Social Media Marketing Tips

February 2, 2018

From our earliest stories about Flickr to our reports on changing algorithms and new government guidelines about transparency in sponsored posts, PDN has covered the growth of social media as a platform for marketing by both advertisers and photographers. We’ve collected some relevant and timely suggestions for using social media effectively—to crowd-fund personal projects, engage clients, support a marketing plan or promote a brand. Here are excerpts from some of our recent stories. You’ll find the complete versions of all these articles posted on PDNOnline or PDNPulse. Check PDNOnline’s marketing page for more articles on how photographers have built their social media followings.

Building a Following in the Age of Distraction

Clients no longer answer their phones. They don’t have time to read emails, and feel unproductive when they delete unread mail. “Nobody wants the sales call that interrupts their day, but they’re OK interrupting themselves” to check social media, says PhotoShelter CEO Andrew Fingerman. “They have time for a self-guided journey into the content platform of their choice.” During a talk at PhotoPlus Expo 2017, Fingerman recommended building an audience on social media to help social-media-addicted clients find your work. To attract a following, he noted, your content has to be unique: “Think about your brand and be your most authentic self. [That’s] what endears people to you.” Photographers have to figure out what it is about them—and their work—that stands out, and he offered suggestions on how to do that and establish a reputation for a particular niche or area of expertise. “Your goal is to become an expert,” Fingerman said. “When you’re an expert, people seek you out.” A full report on Fingerman’s seminar is available on PDNPulse.

FTC Guidelines about Sponsored Content on Instagram

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. government’s consumer protection agency, wants Instagram users and marketers to remember: Sponsored Instagram posts must be clearly identified as sponsored or paid content. The emphasis is on “clearly.” In a letter sent to Instagram influencers, FTC staff noted that many users are putting sponsorship disclosures or the #ad hashtag at the end of a long caption, effectively hiding that information from viewers. In a press release, the agency said it had sent letters that informed several marketers “that when making endorsements on Instagram, they should disclose any material connection above the ‘more’ button.” The statement from the FTC suggests that some marketers and Instagram influencers, who get paid to post on behalf of brands, have not followed the Endorsement Guides the FTC issued in 2015. To find links to the guidelines, see “Instagram Influencers Get Warning from Federal Trade Commission about Sponsored Content,” available on PDNPulse.

Working with Tourism Boards to Make Visual Travel Content

Alex Strohl and Maurice Li, the photographers who founded Stay & Wander, a Vancouver, B.C.-based creative agency that specializes in pairing Instagram influencers with brands, have worked extensively for tourism marketing agencies—as well as clients such as Lexus and American Express—hiring photographers with social reach among the specific demographics that interest the client. As tourism agencies have shifted some of their budgets to social media, Stay & Wander and the photographers they hire are producing “a form of native advertising” for clients, then licensing images for brand libraries, traditional ads, or for use by partners. “We include with our base pricing social media licensing,” Li explains. “All commercial licensing after the fact is extra.” Li says social media budgets continue to “pale in comparison to traditional media budgets.” But, he adds, travel clients are “realizing in working with us that commercial photography doesn’t need to be a thing that they pay for once a year. It can be something that’s ongoing, that comes with the value of the social piece built into it.” See the full story here at

© Brian Galderisi

Brian Galderisi recently took over The New Yorker photo department’s Instagram feed. Brian Galderisi recently took over The New Yorker photo department’s Instagram feed. © Brian Galderisi

Instagram Takeovers, and How They Work

The Instagram accounts of media outlets have become platforms not only to show, but to debut, photographic projects. Outlets invite a photographer to take the reins of their Instagram feed, logging in to the account and posting two to three images per day plus text, usually for a week. In return, photographers have an opportunity to take editorial control of their stories, put their work in front of a new audience and, in some cases, earn a small fee. PDN spoke with the editors at three media outlets who say they look for work that suits the style or mission of the outlet, images that fit the Instagram format and, when it comes to real-time takeovers, photographers who can handle multiple daily posts of new work. Max Campbell, former photo coordinator at The New Yorker, told PDN, “In terms of what we’re looking for, it’s not just someone who can shoot, but someone who is engaged with the context, able to talk about it, has that serious situational awareness and can translate that into something that works online.” See the full story here at

How Ami Vitale Built Support for her Long-Term Photo Project

“In the past, there were clear lines drawn about the role of photographer/photojournalist and what we were supposed to do,” notes photojournalist Ami Vitale. “Today, we have the opportunity to engage directly with our audience, who almost expect more engagement and advocacy.” When Vitale couldn’t interest editors in her project covering the tension between poachers and conservationists in Northern Kenya in 2009, she decided to pour her own resources into the project. Vitale, now a contract photographer with National Geographic, has since partnered with several non-profits; run a successful crowdfunding campaign; and built a community of more than 700,000 Instagram followers. Consistency and captions have been vital to engaging followers, she says. Vitale posts every day to her Instagram feed, but is selective about the photos she shares. “Consistency is important both in what you post and how regularly you post,” says Vitale, who shares images shot on assignments, and certain personal images. “If you build a community around a human rights issue and suddenly start posting selfies, you will lose your audience. Post every day. Pick your best images and curate your site as you would [a story] for a magazine.” See the full story here at

Sue Bryce on Building and Maintaining a Social Media Audience

Sue Bryce has hundreds of thousands of followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and her use of social media has helped boost her career and business as a sought-after portraitist and educator. “I’m not trying to get the biggest numbers,” she told PDN. “I’m trying to get the highest form of engagement.” She’s not seeking attention, she says, but a way to talk with potential clients. She never posts a photo without explaining how she took it and she regularly responds to questions. “It’s so easy just to jump on and respond. So I don’t really assign time to do it. When I’m shooting all day and I’m not going to be on my social media at all during a shoot, I try not to post anything. I’ll post later in the afternoon when I’ve finished so I’ve got a little downtime to sit and answer [questions]. My strategy around that is: The more present I am on my own page, the more feedback and engagement I get. It really is quite extraordinary.” She explains her “social media recipe” on PDNOnline.

Alice Gao’s Advice for Building an Instagram Following

Alice Gao, a lifestyle, travel and food photographer, says she is able to build her following—and keep it—because users like that they don’t feel as if they’re being sold something. She is careful about how she integrates the products of the brands that hire her into her feed. Gao’s followers also like being along for the ride when her assignments take her to places such as the Galapagos Islands, Lima, Tokyo and Copenhagen. In these locations, she often visits top-notch restaurants and hotels. She posts images at least once a day. “I will know quickly if I like something and will have it up on my feed almost instantly,” she says. Gao believes an active presence keeps her followers coming back, and compels others to recommend her feed.

Keith Ladzinski’s Advice for Building an Instagram Following

“There are thousands of incredible photographers out there, trying to get discovered,” says Keith Ladzinski, whose clients include National Geographic, Adidas and New Balance. “It’s Marketing 101—your product has to be pushed in front of people to get attention.”

Along with posting images from shoots he was on, he began carrying images from his professional archive. “I have tons of folders of images on both my iPad and my phone,” he explains. “If I don’t have a new image, I just cherry pick from those.” Even when he has fresh images to post, he sometimes inserts old images to balance the esthetic of his feed. “If I see there’s too much green in the feed, I post an image from the mountains, for example.”

Katie Orlinsky’s Advice for Building an Instagram Following

Katie Orlinsky, a photojournalist who regularly contributes to The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and Al Jazeera America, noticed a spike in followers when she began sharing her professional work on Instagram. Initially she used the app as a personal travelogue. But while working on a personal project on dog mushing in Alaska in 2014, she began posting new work as she was making it.

At the time, she had a few thousand followers. Then, she posted images of a litter of puppies born to a champion dog musher. Immediately after, she noticed a spike. “Puppies are not an unfriendly subject,” she laughs.

Orlinsky errs on the side of caution when posting images out on assignment. “You can’t scoop yourself,” she notes. She waits until the assignment has been published before she posts outtakes and images that didn’t make it into the final story.

Selina Maitreya on Having a Product to Sell, and Marketing it with Consistency

Consultant and educator Selina Maitreya notes, “Photographers need to understand what value looks like to a client.” These days, “Clients across the board want a body of work built around your specific subject and seen through your very individual, visual approach,” she says. Once photographers know what they have to offer that’s distinct from what other photographers can provide, Maitreya focuses on three areas of marketing: outreach, in-person marketing and social media—including not only Instagram but LinkedIn. “Instagram is another strong visual social media tool, but it’s only a marketing tool if you curate your Instagram gallery with your visual positioning in mind.” While all three marketing tools are important to raising visibility, photographers have to decide which of the three gets the most time and energy depending on their budget, time or goals. “If you’re a newer photographer, then most of your time is going to be spent on in-person meetings and social media, because there your investment is time, not money.”

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