Today, a wild left turn from musing on Time, Culture, and Photography. There will be more that theme, um, as soon as I figure out what if anything I have more to say on the subject. Hold tight, but don't hold your breath, m'kay?
I occasionally, which is to say far too often, learn that it's "important" for photographers to "be on" this platform or that one. Flickr was it, way back when in an entirely imaginary past, instagram is it now even though it sucks and is terrible for photographers, etc etc. Nobody ever says why photographers need to be on the platform, or which photographers, or any of that.
If you're farming Likes, I guess, whatever. Churn out some crowd-pleasing oversaturated shit, sign up for all the platforms, and follow a few 1000 people, and run around Liking all their candy-colored bullshit. It ain't rocket science, it's just a job, and a remarkably pointless job. If you're me and doing things for your own amusement and a few friends, it matters even less. Sign up for no platforms, or all of them, and shitpost to your heart's content I guess.
The tacit assumption, I think, is that "photographers" are those who are trying to run some sort of photography business, though. So let's whittle the world down to "photographers who want to run a successful photography business."
The first, second, and third pieces of advice here are: lol, don't.
But if you really got to, let's dig in. No, I have not run a photography practice for money, that's insane, and no you can't have my resume. Use google and stalk me, like a normal person. There are two critical concepts you need to get your head around here.
The first concept is the whole product. What do you want to do in your business? Head shots! Great. NO THAT'S NOT A PRODUCT FUCK YOU.
A "whole product" is the thing you actually want to sell, wrapped up in a lot of other shit that makes it easy to buy, and easy to use. It fills in all the gaps your customer is going to stumble over. Head shots is fine, but: do I come to you, or do you come to my studio? Are we doing backdrops, or environmental stuff? Are we doing one at a time, or are we running a team past the camera one after another? Are we doing
actors who have free time, and maybe odd hours, or are we doing corporate executives whose lives are scheduled in 15 minute increments?
The "whole product" offering is "head shots" with all the customer's questions answered. If you're on-site, and doing environmental backgrounds, you're scouting a week in advance, right? If you're on-site with a backdrop, you need such and such space, with such and such power, and so on, right? And it will take such long to set up, such long to tear down, and you can do one portrait every so-and-so many minutes. These things all matter. Get it sorted. Write it all down in the brochure. You can have more than one whole product offering, but let's stick to one.
The second concept is the target market. A target market is a bunch of potential buyers who share the same key buying criteria — they all buy the thing you're selling for more or less the same reasons; and they form a community, they talk to one another.
Maybe they're price sensitive and need a lot of headshots, so they're looking for speed and low-cost. Or maybe the opposite. Or maybe they're individuals who just need headshots of themselves (actors and models) but they need it every year, and they need 3 different looks each time.
This sounds a bit like the stuff that goes into a whole product, doesn't it? This is not an accident, pay attention and keep reading.
The fact that they have the same buying criteria means that they'll all respond to the same story, the same sales pitch, in roughly the same way. The fact that they are a community means that you can put yourself in front of all of them at the same time. Do they have a trade magazine, or a conference? Do they hang out in the same facebook groups, or under the same hashtags? Well, find out, and now you know where to position yourself and your marketing materials. Maybe you buy ads, maybe you just show up and offer knowledgeable, polite, low-key input. The venue you're looking at will determine how to approach it.
So that's product marketing in a nutshell. Your whole product is tuned to the needs of your target market, and the marketing messages is aimed directly at the buying criteria of your target market. Boom. It's all dynamic, of course, you test, you tweak, you learn. Nothing is every as simple as that, but this is the underlying structure.
So, do photographers "need to be on instagram?" Fuck no, god damn it. That's like saying "photographers need to be on planet Earth" anyways. Maybe, maybe, your target market community reaches into instagram. Maybe not. If it's "on" instagram, it's probably "on" a small set of hashtags on instagram, not "instagram" broadly construed.
Figure out what you want to do. Design a whole product. Figure out who wants to buy that, why they buy, and where they are. Realize that your whole product is shit nobody wants to buy, and change it to something else. Go around and around on this for a while, and somewhere in there you will learn not "what platform photographers need to be on" which is bullshit, but rather what platform you need to be on, and how you need to be messaging around your whole product.
None of this shit is rocket science, there are books and books and jesus christ more books and probably blogs and vlogs and wikis on this, but nobody seems to know it except the product marketing professionals at successful companies. More people stumble across this shit by dumb luck than ever learn it in an organized fashion.
It is, nevertheless, a real discipline, and entirely learnable. It's not even hard.