, on Facebook, I heard a quote…
“If you could tell someone from 100 years ago anything about the future what would it be?
“I have a small black box I carry in my pocket that has all the answers in the universe, but I use it to look at pictures of kittens and argue with strangers.”
Oh god, is this true! The potential that the Internet has afforded us versus the embarrassing ways we use it, is summed up perfectly in this quote. The Internet, by which I mean the Google portal to the Internet and its mutant cousin named Facebook, could do great things. But the wild west of technology has opened up more options that we might have thought existed. There are trillions of bits of information that stream around the globe every second.
They are the types of numbers that sound like astronomy figures in a third grade science class. When the teacher asked, “How far away is the next closest galaxy?” Little Jimmy raises his hand and says, “It’s millions and billions and quadrillions away,” Whether little Jimmy has a future at NASA remains to be seen, but for the rest of us it’s safe to assume that the amount of information transmitted through the Internet is large enough to be considered, “Too f-ing big to care about…it’s just a lot.”
So with little governance and almost no mandate on decency, Facebook was born.
What’s it do?
Last week I was speaking at the SXSW V2V Conference on Entrepreneurship. In a networking setting designed to connect like-minded people, most of us came with an encyclopedia sized stack of business cards. And while I collected half as many cards as I handed out, two things became apparent: 1) People run out of cards 2) Using a card requires an email…when a friend request is much easier.
- Facebook is…one of the easier and most deranged methods of interaction available. It could be argued that Facebook is the gateway drug to being a sociopath. You are somehow connected and disconnected all at the same time.
- Facebook is…your own personal newspaper, they call it a news feed, of everything you click on and a few things you only thought about…how does Facebook keep reading my mind? More on that later. But now that it does not take two weeks to steam across the Atlantic and your only “foreign friend” is not just someone you met as a pen pal in the fourth grade, Facebook is a delightful way to see what your photography friends are doing, while they are doing it. I will fully admit that when someone tells me about a really great trip they are headed on, I am tuned in to Facebook to see what they are up to because I like adventure stories and good pictures.
- Facebook is…the best and cheapest PR firm that any photographer could hire. If you want to get your work out there, Facebook is not a bad start. It is a semi-harmless way to keep your images in someone’s mind without emailing them all the time. A curator friend of mine said that the thing she likes about Facebook is that she can look, without interacting. Because when you are an editor, a curator, a publisher or a writer, photographers are constantly clamoring for your attention. Facebook is a simple way to say, very casually, here is what I’m up to without bugging someone to death.
- Facebook is…an emotional breakdown waiting to happen. If you are not prepared for the deafening silence that exists in the early phases of your account, then proceed with caution and make sure to friend your mother and someone else who will always like your pictures. The whole concept of “Likes” is a complete distortion of reality. After a few years of watching trends and how Facebook’s favors certain posts (like profile pictures, weddings, new borns, and birthdays) it’s become clear that “Likes” do not, in any way, nor will they ever, reflect the merit of an image.
The most liked images on Facebook last week were pictures of Barak Obama, a puppy, a kitten, a few sports stars and a television clip. What can we learn from this? That “likes” reflect a distorted view of things that are kind of popular, kind of safe, and sort of entertaining. There is a way to use Facebook as a measure of an image, but it’s not as straight forward as “many Likes” equals “good picture.”
Why Use Facebook?
Let’s look at the reason most people give for NOT using Facebook, to decide if it’s a good format for you.
“I don’t use Facebook because of my privacy.” This seems like a reasonable line of thought. Facebook asks for personal information, they sell it off to marketers and would be happy to give it to anyone willing to pay. But in reality there is little more protection on the Internet from your browser. Anything that people might find on Facebook they could get if you are plugged into the Internet. Those who are hacks, government techs, and cyber masterminds will tell you this. So if privacy is just an illusion, why not interact with a few friends and ignore the banner ads that seem to mysteriously match something you googled this morning.
“I don’t want anyone to know where I am.” Ok, the truth behind this one is sad, but if you have a cell phone and it’s on, someone can find you, track you, and trace everything you do. It all depends on who is looking. And if Facebook is blowing your cover, I recommend returning to espionage school.
“I can’t use it because of my job.” Imbedded in this statement is one truth and one confession. Some of you have jobs where Facebook is not an option, and if you are growing a photography hobby on the side it’s a shame. Because there is not a photographer in the world who is not known by name and by face. One of the social agreements with artistic success is the world wants to know who you are, literally. If your professional anonymity prevents it, no problem, but you may need to work a little harder in other arenas to get your work out there.
As for the confession, let me offer this story. When my friends and I graduated from university, all those going into corporate and banking needed to take drug tests. Almost everyone complained, except one friend. He said, “A drug screening is not a test to see if you do drugs. In finance it’s quietly assumed that you have at least tried drugs, and if you can perform they will even tolerate you doing drugs. A drug test is to see if you can stop long enough to pass the test.”
Facebook is more like a drug test of decision making. Surely we are bound to do some boneheaded things in our lives, Facebook is just a test to see if we are boneheaded enough to post them.
“I think Facebook is annoying.” Facebook is annoying, absolutely. But so are televisions, movie lines, traffic jams, and cell phones. A Renaissance Aristocrat would look at us with utter contempt at the things we put up with on a daily basis. But to my high-browed, velvet-clad friend I would say that I have hot water on demand, I’ve traveled around the world (not off its edge) and we have sewer systems so we do not need to fester in our own feces. The only problem is we have not figured out how to stuff politicians into toilets, but we will figure it out.
Modern life is filled with a combination of annoyances and conveniences. I don’t use Facebook because I love it, but it works for what I need it to do better than anything else. Here is an example. A number of years back, when I was not on Facebook, there was a writer from the NY Times I wanted to contact. When I looked him up, I saw he went to Columbia University. Easy enough, I had friends there and thought there must be an alumni database they could access. The friend of mine, who was encouraging me to get on Facebook at the time, pointed out that the writer was on Facebook. To which he advised, “Would you just join Facebook and write to him?” So I did and my construction column in the NY Times came to be.
How does it work?
A users manual to Facebook would be worthless to write because it is constantly evolving. This advice is strictly for photographers looking to share images for the purpose of light feedback and to expand their exposure without the borders of maps and markets. Facebook does bridge a very wide range of people.
- Open an account. Add a profile picture and three images. Add pictures twice a week and send friend requests to people you already know. Facebook helps you with this.
- Think of Facebook as a stylized version of yourself. It’s not exactly you, but it’s definitely not someone else. The audience wants some information but not too much. Pictures from your recent trip to Madagascar would be great, pictures from your recent high fiber cleanse would be awful. The advantage to joining Facebook late is that you can learn from everyone’s mistakes.
- Start a professional account. This is a page separate from the account where your relatives can reveal embarrassing aspects of your family. One can always count on extended family to say something that is a little racist, kind of bigoted, and mildly ignorant. It’s just in the nature of family, but Facebook is making it public. So your professional page lets you escape all of that.
- Post what you like. If I posted based off of audience feedback, I would be shooting cityscapes and models. What can I say, cool shots of traveling and sexy Czech girls are popular, but it does not affect my overall photographic strategy.
What to do
- Nice people are better when liked. There is no shortage of D-bags on Facebook; think of them like a bees nest not worth kicking. It would be nice if the United States could crank out jobs with the same efficiency they produce Facebook a**holes. So land on the high side.
- Post frequently. Do it for yourself. Having to post regularly will keep you focused on images, especially if you work in another field most of the time.
- Be a content provider, not a user. If you post images, it should take you about 3 minutes…anything after that and you have switched to being a Facebook user. Careful, the time can evaporate.
- Use it to connect with people. I have gotten a surprising amount of work from Facebook conversations. For some reason, those little messages are less “business feeling” than email. The world is becoming less and less formal, so you might as well use it to your advantage.
- Share your work. This was an ongoing debate about Facebook’s agreement and claimed image ownership. While some photographers were afraid people would “steal” their work, others made a king’s ransom because there was less competition. I look at it this way, if a 500px 72dpi image is threatening, you need to make a better image. The only people this does not apply to are photojournalists, who run off of small images. To you guys, guard that s*&* with your life. But if you are taking equestrian pictures, for example, your finished image should be almost non-reproducible in a Facebook format. I don’t think Andreas Gursky is afraid of Facebook.
What not to do
- Do not fight with people…I like philosophy, I like discussing religion, I like people who enjoy an intelligent debate, but I don’t do it on Facebook. If you’ve gotten on Facebook for photography, there is no debate to be had. Post your picture and then post another. I’ve seen the most absurd World War III outbursts on Facebook over nothing. Argue in person because it’s easier to punch them if they are in front of you. (just kidding, I do not condone that behavior either, most of the time )
- Do not worry about likes or friends. They will happen the more you interact. The comparison of “ohh they have 2,300 and I only have 300,” is not worth doing. Grow at your own pace and when it gets large enough, don’t forget to use it as an asset. I see people asking now for Youtube views and Facebook fans more than they care about where I went to school. Good news if you did not go to school.
- Do not post more than 3 pictures at a time. Each post shows up separately. Lumping a set together, after you have published them individually is ok, but assume that most people will only look at the first image. This applies too if you write articles. I can’t tell you how many people comment who have clearly not read the article. They read the title, form an opinion, and blurt out an comment. How to handle this…skip.
What can Facebook do for you?
- Almost every gallery I have ever had dealings with is on Facebook and we use it in conjunction with email.
- I have gotten some jobs from Facebook, but I’ve more often gotten soft introductions via Facebook. I prefer them anyway, so it’s perfect. They all led to work and follow up work because the clients continued to see other things I was up to which they found interesting.
- Whether I like it or not, a professional page with a lot of likes impresses some people; heck it even used to impress me. So building it was a good idea.
- There are some great subgroups I’ve gotten involved with which I will write about tomorrow on Facebook. Super nice photographic communities of like-minded people who enjoy sharing their images in a semi-curated fashion.
- People outside of the US use Facebook more than email. On the road, Facebook is one of the many messaging systems that keeps me in touch with friends abroad.
As a photographer, do you need Facebook? No you don’t. In fact, you don’t need a web page. When I left art school, none of the successful artists I knew had a website. So I thought, why would I need one? The reason is that while good art remains generation after generation, the way it reaches its audience continues to evolve. At one point, artists did not use books or portfolios. They were considered tacky promotional tools for inept artists. Now an artist’s monograph is almost as good as a museum show. At the forefront of any technology exists the very best and the very worst of its offerings. This will continue as the forms of communication change. While you do not need to try all of the social media platforms, Facebook offers a scale and ease of operation that has its advantages. Just be sure to find a way that works for you.
And because I would not ask you to do anything I would not do myself: