It was recently remarked, by a younger family member of mine, how he felt his contemporaries were turning away from having their own websites and relying instead on social media, and in particular Instagram, to promote their work. While social media has benefits, solely relying on it, at the expense of your own website has its dangers. The main reason, I believe, you should have your own site and continue to invest time and effort into it is control, control and, again, control. Here’s why;

Own website benefits

Ownership You own your URL and hosting. This means they’re yours and your responsibility. While this may sound time consuming and most of us aren’t tech wizards who can code our own sites, there are a plethora of hosting services available offering multiple templates to best display and show off your work.

Portfolio Your website should be your complete portfolio, the location where you can direct interested parties to view not only your best work, but also show these images in context of complete stories and in coherent bodies of work.

Layout Your site gives you control to show what you want, how you want it. You can link to the pages you want, About Me, Galleries, Contact, etc… Social Media doesn’t allow this. You have to fit into their layout and are restricted to what you can link to. Even now IG only allows links out of an image if you’ve commercialised your work and are selling it. Otherwise you’re limited to a link in your Bio; this isn’t good enough.

Sequencing You control the sequencing of your photographs. You can add, delete or change the order of your shots, whenever and however you desire. This is nigh on impossible on social media without having to delete and then re-add an image which means spending time adding all the captions and hashtags again which is highly tedious.

Quality You can add your work to a resolution and size of your choosing and not be controlled by the upload limits imposed on you by social media. This means your work can be seen full screen. This not only shows your work far larger than on mobile only apps, but also means you can show off your editing and retouching skills.

Additional Functions Do you send newsletters, have a subscription form, video… and other functions only available on a full website? Do you need password protected galleries, proofing pages, a blog page? Your own website is the perfect place to feature these additional functions and settings.

Social media limitations

Algorithms You’re dependent on social media’s algorithms. Remember when everything was shown in chronological order? In internet terms, that was a lifetime ago. Now everything is run off algorithms, which change at the whim of those in control of the platform, which is definitely not you. Who knows when your image will show on someone else’s feed. And all that time and money you may have invested in video? Tomorrow that may all be for naught if channels decide they no longer want to promote them. Take PhotographerX who worked to achieve 50k followers on FB through organic growth, early into FB’s life cycle. A change in algorithms means barely any of these 50k now see those posts and yet PhotographerX is bombarded by FB trying to get him to spend to have his posts seen. 

Promotions Hand in hand with the algorithms are promotions. 1 in 5 images on your IG feed are promotions. Yes, a full 20% of what you see are adverts. Along with the change from chronological feed, this means your work can be buried under an avalanche of other images and never be found.

Mobile dependent Many social media apps are just that, apps. They exist to be used primarily on a mobile device. Are you happy for your work to be seen as just a thumbnail on a mobile? No colour correction, seen often while travelling, cracked screen? I’m certainly not. What’s the point of spending time and effort producing the best quality work you can, only for it to be seen as a tiny image on a sub- par screen? 

Social Space An obvious one, but this can be overlooked so it’s worth commenting on. Social media was built as a social space, not a portfolio space. While some apps may have been built for images, the way IG, for example, is being used now is very far from how it was originally constructed. 

Someone else’s business model Your account, your data, your images, your posts… are all part of someone else’s business model and they’re busy commercialising and selling your data. Their primary motivation it to make money for themselves, not you, which means you’re having to fit in with their aims.

T&Cs In order to have a social media account you’ve had to agree to their T&Cs. When did you last read any of them? Do you know exactly what you’ve signed up for and how your data is going to be used? I’ve blogged about photography competitions and how many brands are using them for rights grabs. This is no different for social media which pushes the boundaries of copyright, licensing and IP as far as they dare. And if you take an image which causes trouble, you’re the one who’s legally responsible and will have to foot the bill.

Censorship Along with the T&Cs you probably haven’t read, you have no control over potential censorship by social media. When even famous images, such as Mei Lai, get taken down your tasteful nude has no chance of being seen.

Trust Have you seen The Great Hack? Following what we now know about Facebook, data breaches, data points, amassing data to better target premium advertising, etc etc… do you really trust social media?

This isn’t an anti social media post, it’s a post showing the limitations of social media and how it should be used as a support, not a substitute, to your own website.

*updated 2019_08_21