Into the Social-Media Abyss


General Photography

I’ve written about the social-media arms race before, and I am under no illusion that producing another article will make much of a difference. But still… Part of me thinks that at some stage, more and more photographers will realize that spending all that time on/with social media to try to get some piece of the cake might not be the best thing to do. Here is another reason why the obsession with self-promotion that has large parts of photoland in its clutches eventually only leads into a dead end. (more)

In their book The Narcissism Epidemic, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell (both professors of psychology) write

“Self-promotion and individuality are seen as essential to getting into the right school or hired by the right employer. This type of flagrant self-promotion is actually difficult for many people […] There are books […] that tell you how to promote yourself just the right amount. This type of self-promotion may grow even more accepted if unemployment rises and more people are fighting to get jobs. The irony is that all of this self-promotion doesn’t work very well at a societal level. The exact same number of students gets into elite universities, the same number of people get plum jobs, and the same number of faculty get tenure. All the self-promotion results in absolutely zero increase in overall success. The only difference is that everyone self-promotes - the standard rises for everyone.” (p. 273; emphasis in the original)
The crucial bit here is at the end: The number of opportunities is limited and pretty much constant (whether it’s gallery representations, jobs offered by magazines, or whatever else). This is what makes the comparison with the nuclear-arms race so apt. The only thing all that self-promotion through social media does is to raise the level for everybody: Everybody feels they have to step up their game. It’s like walking into a crowded room with a single piece of cake, asking “Who wants a piece of cake?” People will yell louder and louder, but there still is only one piece of cake. And it might not be the person who yells loudest who’ll get it.

As I said before, this doesn’t mean that photographers should not promote their work. But all the hype over social media usually and conveniently ignores the fact that opportunities are limited. So the key is not to do even more promotion. The key is not to get into the latest social-media fad. A few weeks ago, Ewan Morrison wrote about this in some detail, using self-epublishing as an example:

“In publishing terms it has recently been revealed that 10% of all self-epublishers make £75% of all the money; that 50% of self-published ebooks make less than $500 a year (£320, or 87p a day); and that 25% doesn’t cover the costs of production. Broadly, what this means is that if you went out on the street with a book in your hand and tried to sell it to a stranger for 88p, or 99p, and you did this every day, you would still be making more money than 50% of all self-published authors on Amazon and all the other new epub platforms.”
It’s not too hard to adapt the article to photography.

The key here is not to take one of those very few people who’ve had massive success through social media as examples. Some people, after all, do win the lottery.

I’m sure many people will object to me comparing opportunities in photoland with the lottery. But maybe thinking of them as a lottery every once in a while is not such a bad idea. After all, what nobody mentions is the fact that often luck plays an enormous role in getting something. And the comparison with the lottery at least makes it somewhat more obvious why increasing your social-media involvement - instead of focusing more on your photography - might not be the best idea. You don’t win the lottery because you deserve to. In contrast, in photoland, opportunities might come your way if your photography shines. Working on your photography will help make it shine. Spending your time on self-promotion or social media won’t.