Do you remember the days when Myspace came out? - I don't know about you, but having an account was totally foreign and if your parents found out you had a profile online and people knew of your virtual existence, there would be trouble. I grew up with Bebo - rearranging my friends in order of who I was closest with so that people could see who I knew and where I grew up. I remember MSN was the best way to talk to my friends after school about all the funny things that would happen during the day. Then followed Flickr, for any photographer out there, you HAD to be on Flickr - luckily enough, although flickr is present and has maintained its wonderful vision and modern social appeal, it still had its hype period. I went through the Tumblr phase, where I spent all-nighters finding visual inspiration and creative stimulation that I had never seen before, until it started coming full circle and my dashboard was full of overseen cliche content and the obsession died down, and we all lost interest. Then the good old Facebook had its hit. When Facebook began, you wouldn't dare add anyone that you didn't actually know. But Facebook was less impersonal than any other platform, by choice, and provided many opportunities for "safe" communication and monitored friendships with other people's accounts. Now we have the instagram hype. EVERYONE wants to know how many followers you have on instagram and people treat it like an identity.
It wasn't until about midway through all of this social media that the "follower" count was introduced. Bebo had it but it meant almost nothing, and followers were like "friends" and the people viewing your profile could be monitored, Tumblr brought follwers to other peoples attention and people within the Tumblr world took it all as a fun joke, Facebook and the introduction of Pages grew the importance of followers until Facebook killed the value of it all with their unethical algorithms until Instagram completely blew it all out of the water and now your follower count is almost credibility for how good you are as an artist, human, blogger, leader, model, musician, ANYTHING.
The question is - how much longer is it going to be until Instagram dies out? What will be the next big thing? And more importantly, when will social media in itself evolve into something that is a "thing of the past"?
While I would love to say "who cares", delete my social media and disconnect myself from a world of superficiality, corruption, altered perceptions, cliche media and lifeless and intangible material, the worst part is that EVERYONE CARES. AND our careers actually depend on it.
In high school over the past years of my life, before I graduated, I was tormented with the talks we had from our career advisors and teachers and lead staff in the school about how potential employers will stalk through your social media and your facebook to see whether you are worth hiring, or how everything you post is out in cyber space forever, or how the "friend" you thought you had could actually be a dangerous predator, and back then, the most we had to worry about was monitoring how much information we put of ourselves on the internet and how smart we were about the people we allowed to see it. Today, the scary part is that people check in and post photos of the places they are eve eating, the people they are with, the place they work, the school they go to, the expensive equipment they have in their house, after taking a pretty photo of the sunset in their easily identifiable neighbourhood and society has become immune to this behaviour. We no longer see these things as threatening because everyone always knows everything about everyone and their friends and relationships all the time and that is the norm. It shouldn't be. What happened to general privacy?
I remember growing up, although I am only 18 years old and grew up with this in my life, while in primary school, I had to wait to see my friends at school the next day in order to ask them whether or not they wanted to play handball at lunch, yet this year, I have met 11 year old girls who had more social media platforms than I did and were getting themselves involved in things I didn't even know existed when I was their age.
I'm glad, however, that I'm not the only one who dislikes the culture surrounding social media. When I typed in "social media is" on google, this is what my search suggested for me:
Hear me out: not all social media is bad. Social media has created awareness for some issues that would not have been resolved if it were not for a large following, has brought inspiration and success to many, and is a platform for people to meet (heck, I wouldn't have met my boyfriend if it wasn't for social media) but the sad part is, that from what I have seen, and being such a large part of social media from a business point of view, most people on social media use their platforms for self gratification, popularity, and social acceptance. I'm a culprit of that! Sometimes I post photos of me in really beautiful locations because I want people to know me as someone who loves to travel, or I post a photo I know has the potential to get a lot of positive attention and compliments, so I do it - and it feels good when people have something to say about what I do. The culture built around this though, has truly warped so much of what we do as humans and those of us who are trying to make a living off our passion.
Gone are the days were your talent actually determined your success more than your instagram following did. When I contact people in business, models, jewellers who I want to build pieces with for shoots, prop makers etc, the first thing they reply, and I can show you proof almost every single time are these exact words:
Wow, your photos are absolutely gorgeous, we would definitely love to work with you!
Do you have an instagram we can follow?"
In which I reply with a simple and genuine thank you, and a mention of my account. I'll be the first to admit, my instagram account does not reflect my calibre of work, or my social media among my other platforms, which is why I also mention my facebook and flickr. Instagram was never a priority for me because it forced me to be glued to my phone and I hate that. This follows:
We gave your instagram a follow! Unfortunately, we don't have any upcoming work or collaborations for anyone with a following less than ours or at your level. While we love your photographs so much, we need someone who can help promote us and we just don't see your social media platforms to benefit us in any way.
All the best for the future though."
Cool, I get it. Their budget for collaborations and advertising doesn't cover little people like me. As much as they love my images, their priority is to collaborate and work with people who have a bigger following, even if that means compromising on quality. Don't get me misunderstood, I know the logic and intention behind this, but it's getting old and my point is - when will this end?
The culture across instagram models and influencers among social media is killing the photography and videography industry in many ways, when talking about commercial and fashion for example, why would a company PAY a photographer for images, when they can offer to send free items and products out to a pretty instagram user who has 300k+ followers in order to receive a shout out. Is taking shortcuts like that really going to last in the long run? Will quality be compromised for quantity again, or is this how business will work? How long will it be before instagram implements the same algorithms like Facebook and you'll have to pay for your own following to see the things that you post?
I definitely think social media and your follower count can provide credibility for the quality of a product or service, but you cannot reply solely on that. Photographers like Tim Walker, Annie Leibovitz and Gregory Crewdson to name a few, make really big money off of their work, and yes they started far beyond the social media craze began, but they also don't need social media because their work stands out enough that social media would probably be one more thing on their plate that they don't have the time for. Why are people striving for a level of 300k+ followers, instead of actually creating a product or a craft and art form that is so beautiful and unique and innovative that it becomes timeless and that social media was not needed for the success of it. Because one day, social media will be something that people will steer away from, or at least, it will evolve into something that we can't exactly utilise to our benefit to generate business anymore, so once your 300k+ followers disappear because of a new evolvement or update on your favourite platform, do you have a quality of work that will last beyond that?
I don't know about you, but my life goal is definitely not to have a tonne of followers on social media. When people think of me, I want them to google my name and look for my website. My goal is for that to be all that I need - a single website, that people know my name well enough, and that I'm not just another instagram account that gets scrolled past.
What you need to remember is, while you are so busy worrying about building up your following, and you're busy posting all your pretty photos and amazing artworks and cute selfies, everyone else is worrying about the exact same thing. Be strategical about the way you build your social media but first and foremost, better your craft and you'll find the following will come because of that. You want to be genuine and consistent about your approach to social media and the best way you can do that is by being genuine and consistent with your own art form, and use social media to compliment that, not to rule and define everything that you do. Do not shape what you do around what social media wants you to do. You might make a lot of money and have some cool work opportunities but you will be denying yourself the opportunity to effectively influence others through your passion, and that surpasses any level of followers in my opinion.
To me, it's more important about creating community; having people who follow me for me and who love the level that I am at - if you have a wonderful following because of your talent and your inspiring life then so be it! But if you don't, my point is that it doesn't matter. I have about 40k followers across all my platforms and I could tell you several instances where I have seen reoccurring names pop up and continual clients and so many beautiful emails and messages from people who tell me that I have inspired them to follow their dream. I rather have this kind of following, than 80k followers for example, who have no idea of who I am and the way I operate and the way I love and want to inspire those who have a similar passion. Lets go back to quality over quantity.
Social media is creating so many issues for businesses in the long run more than it is creating opportunity in the short term - let us be people who are intentional about not cutting corners and making shortcuts for temporary success. Social media is a way for people to share ideas and collaborate and meet and learn and become wonderful and inspiring humans. It also allows and makes it more accessible than ever before for people to cheat, take shortcuts, lie, manipulate, steal, fraud, because your intellectual content, information and potentially world changing ideas and art, are exposed for the entire world to see. Protect yourself because you could be making someone out there a lot of money and there aren't enough laws and restrictions that can protect you to keep up with the issues that arising with the influx of social media related crime. (examples are reselling artists' work, imposing as another person, hacking banking systems, frauding credit cards through false sales, selling your information to big companies, stalking etc).
Social media is making it harder for people to be original and to find inspiration themselves. We as photographers all know what I'm talking about: the stage we all really started at some point. "Inspired by: ____" - it's a levitation photo! There's a super tacky intense texture over and and it's a blatant copy of someone iconic's work! Inspiration quickly become recreation and there are so many images in the world that most people would never know the difference. Your idea and your photo could inspire someone to replicate that photo and potentially sell that image to a company for a billboard - making them thousands of dollars of your ideas and exact visual execution. The worst part is, again, social media is changing and growing so rapidly and so dramatically that there isn't enough time for all these new laws and rules to protect us from all the potential risks we are putting ourselves in front of.
I could talk about how social media creates social stigmas and makes people anti-social, glued to their phones, obsessed with emojis and unable to communicate in face, but I could also talk about how social media connects family from all over the world, allows artists to showcase their work on a global scale, utilise their talents to make them an income, creates awareness of needed causes. The fact is that social media can be used for good and it can be used for bad - but regardless of what we can do with it, we should not rely on it for any reason.
I have to force myself every morning to not check my phone as the first thing I do when I wake up - you're guilt of that too! It's a culture we have so easily fallen in to. Be more intentional about the first thing you spend your day doing because it will form and shape your day, and ultimately shape so much of who you are and your emotions and attitudes. The last thing I want to see as the first thing to my day is how silly my instagram feed looks with people posting drunk photos of their night out!
Make the decision to not let social media rule your life and turn your phone off for one day. Being overseas in a country where my phone was not easily accessible to the internet made me so much more aware how dependant I had become on my phone and my facebook. After a few days, I didn't even want to pick up my phone, because I was actually enjoying myself without the anxiety that underlined my day of "who emailed me", "who facebooked me", "how many followers have I gained today" etc. I stopped taking photos of everything that I thought was cool because I wanted to enjoy them first and foremost.
Have a real presence. Not just on your social media, but in your life. Life is so precious and is worth living and don't look back in 5 years time when instagram dies out and regret how much time you spent investing into something that purely got you a bit of an ego boost and social acceptance, because truth be told, we are all culprits. The fact that you are reading this is evidence of that. We have come into a culture of horrible habits that make us so upright about what is happening in the world and other peoples lives that we forget to live our own. Everytime I am on the train, a plane, in line at a grocery store, crossing the road, at a cafe, everyone is looking at their phones. Since when did "going out for dinner with friends" include everyone sitting on their phones? Since when did the likes on photo you just posted on instagram become more important than safely crossing the road? What happened to looking out the window when flying or on the bus or train? Why are we intentionally missing these things and not making the conscious effort to stop?
If I can offer one piece of advice, it's this. If your follower count is your first priority as a business person, I hope that works for you! Because for me, I couldn't care less whether or not my follower count counted as credibility to other people for the quality of my work. I know the level my work is at and that's all - my confidence and my approachability often transcends my lack of credibility through my social media following. That is the impact you want to have. If your following is your priority, learn the trends. I know the trends and I intentionally choose to not follow them. If I wanted, without sounding arrogant, I could have a crazy huge instagram following, because I understand what it takes to get there, how to do it and why it's beneficial, but I don't want to invest myself into that right now and I have other things to worry about, like living my passion out in real life and traveling, creating art that makes me happy and taking small steps to get to my goal in the long run, then cutting corners and taking short cuts. One day, I may want to build my social media following a tonne more, to then go back and explore more, but for now, all I can say is: be ahead of the trend and follow the patterns, know your target market and your niche and focus on appealing to them, create content that others want to see.
But I challenge you: put away your phone for one day a week and spend the day without it. Make yourself aware of how unsafe, how naked, how insecure you may feel. Channel that energy into something else like having a conversation to the person you are sitting next to on the bus, making eye contact with people while you are talking, spending your night with your partner rather than splitting your attention on facebook and on a movie, cook a dinner without having to take a photo after. Live life authentically and with intention and create quality conversation and relationship with those who matter. I doubt your last living concern will be how regretful you were that you didn't make it past 400 followers on instagram, but how you spent all that time trying missing out on moments with those in your life who were important.
Note: I say none of this out of arrogance or rudeness. I say it from experience and from a place of pure understanding of the fundamentals of what has shaped my life in almost every way. Social media is a great thing when used ethically and with a genuine intent.