Recently I’ve been thinking about the lack of authenticity that’s pervasive in wildlife photography. The downside of social media is that we are driven to get more likes, more follows and more comments on our photos. Some photographers will do whatever it takes to increase their social media following. The general rule of thumb I use is: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are a lot of questionable wildlife photography social media techniques out there from buying followers to paying for bots that will like and comment on other people’s photos for you!
Keep reading to find out more about these techniques and learn to spot the ‘bull’ clogging up your feed.
This article is part 1 of a 2 part series on the topic. Part 1 covers questionable social media practices and part 2 covers photography ethics. Click here for Part 2.
If something is authentic, it is real, true, or what people say it is.
Wildlife Photography Social Media Techniques: Authenticity Issues
Be aware that things in the world of social media aren’t always what they seem. Here are two photographers’ Instagram profiles. I’ll come back to these later in the article, but start thinking about what differences you notice between the two accounts.
Buying Followers and Likes
It takes a long time to build up a decent-sized social media following. Even if you have fantastic photographs, the process is slow! It’s taken me nearly 3 years of hard work to get my Instagram account close to 8,000 followers. My Facebook page is even slower to grow (after 1 year, the page has 400 likes).
To bypass this process, some photographers opt to buy followers and likes for their photographs. I did some research, and buying 10K Instagram followers costs between $50 and $900. The more you pay, the more “engaged” the followers are supposed to be. In most cases, you aren’t buying quality followers. These aren’t people who will comment on your photographs, buy your prints or have meaningful interactions with you. It’s merely a way of cheating the system to make it look like you have a large following.
This practice isn’t unique to Instagram – you can also buy Facebook page likes, Twitter followers and more. You can even pay to get more likes on your photographs. Keep your eye out for accounts that seem to be growing at an unnatural pace! It would be extremely unusual for a photographer to gain 1000 new followers in the space of a few weeks.
One way to grow your social media account organically is to like and comment on other people’s photographs. When you give someone attention, they are likely to return the favour. But, it takes a lot of time to comment on hundreds of people’s photographs. The easier solution is to pay for a bot to like and comment on photographs for you! A bot can cover a lot more ground than you can and once it starts commenting on and liking photographs, those follows start rolling in.
Why I Don’t Like Bots
Unlike buying followers, using a bot can actually get you legitimate followers. But, here’s why I don’t like them: not long after joining Instagram I started following a popular wildlife photographer. He began leaving a thumbs up emoji 👍 comment on every photo I posted. I was thrilled that he was interacting with me, so I began commenting on his photographs. At some point I downloaded one of those apps that tells you which of the people you follow aren’t following you back. The app told me that he wasn’t even following me! Somehow, despite having 100,000K followers, he had the time to leave me a 👍 on every photograph?!
Now that I’ve learned about bots, I realize that he must be using one. I’ve also noticed that he comments 👍 on many other people’s photographs.
What to Look For
Bots work via Instagram’s hashtags. You tell the bot which hashtags you want it to target, and then it will start liking and commenting on all the photographs that use the tag. You can give it up to 10 comments that you want it to use, so there can be some variety. If someone leaves the same generic comment on most of your photographs, there is a high chance they are using a bot. One way to avoid bots is to stop using hashtags altogether, but then your photographs won’t be seen by as many people.
Another strategy people use on Twitter and Instagram is to follow as many accounts as possible and then unfollow those who don’t follow back. As I mentioned, you can download apps that will tell you which users you follow aren’t following you back. The apps make it easy to unfollow those accounts. Some people go a step further and even unfollow people who do follow them back! The hope is that people won’t notice.
You can also pay companies who will do the following and un-following for you. Like with using bots to comment and like, it’s a way of saving time and covering more ground.
Foster meaningful and genuine interactions.
Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent.
Recently Instagram appears to be cracking down on companies who provide bots and follow/unfollow services – there’s an interesting article in the New York Times about it. But, as Instagram shuts some accounts down, others unfortunately begin cropping up.
Working with Brands
One thing to be aware of is photographers with 5,000+ followers might be working with companies to promote their products. If a photographer is promoting photography equipment or any related brands, they are probably being paid to do so! Some people will use the hashtags #sponsored or #ad to let their followers know that it’s a promotional post.
Companies will only work with accounts that have a large following, so it stands to reason that some people are tempted to buy followers, pay bots and use the follow/unfollow strategy. One influencer recently wrote an eye-opening confessional post about all the strategies being used to grow accounts.
The good news is that some brands are becoming aware of these practices and putting extra measures in place to measure the authenticity of people’s accounts. For fun, I signed up with FOHR and got them to evaluate the authenticity of my following (for free!). Here are the results.
Other Social Media Techniques
There are a whole host of other techniques people use to grow their social media following. On Instagram, some photographers will delete their older or less liked photographs. This gives the impression that all of their photos get a lot of likes. It also makes it look like the account has a large number of followers, for a very few number of posts.
Other photographers will re-post their highest liked photographs again and again without saying that it’s an older shot that’s already been posted. I’ve also seen people post 20 shots of the same bird taken from slightly different angles. This often happens if it’s a bird that gets a lot of attention e.g. an owl or bird of prey and the photographer wants to squeeze every last like and follow out of it.
Lastly, people use automated posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re going away on vacation, for example, you could schedule posts in advance that will show up at a prescribed day and time. I think this technique can be used in an authentic way, but it can also give people the false impression that you are present and posting.
Why I Don’t Like These Techniques
Many of these techniques raise authenticity issues and, if you see an account that looks too good to be true, it probably is. These techniques also place a lot of focus on gaining new followers, often at the expense of the existing audience. Some photographers seem to think that no one is paying attention so they can get away with these strategies.
Coming back to the two examples from the start of this section. While both accounts have a similar number of followers, the number of posts is very different. The first is a profile of someone I suspect is either buying followers, using bots or deleting older posts (or all three!). Unless you’re already famous, it’s very difficult to get 100K followers from 182 posts. The second is someone who has built up their account organically.
When I first started out as a photographer, I was completely naive to the questionable social media practices in this article. I was wowed by people with hundreds of thousands of followers, I was impressed by accounts with a few posts and large following and I spent two years interacting with a 👍 bot. Lol! It’s my hope that in reading this article more people will become aware of these issues and won’t be ‘fooled’ like I have been. In my experience, the majority of wildlife photographers aren’t using these techniques, but you will come across some who are. It’s up to you whether you want to keep these accounts in your feed or not.
Click here for part 2 of the series where I discus questionable photography techniques. Everything from underwater shots of Kingfishers in aquariums to freezing insects to get macros photos!
What social media bull have you come across? Leave a comment below ↓