Photographers that have built a solid following via Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, 500px, Flickr, have started to face the reality that these photo-sharing hotspots and social media hubs are first and foremost a business — and their existence is to make profit and not to support your photography career.
I’ve known photographers who have had hundreds of thousands of followers and likes on their Facebook, but who slowly lost their presence on social media when Facebook monetized their platform. These photographers now have to pay for a sponsored post so that their image or message can be seen by the massive audience they have already acquired.
This sort of ‘payola’ allows Facebook to withhold your posts from your followers news feeds. Not only this, but in their terms of service they can sell your information, and use your images and work in a commercial way and not have to pay you a royalty. It is important to denote here that you still retain copyright and ownership of all of your images, but you give Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others carte blanche to use your images for profit without having to pay you a dime.
And just in the last few days, Instagram (owned by Facebook) switched on their API to let advertisers use your Instagram feeds to place advertising, much like Facebook and Twitter already have. To read more, visit Business Insider.
So how do you keep your content working for you? Build your own platform, i.e., build a website that showcases your work instead of relying on social media platforms to grow your audience and business. Create dynamic content, write blogs, put up your images in full-res on your site and then link to social media.
By controlling your own work, you can leverage your website so that social media can work for you, instead of vice versa.
Keep it In House
I promote my magazine via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and owe social media a lot of credit in growing my web audience, however, I try to be vigilant about how I use social media platforms. Although, I do post some of my images on Instagram and other websites.
My point is not to bash on Social Media platforms, because they are amazing tools for the photographer. This is about keeping your creative work in your own “ecosystem” to retain more control over your images.
This may not apply to every photographer, because not every one of you are pros trying to make a living off of your photography. So for you, it basically comes down to what you’re using the platform for. Are you using it to just showcase your work? To share with a community of other photographers for criticism? To someday quit your 9-to-5 and make photography your career?
Well, whatever you use social media for, it’s important to know the rights you are giving up when posting your photos on the site. So at the very least, it’s good to know how your images can be used by social media companies.
But for the professional photographer, keeping your success under your control, and having a place on the internet is a must in today’s photography landscape. As a photographer making a living from your work, it’s best to keep total ownership and control of your images by creating an infrastructure that gives you more say in how your images are being used, or may be used.
Share, Don’t Give Away
If you haven’t purchased a domain name, bought hosting, or have set up a WordPress theme (thousands of free themes online), you should do so immediately. Your Tumblr may be awesome, and your Instagram filled with thousands of followers, but making these your only web presence for your photography business will become more expensive over time than owning your own website.
Sponsored posts are the future of social media platforms whether we like it or not, and why shouldn’t they be? We are using their server space to help our career, but we still need to realize that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are publicly traded companies with demanding share holders that solely exist to make money. And why not? They have the right to do so once you agree to the terms of service agreement.
If social media is your only source for building and feeding your business, and it works for you, I say go for it!
But I wouldn’t be surprised when you get fewer and fewer likes, your newsfeed looks like a dense product placement smorgasbord, and your reach dwindles, because it’s certainly happened to plenty of photographers I’ve known for years.
This issue has been raging since 2013 since Facebook changed their fought against the new terms which allows Facebook to use your Intellectual Property placed on the site for profit without paying you any royalty.
This is exactly what Facebook’s language is in their Terms of Service:
“you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP (Intellectual Property) content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
This is Instagram’s language:
Even though you own the Intellectual Property and creative copyright, and you’re not losing any ownership, but Facebook reserves still reserves the right to use your images for profit since you’ve agreed to their Terms of Service.
We are already fighting to keep photography a viable career option in a heavily populated world of photographers. So as small photography businesses and professional photographers you must be savvy about how you market your business and grow your audience.
So instead of just posting your work for others to potentially profit from, why not just create your own presence on the web where you control your own image usage policy and terms of service?
It seems like terms of service agreements are constantly changing, and who knows, six months from now you will even have to pay for posting anything on your business page, etc. Monetization of social media is the way of the future, and has always been part of their business plan.
No one really knows how long social media will be effective for business owners, and how long it will be a viable option to help grow awareness or and audience, but it’s best to be vigilant about the terms of service agreements we all agree to.
What’s The Next Big Thing?
The next big question is, what can we leverage in the future to help raise our presence on the internet? What will be the next evolution for photographers when social media platforms become passé?
Will the monetization of social media networks turn something that was once fun to use to see the latest from our favorite photographers or friends, into nothing more than a billboard of scrollable advertisements and sponsored posts? I think that will wear thin on people, and we might have to find another way of communicating with each other.