The Social Media Fallacy – Does Social Media Generate Business Income?

Oct 9, 2015

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

The Social Media Fallacy – Does Social Media Generate Business Income?

Oct 9, 2015

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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the social media fallacy

Let me ask you a simple question: Does your investment in social media generate business income?

For most of the creative professionals I ask, the answer is either: “No, not really” or “I don’t know.”

The more I invest in social media, the more I get the feeling that this social media thing is just one big giant fraud – an elaborate ruse designed to do nothing more than monopolize time and energy chasing after likes and followers.

If you listen to the social media gurus, they’ll tell you straight up – your business MUST be on social media.  You MUST engage your followers – the more active you are, the more likes and followers you can acquire…ergo the bigger audience you have the more crap you can sell them.

It gets even worse (as if investing your time isn’t already enough, they want your money too) – they’ll also tell you that you need a hook.  You have to offer free products, discounts, contests, pay for ads – anything to drive interest and get more likes and secure more followers.

Who exactly benefits from all of this?  The social networks sure do.  The social media gurus do to.

But what about your business?  How much are those thousands of likes and legions of followers really worth to your business in real world $$$?

Because here’s the thing – I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the return on investment for social media is ridiculously small – or in other words, social media is probably not worth the time and effort you put into it.


jp danko on facebook

Unless you’re a wedding photographer, lifestyle or family portrait photographer (or maybe a photography education and information blog), Facebook is likely a complete waste of time for your business.

Facebook’s algorithms limit posts from your business page to a small fraction of your followers – unless of course you pay Facebook to promote your Facebook posts.

I understand paying for Facebook ads to drive traffic to your business website – a platform you control.  In fact, depending on your business, Facebook ads can be very effective as you can be laser sharp on targeting your sales demographic.

But why for the love of god would anyone pay Facebook to drive more users to their Facebook page so that their Facebook page can gain more likes – the only one that benefits is Facebook!


I know a number of Art Directors and designers who use Pinterest for keeping track of ideas and concepts – but they’re not there to recruit talent.  I’d put Pinterest in the same category as Facebook – useless, unless you’re a wedding photographer, lifestyle or family portrait photographer.


What’s Google+?


jp danko on instagram

I really hated Instagram back when it was an iOS only way to add silly filters to photos of your food.

But since then, it’s kind of grown on me, and now I’m starting to really enjoy Instagram on a personal level.  I also like Instagram because as creative professionals we have an inherent advantage on such a visual platform.

I do know of the occasional photographer who’s Instagram account has led to a paid gig or paid license – but even when you talk to top tier Instagram users with hundreds of thousands of followers – they all warn not to expect to make much actual money from your Instagram audience.

The culture of free use on Instagram is also problematic for creative professionals who actually like to get paid when someone uses their work.


jp danko on twitter

I can’t stand scrolling through my Twitter stream – its like an un-ending flow of blah blah blah (which to an introvert is actually pretty stressful).

However, Twitter is occasionally a good place to get in touch with industry professionals that is a little more informal and friendly than email.



Youtube is great for hosting behind the scenes and promotional video that you then embed on your business website.  Hosting video yourself eats up a ton of space and bandwidth, which Youtube is giving away for free – so why not take advantage of that?

I played with posting monetized instructional videos on Youtube for a while – but with the amount of work that it takes to produce high quality instructional content and the pittance Youtube pays for views – its not worth the time and effort.

Instead of Youtube, I now post instructional content to Skillshare, who pay more for a single view that Youtube pays for thousands.

500px & Other Photosharing Networks

jp danko on 500px

Work I have shared on 500px has lead directly to paid jobs and licensing income, and I know of tons of creative professionals including Art Directors and designers who regularly use 500px as a source of ideas and inspiration.

Out of all the various photo-sharing networks, I would say that 500px is really the only serious choice for creative professionals.


jp danko blog

You’re not going to make any money directly from a blog through advertising – blogs are for building Google juice and maybe compiling an email list.

The advantage of a blog is that everything you post increases the relevance of your business to search engines and drives potential contacts to your business website – a platform you control – not some third party’s billion dollar social media platform.

Nobody can tell you your content is inappropriate or suddenly terminate your account for no reason.

With popups and comment forms you can also use a blog to gather an email list.  Study after study show that direct emails to potential clients are far far more effective in converting sales than any social media network.

Don’t Fall For the Social Media Fallacy!

Don’t fall for the hype – the point of social media is not to gain likes and acquire followers.

The point of social media (from a business perspective anyway) is to make money – leveraging a collective audience of followers to convert views to sales – something that social media platforms fail at miserably.

I’m not saying that your business shouldn’t be active on social media, I’m just saying that you have to weigh your social media investment against actual time and money – ROI.

jpdanko on instagram

Prioritize Your Social Media Networks

Social media is advertising.  In advertising you always market to your target audience.  So you should focus on social media platforms where your target audience is active.

For me that is 500px, followed by Instagram and Twitter.

500px editors choice

Save Your Sanity – Automate Your Social Media Streams

This goes against everything you’ll hear from social media experts and the social media networks themselves (who will tell you that you need to personally engage your social media followers – bots don’t make for good friends after all and we wouldn’t want an entire network of bots talking to bots would we), but if you want to save your sanity you’ll want to automate your social media streams as much as possible.

Social Media Automation Apps

Here are a few great tools for freeing yourself from the tyranny of social medial manual labor:


Schedule, upload and manage your Instagram posts from your PC.  You still have to post to Instagram from your mobile device thanks to Instagram’s super restrictive API – but it still saves a ton of time and effort.

IFTTT (If This Then That)

Automatically share posts from one social network to another.  The recipe I use the most takes my Instagram photos and posts them as native Twitter photos (with the full photo not just a link).

And don’t forget that you can link and cross populate many social media accounts.  For example, you can link your Twitter account directly to your Facebook account so that if you post on Twitter it is automatically shared on Facebook.

However you choose to automate your social media feed, the key is have one initial post that populates all your other networks automatically.  Just be careful not to double post – people hate that!

Social Media Automation Plugins for Wordpress

If your website is on Wordpress, here are a few great Wordpress plugins to further automate your social media posting.

DsgnWrks Instagram Importer

Grabs your Instagram posts and automatically posts them to your Wordpress website as new blog posts.  There is a similar plugin for Twitter.  Adding new keyworded content to your website on a regular basis is great for Google juice!

Smash Balloon Instagram Feed

Displays a gallery of images from your Instagram feed on your Wordpress website.  A super easy way to keep your website content fresh.

Next Scripts Social Networks Auto Poster (SNAP)

Automatically posts new blog entries and featured images to your social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit.  Works like a charm, but you’ll need the pro upgrade for the best functionality.

Stop Photo Thieves

Any discussion about social media wouldn’t be complete without talking about all the a-holes out there who are going to steal your work.

I personally try to not think about creative content thieves as a-holes – but as future clients.

I have no idea how this strategy will work out in the long run – but its kind of like fishing – you never know what you’re going to catch but you won’t catch anything without your line in the water.

I use Pocket to monitor my social media streams.

Pocket keeps a complete record of exactly what content I share, when it was shared and who it was shared with.  In other words, proof of the online origin of my images.

From there Pixsy links with Pocket to automatically monitor where on the web my images are shared or used – and if I catch a fish, Pixsy reels them in and gives me my share of the recovered licensing cash.

pixsy stop photo theft

What Is Your Social Media Strategy?

How do you manage your business social media accounts?

Have you found a way to convert likes to $$$?

Do you automate your social media activities?

What automation apps or services work well for you?

Do you think we’re all part of a big scam that only benefits the social media networks?

Leave a comment and let us know!

And don’t forget to follow me on 500px, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (that’s a joke – but no really – follow me).

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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7 responses to “The Social Media Fallacy – Does Social Media Generate Business Income?”

  1. cbenci Avatar

    Great article JP. :)

    In my experience very rarely has social media lead directly to work but nearly every new client ‘checks us out’ on instagram, facebook etc.

    It shows my clients that I’m busy, work for a lot of different companies and gives a taste of my work.

    As for the image stealing thing, I really don’t think about it and I can’t I control it anyway. I find my social media presence has become more about where I am today and what I’m doing. To see my work, go to the website.

  2. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    Honest opinion: I think the experience varies A LOT, it depends highly on your target market, and your chances are not very good due to the sheer ammount of competition. I won’t say it’s completely ineffective because I’ve seen small businesses grow tenfold or more because of social networks – couple of friends that started very small and got a big influx of clients because of social networks.
    I also found at least half a dozen businesses via social network and became a costumer.

    Then again, they are mostly restaurants, stores, events and few others. I can’t say for sure about photographers.

    But of course, I’ve seen just as many businesses investing time and money into social networks with no results. So yeah, it can be a gamble.

    Personal tale: I have a graduation in computer science and in journalism. On my journalism course, late year subject was around social networks and business pages. I didn’t get to do the assignment (can’t remember why… I think it was extra for those who were close to failing), but I watched the final presentation of several groups in the class… results were extremely mixed. Sure enough, bars had a significant ammount of followers, as did stores specialized in certain products (female fashion and shoes, and whatnot). There were also some religious pages, some different specialized products (like a concrete company), and a company that worked with events (B2B) that didn’t go too well.

    My suspicion is that success in promotion via social networks will highly depend on factors like: what is the product you are selling, is there relevant content to be shown to your particular public, how are you planning to promote it, where inside social networks you’ll try to sell your stuff, will you be able to keep a steady periodicity, among some others.

    I guess everyone has to find their own balance, even if it’s just NOT going into social networks. It’s a time and possibly money waster, it has implications JP already listed, and it might not be worth the hassle.

    But I think that if your work is extremely unique, there are better chances to make the rounds.

    I believe trying to go for every big social network under the sun is also not the best way to deal with the whole thing, unless you are a very big business with a team of professionals dedicated to that alone. Sometimes it’s just better to pick one and stick to it. Try to find the most adequate venue for your kind of work, learn as much as possible on how to promote your stuff there, learn how to properly promote your content considering it’s own characteristics, and most important: keep it up. Sometimes it can take time for your content to reach the right people, bloggers will know.

  3. Sam Dickinson Avatar
    Sam Dickinson

    I’d say about 80% of my paid work comes from social media. That said, I’m pretty smalltime, but worthwhile for me (I shoot models/strippers/escorts mainly).

  4. 6 one way half a dozen another Avatar
    6 one way half a dozen another

    As a social media user (not a business owner), I will let you know that you are right on the nose. I don’t use social media to conduct business or to find businesses nor do I “like” or follow businesses due to the diminishing returns of adding more and more of them. But I agree that advertising on those sites makes some sense.

  5. Paganator Avatar

    It’s human nature to overvalue things that can be measured precisely. A lot of people will sacrifice a lot of happiness for a bit of money, for example, because it’s hard to quantify happiness but easy to count money. The some principle applies here: social media seduces you with precisely tallied likes and followers, so it’s easy to focus on that rather than on other methods of selling and marketing that are harder to measure but may work better.

  6. Nick Holliday Avatar
    Nick Holliday

    I’ve gotten a decent amount of design work and a little photography work from social media. This year I think i’ve gained 10 or so clients from Instagram and maybe 5 or 6 from Tumblr.

  7. Khürt L. Williams Avatar
    Khürt L. Williams

    I started a discussion about this one of the local business groups on Facebook. I think social media works for a specific set of business. Those with a visual portfolio — photographers, home design and remodeling, garden and landscape, fashion, lifestyle, web designers etc. — will do well. Those will a less tangible and visual service — computer services, developers, information systems architects, etc. — not so much.