Guest post by Eric Kim
At the moment of writing this, I have 30,000+ Facebook fans, 13,000+ Twitter followers, 20,000+ Google+ followers, and 12,000+ YouTube subscribers. People have called me a bit of a “social media phenomenon” at times, and commend me for being so good at “marketing myself.” I am certainly not the social media guru, but I have learned a few things about social media through the years (especially when it comes to photography). I wanted to write an article on some guidelines I suggest street photographers (and all photographers alike) use for social media:
1. Build connections, slowly
Social media is like a big party where everyone is invited. If you have ever been to a big party, how would you feel if a random stranger came up to you and started pitching you his/her infomercial on how his/her product can help you lose 100 pounds in just a week? Or if people started handing you flyers in a party? Or if someone interrupted your conversation to tell them that their idea was much better? Nobody likes spammers. Nobody likes telemarketers, e-mail spammers, and especially social media spammers. We like to think about social media as being something more personal and intimate. This is not always the case. One thing I have seen some photographers do is copy & paste a message like: “Hey guys, check out my new street photography site!!!!” and post it to 100 Flickr/Facebook groups. The best way to build a following when it comes to social media is by building connections slowly—like you would do with “real” friends. Would you consider someone a friend if you just knew them for 10 minutes? No—real friendships take at least a few months to a few years (or even a few decades) to truly mature. What I recommend if you like certain photographers is to follow them and perhaps send them an email that you enjoy their work (and why you like their work). Provide them in-depth and detailed feedback about their work (at least 4 sentences). If the person appreciates your gesture, they might reciprocate. And over time, you will get to better know their personality, their photos, and more. Who knows, maybe one day you can actually meet in real life and shoot together. Real friendships take a long time to mature—and so do “real followings” when it comes to social media.
2. Less is more
The problem with social media is that there is too much noise out there. It is like the saying with satellite television: “There are thousands of channels but still nothing to watch.” There is a temptation when we are on Instagram to upload every minute of every small detail of our days. But do people really care that you are having a latte at Starbucks, or that your dog looks cute, or that you have bought a new pair of shoes? I would say inject more “signal” in your social media streams. That means tweet/facebook/blog about matters which are really important and meaningful. Share articles which you think are well-written, researched, and helpful. Share photos which you have let marinate for at least 6 months to a year (and you think are really good). Share photos of your friends and people you know which you think are great. Don’t share mediocrity, and don’t simply share for the sake of it. I forget who said it, but some people write (to simply write) and others write because they actually have something to say. Be the latter.
3. Promote others, not yourself
Going back to the analogy of social media being a party—nobody likes the guy at the party who brags about himself all day long (him graduating Harvard, buying a new BMW, earning over 100k a year, etc). People are turned off by braggers and people who are entirely self-promotional. I would recommend spending the majority of your time/efforts promoting the work of others, rather than yourself. I would say that the growth of my blog has mostly to do with the fact that I promoted other street photographers (not myself). The interviews I do with other photographers and collaborations I have done has brought more to my blog than simply my own thoughts and work. Also when you promote the work (and thoughts) of others, they feel stronger gratitude to you and are genuinely grateful. Everyone likes the guy who helps his/her friends. Be that person.
4. Use social media as a bridge to real-life communication
I think at the end of the day, nothing beats face-to-face interpersonal communication. You can’t convey facial expressions, hand gestures, and subtleties of intonation of voice in a 140-character tweet. I have actually found social media of best use when I have used it to meet people in real life. I have organized meet-ups, shooting sessions, and dinners together through Facebook and Twitter, and have also met some interesting people as well via email and direct messages on Twitter. Consider social media as a bridge to the real world—not as an end in itself.
The last thing I will mention about social media is the importance of disconnecting. Funny enough, I have made my name through social media and have a lot to thank through it. However, social media is extremely addictive (possibly worse than heroin). I used to be a social media addict, checking my email at least 100 times a day, inhaling my food while checking my Twitter and Instagram feeds, constantly reloading to see what new comments I got on YouTube, and ingesting a constant Facebook stream (while clumsily trying to write blog posts). The big change for me was when I started to travel. My smartphone doesn’t work overseas, so I have a limited connection to Wi-Fi. At first, it gave me anxiety to be disconnected from social media. I felt like I was “missing out.” However, I soon realized that the world went on just fine without me constantly checking into social media—and I felt much more at peace. I ate my food (slowly) without checking my Instagram and enjoyed the taste of my food. I had meaningful conversations with friends without having the “phantom vibration” of my phone in my pocket (and without the urge to text message in the middle of a conversation). I became less anxious about email, and actually focused on shooting in the streets when out in public. Now when I am back home, I try to limit my time on social media to less than thirty minutes a day. It has given me more time to breathe, focus on writing articles (like this one), while spending more quality time with friends and family that are meaningful to me.
Social media is a great tool—but like every piece of technology, it has its hidden addictions and negative effects. I therefore propose the idea of using “mindful social media.” Using it less is more. Don’t check Instagram while eating. Limit the number of photos you upload to the web. Don’t check your Twitter when going to the restroom. Don’t text message when you are having dinner with friends or your significant other. Spend more time face-to-face with people, rather than just poking each other on Facebook.
When you are on your deathbed, will you regret not having more followers on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Or will you regret not spending more meaningful time with those close to you, focusing your efforts on creating beautiful images, and being present?
Share your thoughts on using social media mindfully in the comments below!