Facebook For Photographers: a Black Hole

Actual image of all my photos spiraling into the black hole that is Facebook, never to be seen by anyone.
Photo credit: NASA

For photographers wanting to promote their work, the web started out as a great opportunity. But things evolved. Today, I’d say there are 4 rules:

  • Your options are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Facebook doesn’t work anymore.
  • Twitter doesn’t work anymore.
  • Instagram doesn’t work anymore.

All these social media channels are now beyond saturation, have been ‘gamed’ to death, and are transitioning into pay-to-play advertising channels.

Back in the Mesozoic Era – say, 2010 – you could create an ‘artist’ page on Facebook, post your photos, and over time build up hundreds or even thousands of followers who’d then see all your new work. Those days are gone, because Facebook has steadily whittled away your “organic reach”. The big crash came in 2012; this article is a good summary.

In a nutshell, Facebook realized that as traffic grew, that pathetic single vertical column of “news feed” was hopelessly overloaded, and things had to change if they were going to be able to keep raking ads over your eyeballs. They decided to prioritize posts from your friends and relatives because those personal connections were what kept you engaged. Those posts would now make up most of your news feed, interspersed with an ever-growing number of paid ads. What went over the side were posts from all those pages you’d liked and followed: artists, musicians, restaurants, non-profits. Those people would henceforth have to pay Facebook to get their posts seen by their own followers.

Organic reach didn’t go to zero overnight, but the trend soon became clear. There are lots of graphs of this transition, all pretty grim. Here are a couple:

Organic reach today is low single digit percentages, with many online marketing gurus saying they expect it to go to zero eventually. Instagram recently followed suit; maybe you heard the angry howls of all the photographers who’d industriously played the Instagram game and built up large followings.

Your friends and followers, unfortunately, have also reduced your reach. Many people have now made their feeds private (visible only to friends), out of what I’d call unrealistic fears of “bad stuff” on Facebook. So even if they interact with, or share, your posts, the circle no longer expands.

What’s left of your organic reach is further reduced if the text of your post contains a clickable link; just one more gentle hint that you’re supposed to pay for an ad. Some say you can get around this by adding that link in a comment… but of course FB could detect that tactic…

There’s still a way around this, sort of. A follower can get a Facebook notification when you post – but you can’t make that happen, they have to enable it themselves. It isn’t hard, but it’s obscure enough that none of your followers will know about it unless you tell them. This page shows how to do it.

Given the loss of organic reach, are paid ads worth it? As with all things Facebook, it’s hard to say, because you have no way of knowing what you’re getting for your money. Typically you’d choose to optimize for “engagement”, meaning likes and comments. And this is something that’s very easy for Facebook to deliver, because they know who likes to ‘like’, and can put your ad in front of lots of known, enthusiastic Like-clickers. But whether those people match the demographics or interests you selected is another matter. I tried checking the public profiles of a few likers, and saw no connection. I might boost a photo of Minneapolis , target people 25 and over in that area who are interested in ‘photography’ – and get likes from high school kids in Florida.

I’ve seen claims that if a post gets a lot of initial likes and comments, Facebook starts showing it to more of your followers organically. But again, my own experience doesn’t confirm this.

What seems to make sense is targeting your boosted posts at “people who like my page” and forgetting about demographics and interests. Over time, your followers may share your posts and bring in some new people. At least you’ll get some actual, sincere “likes”. But I tried that, and the results were not encouraging; Facebooks results for the boosted post eventually showed that only about 1/3 of my followers even saw it. So it looks like the “boost” engine is out of gas, too.

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