How to grow your photography business without social media
Social media has become a significant part of our daily lives, especially for photographers looking to promote and grow their businesses. We are visual people, and social media's vibrant (and at times over-stimulating) nature draws us in. Most social media platforms are driven by beautiful content — the algorithms reward the best content with more views and engagement — so it's only natural that photographers, the original content creators, are drawn to it.
While social media can be a very effective way to connect with your potential clients, social media isn't the only way to get your work out there. It's important to consider alternative avenues for building and marketing their business. Here are some reasons why you might want to take a step back from these time-consuming platforms:
Reasons to take a step back from social media
While many photographers consider social media a silver bullet to solve their booking woes, it is also one of their primary frustrations.
According to Narrative’s 2022 Professional Photography census, 96.2% of photographers use Instagram to showcase their work. 87.6 % use it to consume content about photography.
But despite its popularity and apparent monopoly on marketing strategies, there are reasons to consider taking a step back from social media.
Some of the reasons below may resonate with you:
1. Social media can cause stress and burnout
Social media can be incredibly demanding, and photographers can quickly become overwhelmed by the constant pressure to produce new content and engage with their followers. Compounded over time, this can lead to ongoing stress and burnout.
Additionally, social feeds are typically a highlight reel — especially for businesses. The images photographers choose to share are generally their very best shots from thousands of frames at a wedding or shoot. Whether you’re checking out the competition or looking to be inspired, the result can easily lead to feelings of inadequacy or not measuring up to your peers.
If social media is causing you chronic stress or feelings of burnout, it might be time to consider pacing yourself or taking a break.
2. Keeping up with algorithm changes
When promoting your business on social media, there are constantly changing algorithms to contend with — these can affect how visible your content is to your audience.
Most often, being successful on social media means staying up to date on the latest trends, techniques, and practices so your posts are seen. Only you can weigh the cost/benefit of constantly educating yourself enough to compete on social media platforms. You may find there is an alternative avenue (more on that below) that suits your interests, learning pace, or aesthetic more — that allows you to grow your photography business without social media.
3. Not everyone is on social media
Contrary to common belief, not everyone is on social media. Social media platforms can be limited in terms of who you can reach. Depending on the demographics of your primary or ideal clients, some people may prefer to find photographers through other channels.
It’s important to consider where your desired clients are “hanging out” online and how much time is spent on social media.
Grow your business without social media by simplifying your online presence
For the reasons listed above, photographers must be strategic regarding social media. Instead of trying to be on every platform, focus on the ones that work best for your business — this can reduce your workload and help you create better quality content.
Instagram remains the number one social media choice for photographers. For those who succeed, it's the second-highest source for procuring clients after referrals and word-of-mouth leads. But there are other highly effective and underrated platforms for attracting clients and online traffic.
Pinterest, in particular, is another highly visual social media platform that can be equally effective. Many creative entrepreneurs consider Pinterest a "secret weapon" platform that can drive a steady, ongoing stream of traffic with well-thought-out posts. You can also look for ways to double up your work, such as sharing content across different platforms or repurposing old content in new ways.
If you're trying to build a presence on multiple social platforms and finding that your efforts are spread too thin or that you can't manage all of them — you're not alone. Managing various social media accounts can, in itself, be a full-time job.
But if you're hesitant to grow your business without social media, simplify your online presence by asking yourself these questions:
Which channels are serving you the best?
Can you repurpose your content for multiple platforms?
Where is most of your website traffic coming from?
What accounts can you get rid of to reduce your workload?
Don't be afraid to refine the number of platforms you're active on. It's better to do a few things with a significant impact than many with a small impact. Figure out where your business's traffic and leads come from, and focus on those platforms.
Alternative ways to grow your photography business without social media
On the other hand, if you’re ready to step away from social media and diversify your marketing channels — know that you absolutely can. Though it can certainly feel like social media is something “you just have to do,” and there’s no way around it, the truth is you can achieve success without the stress of social media.
If you are curious about how to grow a business without social media, we’ve outlined several highly effective alternatives below.
1. Optimise your website for online traffic
“Just ask Google” — most clients will search Google for a photographer at least once, which will usually occur early in their research phase. Search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing your website to rank higher in search engine results pages. By creating high-quality content, using relevant keywords, and building backlinks, you can attract more organic traffic to your site — one that ultimately books more clients.
2. Start a referral program
Encourage your clients to refer their friends and family to your business. Most photographers acquire quality leads and clients through word-of-mouth referrals. You can even offer incentives such as discounts or free prints to clients who refer new business to you.
3. Send email newsletters
Email marketing can be a great way to keep in touch with your audience and promote your business, and it's a more personal way to connect with clients than via social media. You can send regular newsletters showcasing your latest work, announcing promotions, or providing inspiration. Bi-monthly newsletters are an ideal marketing rhythm to aim for, but you can always start smaller and build up to that. Sending a monthly update is a great way to build ongoing connections with past clients and nurture new subscribers.
4. Donate your photography services
Offering your photography services for free to a charitable organization can be a great way to give back to your community while promoting your business. Some photographers hate the idea of working for free, but if you take the time you would have spent on social media and invest it in donated shoots, you'll probably spend less time and create deeper, more personable connections.
Donating your time is a particularly great way for new photographers to spread the word about their business. You can donate your services to a local charity event or offer to take photos for a nonprofit's website or social media.
5. Build your professional network
Networking with other professionals in your industry can also lead to new business opportunities. Vendors and service providers serving the same niche (e.g., weddings) are a great place to start — you're not competing for clients, but you're serving the same core group.
Creating connections with other photographers of all levels can be a great way to get referrals and build your business without social media. Photographers with more experience are always looking for qualified second shooters. Offering your services to them is a way to build relationships and establish your reputation. If a photographer who knows and trusts you has leads that don't align with their style or calendar dates, you can recommend one another to potential clients.
6. Be open to collaborations
Collaborating with other photographers or businesses can be a great way to showcase your work to a new audience. It’s also an excellent way to have more control and direction over the aesthetics of a shoot. You can collaborate on a creative-styled shoot, offer a co-promotion, or host a joint event.
7. Invest in paid advertising
Paid advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can help you effectively reach new audiences. And you can invest for a very minimal amount. For $5 a day, and with one ad, you can increase traffic to your website, increase visibility, build your email list, and gain new followers.
If you’re wondering how to promote your photography business on social media without posting constantly — a simple but effective Facebook or Instagram ad can be a great way to go. You can also consider paid advertising on search engines like Google.
8. Submit your work to publications
One of the more exciting ways to reach new audiences for your business without social media is by getting your work featured. Blogs, magazines, or other online publications are always seeking new content. While the submission process and guidelines for publications have changed over the last few years, there are still opportunities to get your work featured. And it’s always a boon for business to be able to showcase your work via a reputable outlet. Look for opportunities, and make submitting your work a routine part of your photography workflow.
The verdict: Can you build a successful business without social media?
While social media is one of the most effective ways to promote your photography business, it's not the only one. It's important to consider alternative avenues for reaching your audience, especially if you're overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out by the constant demand for content. Social media can feel like a case of Keeping Up with the Joneses, leaving you with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.
Refine the number of platforms you're on and diversify your marketing strategies. It will not only help you balance your social media usage, but it's also an intelligent approach to running a business.
Focusing on your website SEO, using referral programs and newsletters, networking and donating, collaborating with others, and paid advertising are all equally effective ways to build your business without social media. Changing focus can also keep some of the stress and constant demand at bay.
Remember, you are the leader of your business. You get to choose how much time, energy, and resources you want to invest in each of your marketing outlets. We're here to keep you empowered and informed about what's available to you and how to set yourself up for success — with or without social media.