This article was originally written by Richard Wong for Black Star Rising. Reprinted here with permission, as part of Photographer’s Month.

I see a lot of skepticism about social media from photographers in various online forums. A recent comment on the business forum at NatureScapes.Net, for example, stated that there are “no clear examples of anyone ever having any success marketing in this fashion,” that social media has never helped sell “hundreds of units of anything,” and that, therefore, it is a waste of time.

The truth is, social networks can be a waste of time for photographers, if you don’t leverage them wisely. But dismissing their value out of hand is a huge mistake.

Social Media = Word of Mouth

Used well, social media is a highly effective form of word-of-mouth marketing. For example, I hear all the time that (insert name of wedding/commercial photographer here) doesn’t have to actively market his/her work anymore because he/she is getting so much referral business from (insert form of social media here).

It’s not difficult to understand why this is the case.

In the old days (that is, a few years ago), a bride who absolutely loved your work at her wedding might have gushed about you to a few people in her social circle — and shown the photos to an even smaller number. Today, she can put up the whole gallery on Facebook or e-mail the link to your blog post on her wedding to all the guests, reaching hundreds of people at once.

If one of that bride’s friends is considering hiring a wedding photographer, who is she more likely to call — someone out of the phone book or who places ads in wedding magazines, or someone who comes highly recommended from a person she trusts?

Buying In

Certainly, it’s smart to approach social media marketing with both eyes open — and to think about the reasons the naysayers cite for their skepticism.

Here are five:

  1. It can be a time sucker if you let it.
  2. It’s difficult to be heard over all the “noise.”
  3. Very few of the people you interact with are potential customers.
  4. There’s no tried and true methodology for success.
  5. Measuring effectiveness can be difficult.

To these arguments, I would counter with these five responses:

  1. It doesn’t have to disrupt your day. You can conduct your social media activities on your iPhone while on a subway commute.
  2. The cream tends to rise to the top, just as it does for traditional marketing.
  3. You can reach much larger audiences for less money than ever before.
  4. There are a lot of opportunities to make a name for yourself through innovation.
  5. Brand awareness has real value, even if it is hard to quantify.

Social media is not for everyone, nor every type of business out there. But if you want to take advantage of this little thing called the Internet to build your business, it is essential.

What the skeptics might not realize is that by posting a comment on NatureScapes.Net, or even by reading Black Star Rising, they are already buying in to social media — and adding to its marketing power.

Richard Wong

Richard is a Los Angeles photographer and his portfolio ranges from the front cover of Budget Travel magazine to in-store displays at Whole Foods Market.

Richard Wong Photography

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