ARTICLE

10 tips for using social media to grow your business

Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen explaining how his camera works to a group of Afghan children.
Behind-the-scenes shots often prove popular on social media. Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen, who has 678k Instagram followers, is pictured here explaining how his camera works to a group of young Afghan refugees on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens at 1/3200 sec, f/2 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen

For photographers today, social media is an increasingly important part of the job, offering a chance to share work with new audiences and clients across the globe. From hosting live video interviews to building online communities for non-profit projects, photographers' profiles are evolving beyond a picture-perfect feed.

"Social media is the current reality and a way to inform the world," says two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and National Geographic photographer Muhammed Muheisen. "It's your diary and your portfolio." Muhammed uses his social channels to highlight the impact of conflict – from Palestine to Syria – and in turn effect real change.

Social media is an equally valuable tool for wedding photographer Marina Karpiy, who says she dedicates two hours a day to promoting her work online. Meanwhile, wedding photographer, photojournalist and regular New York Times contributor Tasneem Alsultan – whose work focuses on gender and social issues in her home, Saudi Arabia, and the wider Middle East – experiments with new formats online to better engage with her sizeable following.

Here, the Canon Ambassadors share their advice for using social channels to amplify your photography and boost your business.

The Treasury façade, also known as Al-Khazneh, in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan.
Muhammed's post of the Treasury façade, also known as Al-Khazneh, in the ancient city of Petra, had an incredible 42.4k likes on Instagram. "People connect to Petra, especially the Treasury, because of movies such as Indiana Jones," he says. "Many people have also been there and share their experience by commenting and engaging." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/2500 sec, f/2.2 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen
A full moon rising above the Acropolis of Athens, Greece.
Recently re-shared, Muhammed's image of a full moon rising above the Acropolis of Athens had more than 35.5k Instagram likes, similar to the engagement on his original post. "Sometimes it is good to feed your account with moments that show the beauty of our world," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 1/40 sec, f/4.5 and ISO100. © Muhammed Muheisen
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1. Think of your feed as a wire

"Social media is very fast," says Muhammed. "It's like a train and you have to keep pace or you'll spend your whole life catching up. It's the perfect medium to share what I'm doing, why I'm doing it and where I am. When used properly as a professional photographer, it's technically like a wire."

Unlike a news agency wire, though, which shares images with editors, commissioners and colleagues, his social media feeds share his life and work with the world. This visual diary enables him to reach new audiences – but requires constant maintenance. "I use it properly," Muhammed adds. "I feed it – I share pictures, I share stories."

2. Invest time and effort

Maintaining a strong presence online requires intensive work. Marina spends at least two hours a day on social media, where she has more than 57k followers on Instagram and more than 18k on Facebook.

"I do not invest money, only labour to ensure the content is useful and interesting," she says. It's a strategy which brings business benefits. "My main clients came to me from Instagram. My audience is people of my generation with families and children, plus clients who stay with me. My followers are also from other countries – they look at my travels in order to catch me somewhere to ask for a photoshoot."

A black-and-white portrait of a woman crying, her face in her hands.
Nastia, one of Marina's subjects, cried when she saw her portraits on the camera screen – and this emotional image got more than 5k likes on Instagram. "I knew I should keep this moment as the biggest reward for my work," says Marina. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100. © Marina Karpiy
A self-portrait of Canon Ambassador Marina Karpiy wearing a white jacket.
Posts featuring the person behind the camera often prove popular. Marina shared a series of still self-portraits on Instagram alongside a behind-the-scenes video showing how she tethered her phone to her Canon EOS R to use as a remote trigger. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/1.8 and ISO100. © Marina Karpiy

3. Step in front of the lens

While Muhammed normally stays off his feed, sharing his photographs rather than his face, a behind-the-scenes selfie he filmed in Jordan's ancient city of Petra became one of his best-performing Instagram posts, with 128k views. "People want to know the person behind the camera," he says. "We say 'followers', but some people consider you to be a friend, so it's important to address people personally once in a while to remind them that there is a human behind the lens."

A screen capture of 100 images by Canon Ambassador Clive Booth.

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4. Adapt to changing times with innovative content

Tasneem is usually found in the field shooting documentary work with her Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM). However, while most people are confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has started recording live IGTV interviews for her 166k followers.

"I'm not being hired to photograph anything in Saudi," she says. "I am a documentary photographer and always rely on what is happening in front of me to dictate where the story is going. I'm not able to do that right now, but I want to feel like I have some sort of value, so the interviews are therapeutic. I think everyone is finding a way to understand who they are at this moment."

Tasneem has turned to editors, photographers and filmmakers for inspiring one-hour conversations on Instagram Live, which she then edits down to 15-minute videos for IGTV. Her first interview with British filmmaker Josh Allott, who had coronavirus at the time of filming, received 23.4k views, and she has since interviewed photojournalist Smita Sharma and Meghan Petersen, deputy photo director at The Wall Street Journal.

A Saudi horseman in Taif, Saudia Arabia, leading a pony by his side.
"I drove past this man in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in March," says Tasneem. "I remember thinking that we're social creatures – how can he survive living alone for weeks with only his animals for company?" Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 102mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4.5 and ISO250. © Tasneem Alsultan

5. Engage, rather than just post

Muhammed's Instagram account, with more than 678k followers, is not his only social media success story. He also founded Everyday Refugees, a non-profit foundation with 179k Instagram followers. For over a decade he has been documenting the refugee crisis across the Middle East, Asia and Europe and engaging with his audiences has been crucial to bringing his work to a wider audience.

"You choose how to use these platforms," he explains. "I started with zero followers and it was the same with Everyday Refugees. It's all about engagement. You need to engage with the people that follow you; it's a community, and people like to be updated and to be a part of the story."

6. Make it personal

Marina describes Instagram as her diary, but doesn't shoot content specifically for social media, aside from preparing vertical shots for Instagram Stories and choosing 4x5 frames for posts. Photos and videos that merge her own style with real-life moments prove the most popular.

"My family, personal stories about travel and information about life in Georgia all see the highest engagement," says Marina, who has been a pro photographer for 14 years. "Instagram is the story of my life. Family takes first place, so I love to share pictures of them. A photographer is not only a professional, but someone with their own interests. Clients come to me not only because I am talented, but because they are curious to see me offline."

A woman dressed in traditional wedding attire at a henna ceremony.
Tasneem's image of a henna ceremony during a traditional wedding proved popular on Instagram, with more than 2k likes. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/1.8 and ISO3200. © Tasneem Alsultan

7. Focus on quality not quantity

"It's not about having a high number of followers," says Tasneem. "With social media, one day you're high up and the next day you're no one. You can control the consistency and the content – work that encourages people to ask questions and changes their opinions and stereotypes."

8. Understand the value of authenticity

Marina, who has a Canon EOS R and a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, often posts behind-the-scenes images from photoshoots, giving viewers a glimpse into her production process. Using the Wi-Fi and direct file sharing capabilities of her cameras also enables immediate sharing. She believes this helps create an authentic image online, which has in turn led to commercial success, as brands know her audience relates to her in a genuine way.

This has proved key when it comes to balancing branded and personal work. "I am also a blogger, with clients such as Nestlé and Lego, so it's a perfect match - I'm a photographer who can take pictures of her children with the product," she says.

A 21-month-old Afghan refugee sleeping under a mosquito net.
Anna Rahmoni, a 21-month-old Afghan refugee, sleeps under a mosquito net in a refugee camp north of Athens, Greece. "For over a decade I have been documenting the refugee crisis around the world and many people followed me because of that," says Muhammed. "The image of Anna is full of emotion. I always tend to give more information, such as the name, age and some background, so people connect with the person in the photo." © Muhammed Muheisen
A black-and-white portrait shot of a father and son embracing.
This image was posted along with a series of shots reviewing Marina's photo archives. "Beautiful people, the small and big ones," she says. "As we hold on to each other, life goes on. We will break through." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM at 1/1000 sec, f/1.8 and ISO2000. © Marina Karpiy

9. Move to the most popular platforms

All three photographers believe Instagram is currently the most powerful platform for image-makers. "I barely even get a like on my Facebook posts," says Tasneem. "I think it's the algorithm, so I gave up on Facebook a few years ago. Instagram is accessible, and editors can see my work."

"It seems to me that people are gradually moving to Instagram," adds Marina, who doesn't regularly engage with hashtags on the site, but says that evening posts gain more traction. Muhammed tweets and continues to use Facebook, but less so than he once did. "I feel Instagram is 'my platform' because it's all about visuals," he says. "I'm a photographer – this is what I was born to do: share my visuals with the world."

10. Make connections to make a change

One of the greatest benefits of social media is the opportunity to connect with people you might never have been able to reach offline. For Muhammed, this has led to the success of Everyday Refugees. "Before social media, my work centred on the news community," he says. "When I took a picture, it was seen by my colleagues – now I share information with the world. Behind these accounts, there are decision makers – people who can make a difference. We built a foundation that helps thousands of people. Can you imagine that? It wouldn't have been easy to do before social media."

Autor: Lorna Dockerill


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