On Social: It’s called content for a reason!
As a photographer, I get frustrated with social media. While social has brought photographers many great tools, and a platform to share the pinnacle of photography talent, it feels like now there are many tradeoffs to this democratization of photography. Social media brings average, everyday people in contact with amazing content on a regular basis, something that wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous before the 2010’s. Photographers and artists do gain one huge advantage in the world of social media photo sharing: people actually look at our stuff. This is great! Just by posting on a platform like instagram, an artist can display their latest ideas with a participative audience and get fairly instant feedback & critique. For my own work. I love being able to get engagement from online audiences, as it allows me to learn what my audience appreciates in art. I won’t deny that the ego boost is also icing on the cake, but we can’t ignore the tradeoffs that come with this form of sharing.
Instagram, the secondary facebook platform, is growing like gangbusters. Recently crossing over 1 billion daily active users in June of 2018, (Source: TechCrunch) it’s no secret that the future of big-social is on Instagram. The problem is that Instagram’s platform is entirely visual content, meaning that for brands, promotional efforts on instagram require pictures & video. In the days of early facebook and blog marketing, text alone could have been sufficient for marketing. This is not the case today. To leverage any of the biggest online platforms, you must create content. What kind of content you ask? Specifically motion based visual content, because Facebook’s innovative learning algorithms categorize and rank video as most impactful, and deliver that content to users on their platforms. Photography used to be the primary content form on Instagram, and now video has snagged the trophy for best content type. Instagram doesn’t even allow for text-based content anymore, outside of images or video of the text itself. This is much speculation as to why visual content beats out the written word, but I think it can be at least partially attributed to a decline in attention span for online viewers. More simply put, if someone were given a written blog post and also the choice to watch someone speak about the topic in a short, 2 minute video, a person stands to save alot of time by simply listening rather than reading for themselves. This is a totally understandable trend, but we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of that topic another time.
Here’s the big problem: with an emphasis on time, content creators are under continuous pressure to cram more information into shorter-form content pieces. Competition on platforms like Instagram or YouTube is fierce, and your content can quickly fall out of favour with audiences if someone else can do it better, faster, and more impressive than you. It’s a never-ending race. What’s worse, algorithms that run platforms like instagram also rank content based on interactions, which are clicks, likes, comments, which will often accrue to those content creators who can create the most easily-consumable, most impactful, and least time-wasting content. Consistency, in addition, gives extra leverage for content creators as a secondary metric for ranking in the instagram feed. (If you want to read more about Instagram’s feed population algorithms, check out this article: bit.ly/algorithminsta)
This is a phenomenon I like to call “the content race”. There is immense pressure for success on the internet, and much too often I see creators (and marketers!) valuing internet success more than the content creation (and I mean writing!) itself. The pressures to cram impressionable visual elements in quick, easily consumable pieces does not allow for writing a good story. And at the end of the day, isn’t the story that you’re telling the most important part? So to marketers, I will say: you can’t rely on visual content alone to sell your company or your brand. If there is anything I can urge you to change about your social media marketing campaigns, it would be to simply write better stories. I know that storytelling is not easy. In my view, it takes decades of life experience, wisdom and emotional intelligence to tell a powerful story, but that doesn’t mean that your story doesn't matter. Tell yours, and don’t compromise the storytelling just to make your content more frequent. Quality content will get rewarded with perseverance!
To creators, I implore you to slow yourself down. All of us are creating too much, too quickly. It’s great to put out small posts somewhat often, but do not half-ass your work just because it needs to quickly go online. You have to remember, platforms like instagram are designed to give you instant gratification for participating in their little game. If you post a good photograph that people click on, instagram feeds you with those pretty red bubbles notifying you of how much people like you. I know it’s difficult, but you have to train yourself not become slave to those notifications. It is much too easy to let the red bubbles addict you, increasing your craving for attention and vanity. This might pressure you to post more often and get those numbers up, but I urge you to forget about the follows. Those numbers won’t make your art better. If you keep your work consistent, growth will come in time. Most of all, slowing down is about protecting your creative drive! If you post too much, you will burn out of creativity. Keep your creative cycle consistent & sustainable by creating the content that fulfills YOU! If you keep that up, you will be excited to create content for your online platforms, and excitement will reflect in the quality of product you create.