We (almost) all put ourselves on display via the many and varied social platforms with our photography, writings, podcasts and whatever else. We do this in the hope of gaining an audience that understands and appreciates our work and when it happens, it feels incredibly great…

…but social platforms have all started to implement algorithms in hopes of prioritizing our content based on relevance rather than the published time.

This can most definitely diminish the chance your work coming in front of the people who chose to follow you. The algorithms are not about improving that relationship, they’re more about improving the chance a sponsor/paid advert landing in front of you in hopes of enticing you to click through and ultimately spend your cash.

There are countless times I’ve heard from followers that they do not see my work and this is very disheartening. It causes many of our peers embarking on strategies they feel are going to get them noticed more than if they did nothing. Things like creating alliances such as collectives (an idea I am still exploring since I had a brief exposure to that and could see it as a great playground for like-minded souls), and collaborations with individuals who come together for short term projects in hopes perhaps of spreading their nets wider to catch a broader audience.

These sorts of schemes just seem like a wasted effort because the social platforms are like black boxes and we the users are constantly hoping/guessing that we will figure it out. Once we do figure it out, they just move the goalposts, leaving us to scramble. So, I say forming alliances should only be for true collaborations with no expectations other than spreading horizons wider and hopefully learning from someone quite different from yourself.

The algorithms are not about improving that relationship, they’re more about improving the chance a sponsor/paid advert landing in front of you…

Social platforms are not here for us, they are here for their own bottom line: the mighty growth/coin. Even when the tools get loads of eyeballs on your feeds or stories, we the audience don’t really seem to take action. For example, on Instagram currently, I can share a story and it will easily receive 300-400 views. That’s great, but ultimately meaningless if the viewers are not actually there to engage.

It feels as if your story just plays to an audience that’s sort of like the occupants of the spaceship in WALL-E (great movie). The audience is not really there to engage with the work, especially if you’re not a “big name”. Most people (I feel) are only interested in engaging when they feel they have something to gain from the one they are engaging with. I know, that comes across as quite cynical, but I feel like we are in a “follow-for-follow” age. An age where one only gets engagement when there is something to be gained (we have left the Information Age and have entered the Follow for Follow Age, ok let me stop joking). In all seriousness, it does feel sort of less one nation and more like alienation.

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The previous paragraph did come across as cynical, didn’t it? Let me step it back a little. I have formed some really great friendships online. I have podcast, photography, and just general relationships that I cherish immensely. If it were not for those I’d be packing it up and going offline like my friend and great photographer Devon Stapleton (who was on Through My Lens with Clay Daly: A Personal Journey with Devon Stapleton where we do go into his leaving online spaces). If I were to leave the social platforms would I lose all those connections I have formed online? I would hope not.

I have a space online to create as my own and share my images and the podcasts I create.

My website is my own space and it is not subject to Facebook, Twitter, et al and their ever-changing algorithms. But… and it is a big but, how do we get the audience to follow? How does someone who is not a big name online personality get the audience to take an extra step to get outside of the walled garden and into the spaces rebels like us occupy out here in the independent web?

I have not done the work, because I fear no one will follow, but perhaps no one will follow because I have not done the work. (Classic free chicken and fertilized eggs situation, amirite?) This is an important question, and the simple answer may just be that we don’t worry about the audience. We just take the leap to create for ourselves and not worry about the audience following, because maybe you’ll reach a new audience.

…or we don’t worry about the algorithms on the platforms and just keep creating on them hoping that perhaps things improve…? Do we just go offline altogether and take our creative creations to the next level and create the ultimate versions of our photography and other art forms (and by ultimate I mean the print of course in the case of photography).

I know many bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters will end their posts with a solution, but I have none. I will simply end with a question.

Where to from here?

~ Clay

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s what I’d do. Get off the net.Engage with your community (real world),Print your work,exhibit it any way you can.Become the local photographer… and for God’s sake stop taking photos of graffiti.We’ve all had a gutful.
    Cheers,Ferg.

    • “… and for God’s sake stop taking photos of graffiti.We’ve all had a gutful.”

      This is not particularly helpful. There’s value alone from the specific point of view of documenting fleeting public art. What works for you does not necessarily work for others.

      • Thanks EM. Really appreciate your reply & the awesome platform you provide for us here.

        Funny this comment made by “Craig Ferguson” I responded to on my blog because it sat with me for a while.

        https://www.cwdaly.com/no-outlet/

        Again thanks again for allowing me to be a part of his wonderful community you’ve created. I came away with far more positive than negative and that is to be applauded.

  2. Great article and states well what lots of photographers struggle with on social media – and there is not an easy answer! I guess we can just reminisce about flickr…

  3. at least to me, the answer seems to be that we should do whatever possible to get back to the old school wild west, open frontier web.

    self owned and managed sites, away from large walled garden platforms are the first step, and going back to RSS gets, i think, half of the way there.

    but ultimately i think open, federated platforms are where we should look and try to reach. getting more people and technology using the fediverse (and i think specifically activitypub right now because it’s documented) can get us where we want.

    the fediverse gives us the social and interactive elements that the old web was missing, it allows for those easy, seamless connections. and because either you or someone you know controls the site you’re using you know you’re not getting ads, and you know the platform isn’t trying to monetize you (because if they do, you can just leave)

    the biggest problems the fediverse has are that there aren’t that many users, and someone has to run and manage the software. the first is a much harder problem than the second, because i think groups of friends or small communities could easily fund the infrastructure for the software.

  4. Yup….social media promises us attention, which I guess most of us crave. But apart from the really marketable few, most of us get to endure advertisements instead. We are, after all, the product. However, I did start putting my film photos on Instagram, and when I noticed the curator of a gallery I thought I would like to exhibit in was following me, I went and saw her in person, so in a way I got a result. However, photographers are like musicians, of which I am also one, and if we seek fame and fortune as a reward for doing what we love, we are probably going to be disappointed. Many mediocre artists find fame, and many fine ones do not. I feel blessed that I have been given some creative abilities, that I can develop, and that some people who are important to me appreciate that. Any more is a bonus! As it turns out I now have work in that fine art gallery, but have yet to build a following there. Work in progress!

  5. I subscribe to your site via ols school RSS. Works great, always has. I did not miss a post, reading them either in an RSS Reader or a web browser. That is in my opinion a way better experience than in a social media app. Seems like RSS is getting some attention again lately because of the all the problems with social media you mentioned above.

  6. I am glad to see there are others out there who have seen social media platforms for what they are. That’s not to say they are bad. Rather, it is to say that when we place our hopes of photographic success (however that is defined) in social media, we limit ourselves. I find it sometimes even stifles my creativity, because I am creating for something, or someone else rather than letting the creative process flow. So the idea of creating new spaces of collaboration is very appealing to me. That is one of the things I love about Emulsion, I learn things, and I learn of other people out here doing really good things that inspire, and challenge me as a photographer. I don’t spend much time posting on Insta, or Face. Not much point to it for me, but I do like the groups on Facebook. More communication between people concerning their work. Also, I had a guy actually message me the other day about starting a group outside of fb where we actually get to know each other, meet up for photo walks, etc… I also actively reach out to other photogs within about a 300 mi radius of me, to try and develop friendships, and perhaps go out photographing in their area, and have them here for the same. Overall, this is a great article, with some very good points, and asks a very good question. I believe that for me, this year will be more about developing new friendships with others who are photographers. Happy New Year, folks!

  7. Funny – I have been going through very similar ruminations myself. I have 2 IG pages (which keep getting blocked for engaging too much!), numerous Facebook groups, my own FB page, Flickr, and so on but it all feels so superficial and hard work. I’m curious about what was said about Twitter as my experience there is not good – maybe I need to start again and work differently? At the end of one’s life, it’s very hard to imagine what will survive of one’s creativity without somehow becoming truly ‘known’. I am enjoying photography more now than in any other time in my life but that will only continue if I have a meaningful means of sharing the results with people who might care a little. I enjoy photographing buildings – I did wonder about starting to print and present the best to the building owners as a purely altruistic gesture – might work well with pubs and offices but less well with car-parks and ruins!!

  8. Interesting article. I have to keep telling myself that I only shoot for myself and that is doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, says or even sees but it is genuinely disheartening when nobody ever seems to see my work when I post it anywhere.
    I still post regularly on Instagram although purely to keep a presence than anything else anymore and find Twitter much better for having meaningful discussion with other photographers or artists but ultimately my own website is the only thing i can really control and the only thing I curate with genuine enthusiasm and quality.

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