The answer to the first is: a lot more than you thought.
To the second: No.
Every week there seems to be a new fight to keep our internet “free”. ISPs are always looking for new ways to block, censor, monitor and control the content we share.
Sharing isn’t free. Sharing is piracy. Sharing is illegal.
The internet was once a utopia of information, where people would connect directly with each other. Cut out the middle man.
Now feudalism is re-emerging with digital empires maintaining the illusion of our freedom in exchange for policing us and getting their tithes in the form of our personal data to sell to other companies.
As the saying goes, if you’re using a service for free – you are the product.
With complex computing devices in everyone’s pockets that are all connected to each other, we all have the power to connect and share information and opinion.
But the more and more we connect, the more voices are contributing, the harder it is to hear them.
Information is now free and accessible to everyone. Gone are the days of having to spend half a day in the library to find the etymology behind whichever word popped into your head late at night. Contributing, however, is also free, low risk, and easy.
With the abundance of so much information, how does one even become heard?
This is what the long tail power laws help explain. There is an overabundance of the most popular content which is all but drowned out by major media aggregates. However as people begin to look for more specific, specialised and niche content, the amount of information available dwindles.
Thus we find the long end of the tail – through providing unique yet relevant content, we can capture the attention of people who move deeper than major media.
Looking around, technology is so ingrained into our every day life to the degree that we barely notice anymore. However through the rapid ideation and realisation of technology over the past few decades, there has been a significant paradigm shift. Once we were wary of anyone knowing even which state we lived in; now we call strangers to our doors for lifts across town. Social media has shattered our parents warnings from the past of putting our information online.
So fast has this occurred and so deep is our fascination with technology that the tropes that were once far-off fantasies of Cyberpunk worlds are now reality – without the fanfare, the style, the wonder. Rather than creating the cyborgs, we have become the cyborgs, our devices always within arm’s reach. We are connected, digitally, to our objects around the home. We can see inside our fridges from the supermarket, ask our AIs the weather forecast, connect to millions of nodes within our lifetime. We have the power to create, connect to or destroy entire networks of people and devices. Data, thoughts and information flow freely and invisibly all around us.
The things that were once cyberpunk dreams – artificial intelligence, virtual reality, body augmentation, “cyborgs”, hackers, network wars – all exist in our world one way or the other.
The excitement of your mobile device vibrating in your pocket is long gone, the novelty replaced by apathy, the custom ringtones replaced by silence.
The luxury of modern communication is taken for granted. We spent decades marvelling with wonder and amazement at each technological advancement that brought us closer together, only to have that suddenly erased in the space of just a few years as our networks became overloaded with noise, spam and scammers.
It makes it very easy not to care about how amazing and broad our international communications networks are – how huge and vast they are.
It seems easy to forget the global nervous system’s mimicry of our own human nature, both socially and internally. How each wire and method copies our real social networks, and each connection sings its own rendition of a song made by our bodies when we carry messages from our brains to our parts.
Small businesses are always looking for ways to improve their advertising reach for as little cost as possible. One of the best ways to reach people without paying a cent is by social media platforms. Instagram is a platform that has seen increased usage for exactly that – and not just by creative industries. With my digital artifact, I sought to engage with Instagram as a creative way to advertise my photography business without seeming like I was doing so. I would attempt to utilise the platform effectively from the perspective of someone who had never used it before to prove that it can be done.
Initially my project was going to test the platform’s reach effectiveness with content unrelated to my business – however I deemed that a waste of resources. I scrapped the idea when thinking about the F.I.S.T principles – from the beginning I had wanted to work on my business, so it was better to actually put the energy available into directly doing so, rather than experimenting on a ‘dummy’ account. I took a few different approaches to experimenting with the platform, but I eventually settled on the strategy of curating content at the beginning of the month in a cyclical/milestone inspired format, in rows of 3, and uploading regularly (3 times a week). To maintain effective reach I researched the trending hashtags of the day that were most related to the content and placed them in the comments.
Coming from the perspective of someone who had never curated an Instagram account before, I wanted to prove to myself and others that the task was no where near as daunting as it seemed. Inspired by my sister-in-law’s journey to finding a decent wedding photographer, I carefully constructed my content in a way that used hashtags to not only describe the content, but what I do in my business, and where I am located, and where my photoshoots took place for people who would be searching using those terms.
I had equal parts success and failure with my journey, which is still ongoing. My successes came when after a series of trials and errors, I became familiar with the hashtag mechanics and effective hashtags to maximise reach with a word limit. My biggest challenge was growth of the page itself – particularly with the current issue of accounts following and unfollowing to gain likes on their own accounts, which seems to be rampant on the platform. At my page’s peak, I gained approximately 80 followers, however I “lost” almost half of these followers. The additional challenge therein lies with gaining genuine followers who actually ‘absorb’ my content.
If I continue to plan my content effectively from month to month and upload that content regularly, I believe the page likes should grow steadily, even in taking into account the follow/unfollows. From the trends I’ve seen on the content I have uploaded, it seems the most effective content seems to be the lighthearted and happy subjects rather than what I deem humorous or amusing. Going forward I will adjust my content accordingly, finding a balance between my own creative niche and the peculiarities of Instagram as a marketing platform.
“With the Facebook ship all but sunk, businesses are now on the lookout for a platform where they can actually be seen and heard.”
(Ivan Adriel, 2015, p. 1)
For the past 3 years, I have been attempting to run a small photography business. In those 3 years, I have been struggling to engage with my potential clients over Facebook as the social media giant continuously makes my audience harder to reach through algorithm tweaks and paywalls. When I first started my business, a lot of my traffic was driven through Facebook; now, I’d be lucky to even get 10% of my audience viewing my content, let alone engaging with it.
I was faced with a problem: adapt to change, or fail.
I did not want to go down on that sinking Facebook ship – so I began looking for new ways to engage with an audience and be seen and heard. A few Google searches later netted me recommendations of turning to Instagram – article headlines all but screaming “if you have a small business, why don’t you have an Instagram?”. When my future Sister-In-Law told me she’d found her wedding photographer by searching the hashtags of her venue, the decision was made.
“Among the different social media platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Instagram was found to be the most effective tool for reaching customers and marketing a business. Instagram was basically designed for mobile phones, and since smart‐ phones help to connect people to social media on the move, it makes it easier for a business to reach its customers wherever they are, which explains why more than 50 % of businesses use Instagram to market their products and services.” (Alkhowaiter, 2016, pg. 3)
Creating the account was simple – photography and imagery is very easy to look at. As it was what my business centered around, I had initially thought that the content would speak for itself. However, as with many other small business owners – I encountered a small problem. My work was not without strings attached – it was being used as a promotional tool and portfolio. Instead of my account saying “look at this lovely work I am doing” like it would if I had uploaded my nature and landscape images, it was actually saying “this is my portfolio and this is my work. Please hire me”.
One of the biggest issues that small businesses face when curating an Instagram account is creating content that doesn’t look like it’s primary purpose is to sell something. Australians in particular have a dislike for being marketed to – generally speaking, they know what they want and where to get it. With this in mind, it can be daunting to even begin thinking about putting business-specific content up publically, much less hold on to hope that people will see and interact with that content. While not quite as challenging for me, given my content matter, I still needed to develop methods to avoid broadcasting myself as “seller first, quality content later”.
“It is evident, that the beginning is always the most difficult. Most of the time is wasted on the development and promotion of your account and not to its maintenance.
The most common mistake of the entrepreneur is that he thinks his product or service is too boring to be in Instagram and so on. In order to maintain an interesting blog with a quality visual content, you do not have to be an expensive restaurant or an eminent boutique with a big budget. Instagram is a large living community uniting artists of all stripes, from housewives knitting caps to Channel and Bentley. Each account is unique, and the content is based on the specifics of the brand.” (Garifova, 2016, p. 6)
Initially, my project was going to be a bit of a ‘throw-away’ account as I was unsure whether or not I was allowed to experiment with my business social media due to commitments elsewhere. The premise was that I would test Instagram “hacks” and new methods of creating reach on a basic account, starting fresh, without any followers with content I already had an abundance of. I settled on flowers with pseudo-inspirational quotes and aimed to post daily. I would be testing all the methods, old and new, that were brought up in blogs, articles, and even clickbait sites.
However, I felt this, ultimately, was a waste of time for my final goal – to curate an Instagram for small business. The perfect way was just to jump straight into the deep end and test small business reach with a small business account – that way I would be able to use the ‘analytics’ tools and actually analyse what methods were effective for reach, and by the time I had it down to a science, I would have a content-filled and curated Instagram account full of images and ready to go.
“Know your consumers. Get the key person that will enable you to connect more of the like minded consumers on Instagram. Being a new brand and starting with zero followers, you cannot randomly add followers therefore, you have to start slow and build your reputation from there. It might be hard to get your first 1000 followers therefore it is imperative for the business owners to be consistent and at the same time do their homework diligently in identifying the key Instagrammer that able to make his or her business known to the public” (Latiffa et al. 2015, p. 18)
The ‘other obligations’ that I thought were stopping me from using my business social media turned out to be nothing. I restarted with my blank, renamed personal account and next to no knowledge of how Instagram worked – other than needing to upload from a mobile phone and a small hashtag hack that was taught to me from a free social media business conference (which turned out to be one of those hour-long seminars where they then try to sell you a $1200 paid course at the end).
Throughout the course of learning the ins-and-outs of Instagram I changed my approach a few times. To begin with, I found that only being able to upload from mobile was a huge challenge for me, as all of my work was done on the computer and of very high quality and resolution. Transferring these images to my mobile would not only very quickly fill up my mobile space, but would also more than likely result in some sort of compression and drop in quality.
‘Vanilla’ Instagram does not allow desktop uploads, however there were some very dodgy-looking workarounds. I at first attempted the ‘hack’ where you could use Google Chrome’s ‘view page source’ feature, which included options to ‘change’ the device you were ‘viewing’ on, and swap to a mobile view; however this method no longer seems to work. I found a Google Chrome extension simply called “Instagram for Desktop”. While the information on how to use it was just as vague as the reviews, I gave it a try despite some hesitance.
It seemed to do essentially what I needed it to do, however the interface was very clunky. The basic premise of the extension seemed to be that it was running the Instagram app on an online ‘virtual machine’ using a smartphone’s OS. However, there are some tools in Instagram that only work when you tilt your device, and there was no option to do so with the extension, which was quite limiting to what I could accomplish. Regardless, with a bit of exploring and learning the difference between uploading to stories and uploading to my wall, I was able to begin producing content.
Instagram’s layout is very simple – a square grid based layout for the images, in rows of 3, which go down the page for however many uploads there are. With this in mind, I chose to curate my images in rows of 3, by subject and photoshoot. To ‘celebrate the launch’ of the Instagram I chose 6 cake-smash images that I thought were cute. I used simple hashtags identifying the subject, the colours, and the location, which were posted in the description of the image.
At the beginning of October I experienced an issue that would leave me unable to post on any social media for almost 2 weeks. After this event, I had the opportunity to curate a seminar for class and prepare an activity that would assist us with our projects. This is where the majority of my feedback came from.
The idea for my seminar would be an experiment on hashtags and human recognition. The activity was simple: display 4 images and ask the class to write down 10 hashtags they themselves would use on this image. The images were varied; a 1-year old in a high chair (used as one of the previous cake-smash images), a dramatic stormy weather shot of a couple after their wedding on a beach, a breastfeeding mum smiling at the camera, and a cosplay of Poison Ivy.
From looking over the results and data of this activity, I found two surprising results: firstly, there was a lot of overlap between common hashtags that I wouldn’t have expected to be used, and secondly, the use of instagram-unique hashtags. While the first was something I was hoping to see would happen (although not to such degree as it had occurred), the second finding actually opened up an entire avenue of possible reach that I previously had not considered.
Doing some more research into these insta-unique hashtags (such as #instababy, #instadaily, #instalove, to name a few) I was able to find some websites that had recommended, related, and trending tags associated with any keyword I entered. These then became a valuable tool in the next interation of the project – refining keyword and hashtag usage to build a relevant audience.
A new curatorial plan was created to work with this new keyword method. As a family-focussed and small wedding photographer, my product was selling keepsakes for your milestones. Milestones then became a key focus of what would follow – a journey through life, from baby, toddler, couples, maternity, and weddings. The Instagram would continue to follow that cycle of 3 images in a row and now had a direction to follow. The only thing left was to experiment with was placement of the hashtags – whether being in the comments or the description was far more effective.
Over the next two weeks I posted 3 images at once every few days, making sure to change up the placement of the Hashtags. I discovered that when I chose the right hashtags for the image, the best placement was indeed in the comments, as a lot of the more recent online articles had claimed. I was also at a loss for why some images that I deemed cute, funny or amusing were not getting as many likes as some I thought were boring, but had similar subject matter. After analysing these carefully I discovered that there seems to be a trend towards more positive and smiling imagery rather than quiter and tender moments. I also noticed a huge spike in likes for ‘decor’ images, particularly with the wedding photos I had uploaded.
The wedding and couple photos seemed to be the most popular by far, however I am yet to determine whether it is the quality of the content, the poor use of hashtags, the lack of audience early on, or if Instagram trends more towards couple and bridal photography. I also noticed a spike in follows immediately after uploading an image, mostly from other photographers or vendors that were related to the subject matter of what I had uploaded – for example, events coordinators and limo companies had even commented on a couple of the wedding photos in particular.
However, with the mass amount of followers, my follower count almost seemed stagnant at times. After a few days of not uploading an image, the count had dropped by almost the same amount it had risen. It seemed that one of my biggest challenges was retaining the audience as I had attracted quite a lot of follow-unfollow accounts. Other limitations included irregularity of uploading impacting on what I called the ‘absorption rate’ of the content – or rather, the amount of genuine interactions from genuine followers an image received.
Going forward, I feel there are some changes I can make to my approach. Scheduling regularly is one of the biggest personal challenges that I face, which can be overcome by sitting down at the beginning of the month, and picking my images to be uploaded every few days throughout the month so that they are set and ready to go. I have yet to experiment with an automatic scheduler – I am somewhat skeptical of how impersonal it feels, althought it will be an avenue worth exploring if only for a week.
An example of the folder layout and handpicked images.
Additionally, I would like to address the challenge of retaining follower count. I will be looking for vendors related to my most recent uploads to follow them and hopefully receive a follow back, and heavily promote my instagram cross-platform on Facebook through my business page.
Towards the end of the next six months, should I address these challenges successfully, I predict there will be a significant increase in the reach and follower count of the Instagram account, and with it, the amount of interactions with my images should also rise. My next goal is to reach the 500 follower milestone with an average of 80-100 interactions per post, and maintain that number for quite some time before moving on to the next milestone.
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Riley’s original concept drew me in at first sight. In his original pitch he spoke of a video series on YouTube – the “Stan” vod-cast. The premise was that he would act as a pseudo “Entertainment Weekly” type channel, reviewing Stan shows, what was new to the platform, what was good to binge-watch, the upcoming releases, and any other Stan related news. I quite liked the format of the demo that was shown to us as a preview of things to come; the scene was set up like an access-Hollywood style interview with another presenter – a friend of his – and I was keen to follow the project!
The show was to be uploaded at least once per week, co-presented with one of Riley’s friends. My original feedback at the time of pitching was that the sound quality needed improving – my suggestion was to hire some equipment from the university, like a lavaliere microphone set, so that the production quality would seem a lot more professional. It seemed to be a lot of work to produce but if done regularly, the content would speak for itself. Riley’s style of reviewing and presenting was very well done.
Stan is a streaming platform similar to Netflix that is very under-utilized. Riley described the interface as ineffective for exploring content and finding new things to watch, which was the main driving factor for the vod-cast project. The aim was to bring information about content that was almost hidden due to the poor layout and search function and highlight it so people wouldn’t miss it. The main issues I predicted with this project were maintaining the schedule, improving the sound, and reach – to me it seemed unlikely that people would actively be searching for content about an under-utilized platform, much less by someone starting from scratch with next to no existing audience like a lot of YouTube reviewers have built.
Unfortunately Riley wasn’t able to go ahead with the ‘Stan’ vod-cast due to scheduling conflicts between himself and his co-presenter. This presented hurdle number one in completing regular content on time. Hurdle number two was that video production took a lot of time and effort, and rather than continue stressing over starting a new project, he channeled that energy into improving an already existing project – Sad Cowboy productions.
Sad Cowboy is a collaborative effort with Riley and 3 others that aims to have 4 shows in production and utilizes multiple platforms for promotion. It involves regular posting on their social media accounts, WordPress, preparing the podcast shows, some audio engineering, making the titles, and curating the content on their accounts.
The 4 shows would be:
– Mediocre Movies – about finding the most perfectly ‘okay’ film;
– Fight Your Step-Dad – a shorter podcast where ‘controversial’ reddit questions would be answered
– Fantasy Law and Order – an ESPN-styled highlights program based on a Fantasy Football layout but adapted to the show Law and Order
– Bonanza City Report – based on an old show called “Kid Nation” where the presenters would play the part of jilted rejected participants who would critique the episodes.
Currently the only show with content is Mediocre Movies. It is uploaded regularly on the podcast platform Spreaker under a premium account which costs $189 a year. Additional platforms include iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, iHeart Radio and OzPodcasts. The premise was to find the world’s “okayest” film by reviewing films with Rotten Tomatoes scores between 35% and 65%. It was previously started last year, but production stopped and has now been rebooted.
Analysing the initial statistics from the beta presentation, the Mediocre Movies podcast has a very low reach. The episodes would be uploaded onto Spreaker, and then shared to Facebook with memes and other related content being used to promote the latest episode. Riley noted that the most effective content reach took place on Facebook.
Looking over the accounts myself I noticed some oddities and room for improvement. When looking over the Facebook I couldn’t help but notice the ratings and reviews: 3.3 out of 5 stars. I was curious as to why this could be and so read over the views. It seems that in keeping with the mediocre trend of their content, most of the reviews were centered on maintaining a mediocre score of the Facebook page. While this is amusing and on-point for the content, I am concerned that it may actually have a negative impact for those unfamiliar with the content and mistake it for the groups actual rating on what they produce.
It appears the method of uploading content to the Facebook page is to create a series of posts and the schedule these for release over the week following a new upload. The content mostly consists of memes relating to the topic of the week and there are 2-3 uploads per day. While this seems to be an effective way of ensuring there is consistent content on the Facebook page, it seems to be lacking in variety. I would suggest sharing content from a variety of other sources and pages that relate to the content in addition to just the memes as a greater variety of content will bring a greater variety of audience members.
Additionally it seems the majority of those that have liked the pages appear to be friends and family of the four producers, resulting in the reach becoming somewhat stagnant as there are a lack of people who are actually engaging with the content. Promoting the Facebook pages on other platforms such as forums and reddit threads relating to the content would be beneficial. Mediocrity seems to have a cult following, much like terrible movies does, so there is definitely an audience out there, however because the current reach is so small for the associated social media of the podcast, it seems to be flying completely under the radar.
I would also suggest that for the WordPress website that the layout be changed to one that allows the preview paragraph of the blog post along with the featured image, so that people are able to get a small taste of what to expect in the full review, and are further enticed into clicking it.
After listening to the podcast itself – the content is rather engaging and quite fun to listen to on the side. The hosts are all rather opinionated and knowledgeable, the content and movies are well researched. The production quality is almost perfect, however much like I disliked the audio in the original Stan Vodcast project, I find that while the sound quality has vastly improved in the second iteration of the Mediocre Movies podcast, there is still room for improvement there.
I am unsure of the method of recording the podcasts, whether it takes place in person around one microphone, or if everyone is wired up to a separate headset in person, or if the recording takes place over a Skype call with everyone at home with their respective headsets. I believe streamlining the recording process and adding professional quality sound recording devices would be extremely beneficial to the production quality itself and would eliminate this issue entirely, allowing the focus to then fall on promoting the show itself.
I noticed that there were no followers on the Spreaker platform. I am unfamiliar with the platform itself – and this seems to be a possible contributing factor to the poor reach of the podcast – that people just do not know the platforms. This is a little concerning because it means there is perfectly good content sitting on a hidden platform, unpromoted, so people just do not have the ability to discover it.
In terms of growth and trajectory, if the current method is followed I believe that stat growth will come very slowly or remain stagnant. To combat this, my suggestions would be to engage in Twitter posting and cross-platform promotion; for example, posting a tweet on Twitter with carefully optimized hashtags relating to that content, which is then shared to Facebook as a post as well. This in conjunction with active participation in movie discussion forums (even those found on IMDB!), linking all social media accounts, and a greater variety of shared content would be very beneficial to reach and would attract a more likes to the pages and in turn, more listens for the podcast.
It also seems that Sad Cowboy productions has very high ambitions of running four projects at once. Given the history of Mediocre Movies falling off in the past and the production team already having one revival, I would recommend that the production team perhaps focus on the Mediocre Movies channel until methods of increasing reach, production quality, and streamlining the content generation process have improved. Once the team is confident in one series and once they feel they have the extra time to dedicate to these extra shows, expanding would be a great idea. For example, the company Rooster Teeth, now a multi-million dollar production company which boasts a seriously high volume and variety of content, started out with a small group of friends making low-quality shorts using a video game.
While I feel the start has been slow, it exhibits extreme of potential. If Riley and the co-presenters of Sad Cowboy Productions are able to continue with consistent production and improve promotion, this will be a very successful project.