Instagram = Gambling

Probably every serious photographer on the planet has his or her opinion about Instagram. It has become THE platform for photographers to display their work, get new ideas and find models to collaborate with. It has radically changed the whole ecosystem affecting modeling agencies and brands as well as those directly involved in creating content.

Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to build your audience in Instagram is a lot like playing the slot machines at a casino. Each time you post the latest and greatest work of art that you’ve labored over, your hope is that this one is going to go viral. Finally my work will get recognized and I will go on to internet stardom.

The reality, however, seems a bit different. My experience is that no matter what I post there really doesn’t seem to be much difference in the outcome. I guess if I posted images of semi-naked women I might get a bit more uptake, but even with this I’m not sure. So why is this?

The hard work ethic that supports our world view when applied to Instagram would say create great content and the audience will come. The reality, unfortunately, is otherwise. The reality is that the algorithms that Instagram uses to decide when and how to display your content are the arbiters of your success. If, for some reason, Instagram deams your content worthy, it can be put in front of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. But, you really have no control over how these algorithms work. Sure you can try to game them. You can try buying followers or likes or you can team up with your friends to create an Instagram support group. You can tag all sorts of famous people or things with the hope this will help your content rise up. My conclusion -- it doesn’t work. Just like in gambling, the house always wins. 

So how has this changed my perspective? I still spend far too much time looking at content on Instagram. It helps me to get ideas and see who is who in my market. But I’ve stopped caring how many followers I have or how many likes I get for each post. Sure, I look. But I no longer harbor the illusion that any of my posts are ever going to go viral. And guess what, I feel much healthier for taking this perspective. 

Long ago I remember hearing that when it comes to social networks being an early adopter is key. For those photographers who got in early and became well known, kudos to you. For the rest of us, recognize that the rules are set against you and set your expectations accordingly.

Neil Bainton PhotoComment