Cover image: Zachary Howell (@mrzomzom) for Skin Like Dawn Project, 2018
A few years ago, I started a personal photography project called Skin Like Dawn Project. The idea behind it was to explore vulnerability and masculinity in men. What does it look like when we give men (and masculine presenting folk) a space to shed the baggage required to live in a homophobic, hyper-masculine world in which men just aren’t allowed to be sensitive? The project included shooting nude images, but sexiness was never the goal. Vulnerability and emotional connection was the goal. For the first 1.5 years of shooting for this project, I only shared work from it anonymously through an Instagram account called @SkinLikeDawnProject, because I was really worried that if I went public with it, people would not understand and it would hurt my business. Even after I started attaching my name to Skin Like Dawn, it almost exclusively lived on Instagram.
…until this week when Instagram deleted my account for being in violation of its terms of service. Unfortunately, I’m learning of a wave of accounts being removed from Instagram as they’re tightening up on any accounts showing nudes – even nude imagery that’s censored and implied/fine art.
I write this not to be a pity party for me. I spent 3 days being sad about this, but now I’m okay and ready to move forward. I’m sharing this with you to because I want you to learn from my experience.
Are all your eggs in one basket? If your Instagram / Facebook / Pinterest, etc. social media sites disappeared overnight (or at 9:30 AM, like mine did), would you still be able to function as a business?
Fortunately, my Skin Like Dawn Project isn’t my sole source of income. However, I lost years of community and follower building – almost 10,000 followers. I have no way to recover that following and no way to message all the people that I met and interacted with on a regular basis to let them know where I’ll be moving next.
Here’re some ideas to help you bulletproof your following so that you can protect yourself better than I did for myself.
Eric Mitchell Berey (@Eric_mitchell) for Skin Like Dawn Project, 2017
Start a mailing list.
Use a platform like Mailchimp and ask your followers to join your mailing list. Mailing lists are great for promotions/announcements because they’re direct. It’s a piece of mail that everyone will get at the same time the same way. On social media, your posts may often be seen by some folks and not others. Conversely, most people check their emails at least 1x daily.
Judas Titus for Skin Like Dawn Project, 2017
Make sure you’re putting just as much time into your websites/online portfolios as you’re putting into your social media presence.
As artists, it’s crucial that our art – our product – has a place to live that’s safe from ever-changing social media platforms and algorithms. Websites can now be put together with little to no technical expertise, and they can be so in a way that they’re already optimized for search engines. A well-crafted blog post with attention being made on SEO and keyword placement will benefit you and your business vastly – moreso than a single social media posting can do. Let your website be the hub of your online presence. Just use social media platforms as tools for marketing with the knowledge that while Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest are powerful engines, we are not guaranteed anything from them.
Spend time in your community building in-person relationships with relevant people and vendors, and deliver bang up customer service to your clients.
As photographers and service providers, perhaps our biggest tool for business is still positive word-of-mouth reviews from clients and colleagues. More than half of my leads come from people who knew past clients of mine. Your best way to build a brand that has recognition and relevance larger than your social media presence is by creating cheerleaders for your work.
Thankfully, I’ve put these practices into play for my wedding photography Instagram account by housing the most valuable information on my website, asking for people to join my mailing list and prioritizing my in-person relationships. Don’t be like me. Don’t lose all your hard work.