some thoughts on photography, social media and the tragic brevity of time
The title says it all. Well, that’s actually not true. It really only says part of it. I do suck at Twitter - that is totally true. So if you follow me on Twitter...sorry. I don’t post directly there, and I’m not good at keeping up with anyone on Twitter. If you re-tweet my stuff, or include me in your #FF stuff...thank you, and again - I am sorry.
I do have my blog posts and my Flickr uploads feed automagically over to Twitter, but that doesn’t really even count, does it? I am on Twitter, so to speak, but never actually on Twitter. I’m really not even using it. I’m a Twitter ghost.
I logged into Hootsuite recently for the first time in a long while, just to check out my Twitter stream and see what I could be missing. (See, I use an interface to view Twitter - not even the real thing.) I had lots of Tweets direct to me from nice folks going back several weeks, commenting on my shots or whatever.
I didn’t even know it. I feel like a loser. Sorry about that, everyone. I feel like crap about that. I really do. And those folks think I’m an ass, probably. Here they are kind enough to send me a nice note, and I don’t reply for weeks? I told you I suck at this.
You know why? It has nothing to do with Twitter, per se. It really comes down to this:
THERE’S TOO DAMN MUCH SOCIAL MEDIA!
There, I said it. That’s the big one.
Am I alone in this? Am I the only one overwhelmed by all the social media madness out there? It’s crazy, and getting crazier all the time. There are WAY too many choices, and too many things you “have to do”. I can’t possibly keep up, and I have gotten to the point where I don’t really want to.
As a photographer you want people to see your work, which means trying to participate in all of (or most of) the various places where people might be, in order to reach a larger audience. So that means you have a blog or a portfolio site (or both, like I do), and then you post/share on multiple social media outlets, all in the name of “getting your work out there”.
Sound familiar? I bet it does. That’s what we are “supposed” to do. That’s the formula. Get your work out there in front of potential customers. Market yourself. Get attention by being in “all the right places”. Make a name for yourself.
But, really - who has the time?
It could literally take me a couple of hours a day (or more, really) doing all this “work”. I could spend hours posting my work out there in all these random places, then Liking, +1ing, Sharing, Commenting, Tweeting and Retweeting, Pinning and Repinning (and more) and never actually do anything that involves “Jim getting better at photography” - and that’s what Jim wants.
I want to get better. I want to improve. I have a lot to learn. If my photographic life was a book, I feel like I am on about Chapter 2 or so. There’s a lot still to write and shoot about this journey I am on...and I plan to write it! (insert a loud HELL YEAH here if you want to haha)
And by the way, I thought as a photographer that I was supposed to be out taking pictures? Or at the very least, I should be working on my post-processing skills, right?
In other words, I should be able to dedicate a reasonable portion of my limited "free time" investing in my skills. Yes, networking and community engagement (which is essentially all online these days) is important, but self-improvement is just as important in my opinion, and quite possibly more important.
So many sites, so little time...
In case you are not a photographer, or haven’t been counting, let me list all the social media and/or photo community sites and/or portfolio/blog options that are available to you, off the top of my head (and I am sure that I am missing several - feel free to list more in the comments section).
Sharing your work on these sites (or a subset of them) is the typical approach we all take to get our work out there and create awareness of our work. And, it can sort of work, but it can be a major time sink as well - and I would argue that the time waste far exceeds the benefit in the majority of cases. But it’s really the only way, so it is what it is. We have to do it, to some extent, if we want people to see our work. But where to start?? Well, you start by joining some of these and posting away!
Here’s a list of social options:
- Your blog, if you have one (Wordpress, Blogger, Squarespace, etc)
- Your portfolio, if you have one (SmugMug, Zenfolio. Photoshelter, etc)
- Facebook (personal profile page)
- Facebook Fan Page (if you have one - I do)
- Google Plus (and Fan Pages are an option here too, but appear to be rarely used)
- New MySpace
- Tumblr (I see lots of photographers also maintaining a Tumblr photo stream)
- HDR Spotting
- HDR Creme
- I am sure there are dozens of others...
See what I mean? That's a heck of a lot of sites you "have to" be on!!
So what this means is that except for a couple of notable exceptions, I suck at most of these other sites, too (though thankfully, I have the sense not to sign up for all of these).
It also means that you cannot possibly “get your name out there” by trying to focus on a bunch of these. By definition, focus does not mean “a bunch”. It doesn’t work like that, and you will kill yourself trying. I have heard of dying for your art, but that’s a ridiculous way to go! :-)
The 80/20 rule, or Feed the Strong
Other than Facebook (where I am pretty active) and Google Plus (where I am somewhat active), I don’t really have time to engage elsewhere. I get pretty good interaction on those sites, and plan to keep doing “the work” there. I enjoy it, actually. I really wish I could do more on those sites, but just don’t have the time.
You see, I have a day job so that keeps me really busy. And truthfully, I really enjoy my day job. It’s awesome. But like all jobs, it takes a lot of time, and that’s ok.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I recently took a hard look at Google Analytics to determine which sites are sending traffic my way, and which ones are not. Facebook and Google lead the pack, so I plan to continue to feed them. They are strong for me.
It’s like the 80/20 rule in business: you get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers. Well, my blog is “my business” in this sense (and for me, it’s the center of my digital universe), and so I am focusing on the 20% of sites that generate 80% of my traffic. Everything else is an afterthought (though more like a “no thought”).
And yes I realize that you get out of something whatever you put into it. I completely agree. I am not saying all these sites are bad. Far from it. Some of them are probably incredible. I just don't have time to invest and "grow a following" there - I've already done that on other sites, and am sticking with them.
And by the way, you might decide on two (or more) completely different sites, and that's ok too. I am not saying these are the two best sites for everyone, since we all want different things, and we all have different likes. It's just that these two work for me, right now.
In the old days...
When I first started sharing my photos online (which is coming up on 5 years now), of course I tried posting to a lot of sites in a feeble attempt to “grow awareness” of my work. My opinion: it’s a waste of time to post to a lot of sites. I really think it is. I think you should pick one or two places and just do that. Focus and go deep. You can’t possibly do justice to several sites...it’s too much. Trust me. I tried. It’s ok to experiment and see which sites work for you, but after that...make a decision and go all in.
I used to interact a lot on Flickr, and though the new layout is causing me to interact more now than over the last couple of years, it’s still pretty minimal. I used to post photos to HDR Spotting, but again haven’t done that in years, and I don’t care. I used to try and keep up on Twitter, but how can anyone do that? All that crap scrolling by, 24 hours a day...makes me crazy.
Instagram? I never even signed up, and I LOVE to shoot with my iPhone and share it (but the pics go on Facebook and into a Flickr set and sometimes here on the blog). Pinterest? I have a few galleries there (or whatever you call them) but I never log in and look. I can’t even remember my password. 500px? Don’t get me started. It's a beautiful site, but I feel like they have stumbled. Just go read this and then this. New MySpace? Forget about it. That one’s a waste. As the old joke goes: "the founders of MySpace aren't even on MySpace".
See what I am saying? There’s just too much, and most of it is pointless.
And guess what else? I don’t use most of those sites, and I feel absolutely zero remorse about not being there. I used to think that I “had to” be active everywhere - and felt bad if I wasn’t - but I don’t think that way anymore. I just don’t care about being everywhere, because it doesn’t work.
I see some photographers who seem to be everywhere (and there is nothing wrong with that, to be clear), and I see others that only seem to be in 1 or 2 places online. I used to think it was a sign of success or broad awareness if you are on all these sites, with followers here and there. It looks like you are well-known, and maybe it really means that. In other words, I used to want that.
But not anymore. I now have greater respect for those that I see in just 1 or 2 places. I think they figured it out, and aren't wasting their time. So I quit caring about that and trying for it, and have realized that the value of my time is worth more than what I get back from the majority of those sites. I can't keep up, I don't want to keep up, and I am using my leftover free time for myself.
Will I ever post to these other sites again? Possibly - just not very often.
Guess what else? I also think that if someone wants to see my work bad enough, they will find me on whichever site I am on...because let's be honest, I'm on the two big sites with a decent presence, and they probably are as well. And of course, all my work is always sitting right here on my blog. That's an easy click too.
I also feel a whole lot better now. It’s like a monkey is off my back. There are a million sites that suck (and plenty of good ones too, I admit) - and can suck your time away - and they do nothing for me in return. So I don’t go there anymore, and I don’t miss them. There’s a certain amount of freedom in that. I’m starting to feel better already. :-)
Anyways, this is sort of like my apology letter to all those folks on Twitter, or Flickr, or Pinterest, or wherever that are kind enough to leave a comment, or repin something, or whatever. I am sorry that I don’t reciprocate. I have to pick where I can engage, and those sites didn’t make the cut.
So...I am really sorry about that. I really appreciate that you took the time to interact with my photography in some way - seriously, I really appreciate it...and I apologize for not having the time to interact back with your content. It’s not about you, or even about that site. It’s about time.
Speaking of time...it’s about time for me to go take some pictures so that I feel better about myself. I’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening.