How to Convert Instagram Followers into Dollars
by Harrison Jacobs
© Logan Cole
Wedding photographer Logan Cole joined Instagram in 2011. Thanks to his social media-boosting know-how, he currently has over 21,000 followers.
June 04, 2014 —
When Los Angeles-based wedding photographer Logan Cole first heard about the social media and image-sharing app Instagram in 2011, he had only been shooting professionally for a little over a year. His business was so nascent that he had yet to set up any professional social media accounts. He started by posting, as he calls them, “blurry photos of whatever,” but, after playing around with a few photo-editing apps, something clicked. He began treating his feed like a client, posting the honest, vintage-inspired photos that became his hallmark. His following grew exponentially. Today, with over 21,000 followers, @logancolephoto has become a force on Instagram.
In short order, Cole’s Instagram feed has netted him wedding clients, a gig teaching for online photography website the Define School, an all-expenses paid trip helicoptering around Alberta, Canada, and promotional partnerships with brands like Red Bull, Boxed Water and Artifact Uprising. Cole’s success on Instagram is the kind you might expect from a 21-year-old millennial, and photographers across the industry are starting to wake up to the money-making potential of the app.
Turning Followers Into Clients
“It was free publicity for me,” he says. “Everyone that went to the wedding saw them immediately. You never know who is planning a wedding.”
Within a week, Flanigan had booked two couples that attended the reception—not bad for a spur-of-the-moment decision. Now, he posts shots to his Instagram feed at every wedding he goes to. So does Cole, who says he’d rather have guests look at his professional portraits than squint at Aunt Susan’s bland snaps. For both, it’s all about brand awareness. “Guests see the photos and start following you,” Cole explains. “When the maid of honor gets engaged in four months, she is going to remember you, because she’s been liking all your photos.”
The strategy is working. Flanigan estimates that he’s booked more than ten weddings this year from Instagram referrals; Cole estimates that a quarter of his wedding inquiries come from Instagram as well. While he notes that he does not book the majority of them, the referrals have more than paid for the time that he’s invested.
Building A Captivated Audience
The question then becomes: how do you build the following? Brian DiFeo, a co-founder of Instagram advertising agency the Mobile Media Lab and a pioneer of the platform, offered us some hints: “The most successful influencers are the ones that balance what the audience wants to see and what you want to show as a singular voice,” DiFeo says.
DiFeo formed his agency in 2012 along with fellow prominent Instagrammers Anthony Danielle and Liz Eswein. In just two years, the company has completed successful campaigns for some big-name brands, including Samsung, Honda, Coach and Armani. The Mobile Media Lab maintains a network of 300 influential Instagrammers, who collectively have 50 million followers. When brands agree to a campaign, DiFeo finds Instagrammers in his network to hire.
While DiFeo concedes that crowd-pleasers like pretty sunsets and cute dogs do well in the short term, they don’t build what he calls “an audience that anticipates your next post.” According to him, that comes when you hone in on your distinct artistic voice and stick with it.
For wedding-to-lifestyle crossover phenom Max Wanger (@maxwanger), that means having a feed that, while including shots of his baby, sticks to the whimsical negative-space portraits he’s known for. It’s like shrinking his style down to a 1 x 1-inch square. “My artistic photos tend to get more likes because they stand out,” says Wanger. “It’s hard to be artistic with everything, but if you take photos a little differently and intentionally, it has its benefits.”
Meanwhile, Flanigan posts a combination of dreamy landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, intimate portraits and the occasional wedding shot. The fact that it all fits with his brand and style isn’t an accident. He approaches his feed with an eye toward quality control. “When I’m posting things to Instagram, I try to think like a company shipping a product. Is this something that I want to ship? Is this something I want attached to my brand?” says Flanigan. “I always want to post, but I don’t want to flood followers with less- impactful photos. It’s difficult.”
Cole is even more particular about quality control. Once a week, he goes back through his feed and, like a good photo editor, strikes posts that he thinks aren’t up to par or don’t fit in with the group. “When people are just glancing through my profile, I want consistency in the photos,” explains Cole. “I have to make sure everything flows and looks cohesive.”
Keeping Up With The Joneses
While Flanigan agrees, he finds that it’s not just about clients seeing his photos, but about him seeing theirs. “If I’m liking clients’ photos, they are reminded that I exist,” Flanigan says. After engagement sessions, he always follows his clients on Instagram. “I can see how their wedding is coming along and stay in contact so they know that I care.”
Cole, Flanigan and Guenther have all noticed that almost all of their clients are already following them by the time they get to the engagement shoot. The heightened frequency of interaction all makes for a more personal client-photographer relationship.
“They get a stronger understanding of who I am as a wedding photographer after following me,” says Guenther. “My feed is my brand and my brand is myself.”
Beyond The Wedding World
The response was immediate. His following grew and he began connecting with big Instagrammers with a similar esthetic. After a few choice mentions and months of steady, beautiful work, Instagram added him to its “suggested user” list. When he looked at contemporaries on the list—big brands like Red Bull and Nike—he knew he was onto something big. His following soon hit 50,000.
Guenther decided to spin off his brand into an account for Canadian wedding photographers called the Great North Collective (@greatnorthco). After he and a few photographer friends Instagrammed weekend excursions in the wilderness for the collective, followers began to flock to that feed as well. Soon after, a public-relations representative for the Tourism Authority of Alberta called, offering an all-expenses-paid trip helicoptering and snowshoeing, given that the photographer Instagram the trip. He, of course, accepted and the trip was a success.
Since the Alberta campaign, Guenther has been approached by a number of other brands looking to co-opt his unique imagery and rabid following. As Guenther hints at an upcoming campaign with “a massive brand” that he can’t yet reveal, it is clear Instagram has changed his career. “With that influence comes the opportunity for brands to hire you,” explains Guenther. “It’s becoming an extension of my career.”
That type of brand partnership is becoming the norm for influential Instagrammers. It’s what the Mobile Media Lab is built on. Despite the Lab’s success, DiFeo is adamant that there is plenty of room for any photographer to get a piece of the pie.
“Any influencer can work with a brand if either they find a brand or the brand finds them,” DiFeo says. “You could be creating great content and have a big audience, but until you approach someone or someone approaches you, you don’t know if that’s a possibility.”
Never Stop Innovating
“It’s important today to build an awareness of what you can create with a client or brand,” says Lowy.
At the end of the day, creating that buzz demonstrates that you understand how to leverage technology to your benefit. It’s all about reinventing yourself for the social media age. “Using Instagram lets people know that I can innovate,” explains Lowy. “I can shoot things differently. I’m not just the photographer creating the content of the photograph but also recognizing how that photograph is used.”
With likes, comments and shares turning increasingly into dollar signs, it’s no wonder that a photographer’s network is becoming almost as important as the photographs themselves.
6 Tips For Boosting Your Instagram Feed
1. Have a Brand and Stick With It
2. Interact Before You Post
3. Build Organic Relationships
4. Send DSLR Images to Your iPhone Wirelessly
5. Take Your Pick of Post-Production Apps
6. Go For Sharp Images
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