Facebook Fails Stock Photographers

Photography: Todd Arena

For photographers selling their services directly to the public, the benefits of maintaining a business Facebook page are clear enough. Face tagging pushes pictures of brides and wedding guests to clients and their friends, showing off their work to potential leads for free. Paid advertising lets them focus their deal on demographics as targeted as engaged women aged 25-40 within 50 miles of their studio. But what about stock photographers? Does Facebook offer anything for professionals and enthusiasts whose buyers are more likely to be businesses than individuals? According to the experience of at least one stock photographer, if the aim is only to sell licenses, then the answer may well be no.

Todd Arena started his career as a graphic designer, using stock images to create custom magazines, ads, websites and corporate identities for large corporations. Realizing that many of the contributors whose images he bought were selling the same work hundreds of times, he began producing his own pictures, beginning with graphics and art elements before working his way up to photography. He upgraded his gear, improved his photography skills and in mid-2008, after being laid off from his graphic design position, switched to full-time stock photography, shooting mostly lifestyle images, food and sports. In addition to promoting his images primarily through microstock companies, he also now runs his own stock site at Arena Creative.

Keep Your Page Active

Todd created a Facebook page almost five years ago, when he first started dabbling in stock sales, and has now picked up more than 4,000 followers. Not all of them are active. Todd knows about 400 of his readers, and only a small fraction of them contribute to his page, placing comments after his posts and complimenting his images.

His wall contains a combination of RSS-fed blog posts, comments and interaction. The info section allows him to introduce his photography and place his links, and the photos area contains a selection of carefully chosen and watermarked images. Regular activity is important to both build and maintain an audience, says Todd, and participating on other Facebook pages can also help to attract new readers.

“It’s important that you structure your online activity into a plan of action, so that your page doesn’t lay dormant,” says Todd. “Joining different groups, participating in discussions in other public areas of Facebook also helped me to get a lot of new fans.”

By one measure then, Todd Arena’s Facebook is successful. It has a large following, a steady stream of content and even if only a fraction of his 4,000-plus followers do more than lurk, the page is lively enough to show that it has interest. The commercial benefits that the page has generated though are a little less clear.

The page does generate traffic to Todd’s website. Facebook pages, he says, are ranked higher in Google search results than most personal portfolio sites. Even face tagging, a practice that might appear less useful for stock photographers than for event photographers, can generate some viral marketing and some extra visits.

“Posting a few low-resolution, usually watermarked selects from a recent photo shoot and then tagging the models in them, definitely helps drive new people over to your page,” explains Todd. “If they like what they see, they just might inquire about their own photoshoot, or at least click the like button.  That activity shows on their wall and their friends’ news feed.”

The branding is important too, and the Facebook page shows potential buyers what Todd shoots and what they can expect from his own site.

Lots of Hits, No Sales

But despite that extra Google love, the viral effect of face tagging and the brand awareness that his Facebook page has helped to build, Todd has yet to see any significant effect on his bottom line. He can count on one hand, he says, the number of times he has managed to produce license sales from the extra traffic his social network efforts have generated.

“I’ve been able to accomplish building the traffic of my website by leaps and bounds, and I’m sure that having a solid participation in social networking have contributed to that. Has the added traffic caused me to license many stock photo sales?  Very few,” he says. “As a stock photographer, I’ve pretty much concluded that the majority of my social networking efforts have been mostly in vain.”

Even advertising on Facebook hasn’t worked for him. Todd recently used a $50 credit to test a banner campaign. He found that he generated lots of views and plenty of website hits. He might have pushed his brand and logo a little deeper into the minds of buyers, he thought, but none of those hits produced so much as a single sale.

Facebook then can generate traffic to a stock site but if Todd Arena’s experience is typical then it’s unlikely to generate much in the way of revenue. Most of his sales are the results of the promotional efforts taken by the stock companies rather than his own work on Facebook.

So perhaps it’s better to look for a different kind of benefit that stock photographers can pick up through social networking. Todd created his page as a “fun, social thing,” seeing it as a kind of forum that contained some additional cool features. It allowed him to communicate with models and photographers, and bring an interactive element to an otherwise lonely profession which tends to involve shooting objects, editing them on the computer then uploading them to a stock site. As a platform that provides social interaction for self-employed photographers then, Facebook might well have something to offer.

“I work from home. My two dogs don’t say much,” he says. “I find social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and my own blogging efforts to be a nice break from the everyday monotony of my daily workflow.”

Overall then, Todd Arena still recommends that photographers — even stock photographers — create a business page on Facebook. Just don’t spend any of your own money on advertising and don’t expect your posts, comments and pictures to actually produce any sales.

5 comments for this post.

  1. hfng Said:

    Great interview! FB definitely helps with direct sales. I guess it only helps stock photographers if you have 4000 designers following you:D

  2. John Lund Said:

    Excellent article. I do think that over time a like button on ones photos (on websites) might provide at leas some boost for web traffic since Google has acknowledged giving "likes" weight in its rankings.


  3. Toni Aull Said:

    Todd, I congratulate you in your own efforts in your life.... All your words are encouraging and proof that it worked for you, and it will work for me... I believed I just got my question answer by this article.
    Thank you

  4. Robert Fishback Said:

    Great article. The value of networking can help you find models and projects to shoot, so your time spent is not a total loss.

  5. Keith Carey Said:

    Well, I'm also a photographer and I also have facebook fan page but rarely updated it and I only have 40 plus likes. So, maybe I will double up my effort and update it regularly.. Thanks the nice information..

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