Too often I see photographers, especially emerging pros and amateurs, tie their sense of self worth to social media and use it to gauge how good their work is. They get obsessed with how many likes, shares and comments they get, as if it is an indicator of how good their photography is. They are the ones always
If they have a lot of followers they think it means that they are a great photographer, when in reality it may just mean that they were included in many shared circles of people who...share circles. In fact, some of the most talented photographers on social media networks have a small number of followers and receive very little interaction on their posts simply because they don't play the circle/ShareMe game. I see this especially on GooglePlus, where overly-saturated highly processed imagery is by far the favorite of the landscape crowd and there is proportionately little attention paid to any landscape photographer who does not follow the formula. Of course my opinions are based mainly on the interactions I see on GooglePlus because that is where I hang my social media hat, but I can't imagine that it is much different on any other social media network. The demographics of each social media network are very different, an image that does well on one will not necessarily do well on another. Relying on social media likes as a measure of your talent is a head fake.
Some photographers excel at being professional Sharers. They post throughout the day and their posts frequently have nothing to do with their photography. They find the right formula to get a lot of interaction on their posts and develop a "cult" following. Many then get frustrated when their high number of followers doesn't translate into overnight success as a photographer with a multitude of clients banging on their door.
While some photographers confuse their popularity with talent, there are others who get frustrated and depressed that they aren't receiving the attention they feel their (very real) talent deserves. They may not be as skilled in navigating the social media environment, they may not have the time to devote to it, they may think they can post-and-run and devoted followers will flock to them, or their style of photography may not be popular with social media (there is little correlation between photography displayed in high end galleries and photography that is popular on social media networks). Or perhaps they may not be as good as they think they are.
Being popular on social media and being a good photographer are simply not the same thing.
Social media is a great way to "get your name out there" and get eyes on your work, it's necessary for SEO purposes and it can be a great way to network with others in the field. But I think that too many photographers get too obsessed over follower counts and number of likes as a measure of their talent and as some kind of measure of success. Just because Jane Photographer has one million followers and Joe ShutterSpeed only has 1500, it does not mean that Jane is a better photographer than Joe. There are many factors that account for social media popularity. Jane might be more popular because of her half-naked selfies and know nothing about working with clients. Joe might just be too busy working with clients to post on a regular basis. Jane may have done a better job cultivating her tribe while Joe might be more introverted. And a given social media network might not be where Joe's target market is best found. Developing a following on social media is a skill that has very little to do with the quality of one's photography.
Some photographers truly do deserve the attention they get on social media because they are wonderfully talented.
Others learn the hard way that millions of followers do not automatically translate into paying clients knocking on the door.
The prompt for this post was the image above, a set of my photos that Nitto Tire posted on their Facebook page to promote my DrivingLine article 6 Hot Off Road Vehicle Trends. Nitto posted it yesterday and as of this morning it has 17,843 likes, 826 shares and 119 comments. I'm going to post the image on GooglePlus this morning and link it to this post to show the drastic difference in responses. While it's easy to say that the Facebook is a better place for photographers to post (I hear that all the time but refuse to post on Facebook because of their onerous Terms of Service), one needs to understand that Nitto Tire has a much larger following than I do and that it has a completely different audience than I do on G+. When I did the shoot I did it for Nitto's audience. It's very important for a photographer to understand that. In fact it's probably the most important thing for a photographer to understand when shooting for a client.
Of course I'm happy to see that level of interaction on their post and it does get more eyes on my work, but what I'm really happy about is that I helped my client get that level of response because that is what they hired me for.
I won't get a tenth of the number of likes and share on G+ that Nitto is getting for the exact same image, but what I can be confident of is that based on the interaction of their Facebook post, my client got their money's worth from this shoot.
That is why I don't let myself get obsessed about follower counts and number of likes.