For a good while now I’ve been wondering what the true added value of various social media platforms are in support of my photography ambitions, and on my personal life as a whole. I’ve expressed some of my opinions on this matter before in a previous posting called Social Media is making us dumb. This continuing stock-taking effort is perhaps not entirely personal, as I notice many other photographers also expressing similar doubts and reservations online. This feeling was further amplified in me by the recent hype surrounding “newcomer” Instagram / Facebook “killer”, called Vero.
For a good while now I’ve been very much aware that my Instagram account seems to be “growing” only under the spell of algorithms, or perhaps, bots. I first noticed when my followers count was seemingly “stuck”on 917. Whatever happened, if I loose a few, sure enough a few new followers will suddenly make up for my loss to get back to 917. Conversely, if I gain a few, I will quickly loose some again to end back at ... 917. This had been going on for a while, but since then I have been “allowed” around 930 followers (where it hovered for a while) and now I’m at 950 followers max ... and the game continues!
Now, I’m fully aware that a contributing factor may be that my Instagram feed is just not good enough to warrant more attention and more followers. That is fine, and I can also understand that my “style” has consciously evolved to a point where my latest work could be more of an acquired taste. However, that doesn’t explain why I’ve experienced a huge amount of earlier success on other platforms, such as Google+, where I still enjoy the honor of around 36,000 followers, with around 46,000 followers on my Black + White Collection. This follower count is falling by the day, which I attribute to the general slow demise of G+, but I still tend to gain more new followers there per day than on Instagram. Thing is, it is impossible for me to determine how many of these circa 36k followers are actually still active, especially since I’ve only been posting sporadically to G+ over the last year or more.
The other obvious mainstream social platform, Facebook, has managed to completely loose my interest. This followed my realization that I can find everything I used to be interested in on Facebook, elsewhere without the unsolicited clutter that comes together with the FB algorithmic feed. My old photography page on FB also received mediocre attention at best, until I decided to experiment by paying Facebook to boost a post. The results were almost instant and spectacular. From a normal reach of circa 50, suddenly my post reached thousands! However, instead of being pleased with the outcome, it confirmed my suspicions that Facebook is rigged in such a way that generic growth is virtually impossible. As a result I haven’t been active on FB since September 2017 and ain’t missing it one fucking bit.
This brings me back to Vero. At first I was interested and immediately signed up to reserve my spot, you know, just for incase ... Unfortunately, Vero didn’t really live up to the hype either during this early, buggy stage. It was almost impossible to post anything or browse the platform in search of interesting people to follow. I think that Vero is really not the answer to a general public need for a really fresh approach to social medIa, nor the next best alternative to it. It seems to be more of the same, sans the algorithms. I’m remaining inactive on Vero until further notice. There are also a few other photography platforms where I still remain (barely) active, but not worth analyzing every single one of them here.
Despite all of the above sentiments, the dilemma I’m facing is that I do have some need to show my work to the wider world. This is probably true for most visual artists, photographers et al, as what is the point of creating if it cannot be shown and (hopefully) appreciated by others? The main vehicle for my own work is still my personal website, which I feel is mostly under my own control and destiny. Over the years, my average monthly visitor count has been growing consistently - nothing spectacular, but satisfying enough, especially since I don’t practice photography as my main profession or rely on it for a main income. Logically then, social media activities should help this public exposure and contribute greatly towards directing curious traffic towards my website! Well, the stats are in ... during all of 2017, social media contributed just under 16% of traffic to my website. Within this figure, G+ generated by far the most visitors. Instagram ... a measly 28 visits! So far in 2018, social media makes up for only 1.76% of total traffic! Curiously, Facebook is currently the largest contributor, even though I’m not active there anymore. Instagram brought me only 3 visits so far this year.
After much deliberation, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that mainstream social media in its follower-chasing, likes-fishing, dopamine-fix-inducing format is a bonafide waste of my time and no longer serve any real life-enhancing purpose in my life as a marketing vehicle for an amateur photographer like me. Despite this sentiment, I have to admit that, over time, I’ve managed to tweak those I follow on Instagram to such an extent that I thoroughly enjoy the majority of extremely high quality work that adorn my feed on a daily basis. For this reason, I will probably remain involved on Instagram for the foreseeable future, but most likely more as a consumer than a creator. However, my deliberation has brought me to another conclusion. I feel that I may have “outgrown” mainstream social media, but now the search is on for meaningful alternatives that will satisfy my need to take part and display my work, but without the empty, never satisfied and misguided notion that popular social media follower counts and “likes” really matter.
I think that I may have found such alternatives. Firstly, there is VSCO. I’ve been posting to VSCO for a while now and have been fortunate to make their curated selection a few times. However, on VSCO it is all about the images. Their clean, minimalist interface and display is probably the best of any such platforms, but though one can follow, like and re-post images by others, these statistics are not displayed on individual profiles for public view. It is even difficult for the individual user to determine how many followers they have, unless you go through the trouble of actually counting them (followers can be listed only). The downside is that it feels like user engagement is extremely low. As a result, there is little in the way of knowing whether any of my newly posted images are actually seen by anyone. I’m still working on searching for a few users to follow that will ensure that my feed is filled with work by photographers who I can admire and enjoy every day. I’m not there yet.
The second alternative is Ello. Ello generated some hype in 2014 when it was identified as the Facebook-killer at the time. That didn’t prove to be true, but Ello persisted and evolved into a niche social media platform for creatives of all genres. Unlike VSCO, follower counts and “likes” are displayed, but a quick search shows that, on average, these numbers are quite low compared to mainstream social media users. It is still early times for me on Ello, but user engagement is satisfying, as is the total number of views received (as well as per image), which is also displayed.
The common factor between VSCO and Ello, and what appeals to me most, is that both offer a credible niche / boutique social media experience where the display and quality of work take centre stage. I don’t sense any real urgency to chase a huge follower count or large numbers of “likes”, as my work is posted and appreciated by a few dedicated niche users who share an appreciation for the actual work on display. I strongly suspect that, over time, my involvement on these two platforms will result in a much more meaningful and satisfying experience.
Only time will tell, but one thing is sure ... my interest in mainstream social media involvement is dying a slow, but deliberate death. I have to admit that this transition and downscaling is still fraught with confusion, doubt and conflicting sentiments that may ultimately result in me regretting some decisions, but fuckit ... time to take back control over those parts of my life that mainstream social media have taken away over recent years by rekindling a real interest and appreciation of quality, meaningful work by fellow creatives. NOT an empty, meaningless interest in number of followers and “likes”.
- End of rant. -
Images are some of the latest from my ongoing series, Qatar Unfiltered ...