In our constantly expanding virtual world, Facebook has been a godsend to many people for various reasons. Facebook account holders are using more of their time to "socialize" with others around the world despite the distance and lack of time (eg. facebooking during work, for example). For photographers, we can also harness the power of Facebook to expand our networks and businesses because it:
1. Allows user search for new and old friends. Of course we need friends. When I showed my aunt how many friends I had on facebook, she was flabbergasted. (She prefers to only include proper friends on facebook). Indeed, some of us are more keen to brag about the number of people on our facebook list instead of physically having a proper conversation with them. And for some of the friends we have on facebook, we may never have a single interaction with them in our entire lives, and are just another number on the number of friends we have. Sounds a little selfish, isn't it?
Some of the foremost wedding photographers had to make another facebook account because the network enforces a 'friend limit' of 5,000 people. When we have more friends, our chances to land another job opportunity increases if we play the game in the right way. A couple who sees your work may be inclined to use your services to shoot their pre wedding photos, or an individual requiring a striking head portrait for a job may come up to you and ask you to do it for them.
There is another way to get around the 5,000 friend limit by setting up a fan page for yourself ;). Using the "like" option makes users feel less obligated to force themselves to be a friend of the other party. For example, as of now (30 April 2010), 355 987 people 'like' Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad's page, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia.
2. Helps us to showcase our portfolio / business. Indeed when I jumped on the band wagon two years ago, I religiously posted images of the events which I went to as soon as I could, sometimes within a few hours after they end. I got some useful tips and comments from some photographer friends who were active on Facebook at that time. They still keep an eye on me from afar, as they are currently quite busy with their photography related assignments. I also visit their page once in a while to get some inspiration from their work, although a more proper way is to visit Flickr and view the fantastic images all around the world from the photo enthusiasts and professionals there.
A few users kindly send a message to me once in a blue moon to compliment my work, which I am deeply appreciative for. I guess an encouragement once in a while is good to keep us going.
Of course with all good examples, there are bad ones too. Even some 'professionals' showcase photos with over vignetting, bad split toning, and sometimes blur / underexposed photos. I view their work with some amusement, shock and horror, and sometimes wonder why people still 'like' their images.
In the United States, the hype for social media marketing is on the rise, and some tech savvy photographers advocate making a plan to successfully attract new customers. With FBML (the facebook version of HTML), we can custom build facebook pages to stand above the crowd. For more information, please view here.
Unfortunately, facebook can also lead to:
3. Unwarranted gossip. What do I mean ?
Nowadays, some of us advocate the concept of destination wedding photography, where you hire a photographer to accompany you to an exotic destination eg. Phuket, Macau, Paris to take photos of your actual day wedding or honeymoon. Well there was a photographer who was doing the same thing, but got stopped by immigration officials at an Australian airport. Indeed, alot of us do ignore the fine print regarding the prerequisites of getting a tourist visa to Australia - For people to visit Australia for holiday, sightseeing, social or recreational reasons, to visit relatives, friends or for other short-term non-work purposes. Eventually, the gossip that this photographer got detained at the airport spread far and wide in the facebook network. A number of photographers became curious, not out of sympathy but they were instead asking how to evade getting detained by immigration officials if they travel overseas for an assignment.
Ironically, this true story shows how we can 'sabotage' each other with the Facebook information that we share on our 'wall' or 'info' tab. For instance, if a photographer posts on his wall "Heading to Melbourne this Friday, hope to have a great time!", we can easily submit this information along with some personal details (eg. website address, contact number) to customs officials regarding his date of arrival to Australia, and inform them that he is arriving for non-work purposes. That would be more than sufficient to halt his entry into Australia for future assignments.
4. Plagiarism / Intellectual property infringement issues
Nowadays with the ease of sharing facebook photos, it is all too easy to right click an image, and upload it to another site and showcase it as your own (particularly with unwatermarked photos). That is an obvious copyright infringement..
But how about the less obvious infringements? (This is not exactly exclusive to facebook, since you are able to copy images anywhere on the web anyway). You see an image by another photographer on facebook, and you aim to replicate it down to the last detail at the exact spot they've chosen, albeit at a different time. Its interesting how some 'famous' Malaysian wedding photographers manage to get away with it without a single word being spoken.
I guess if this ever happens, we can scream, shout and rant till the cows come home, yet we will not be able to do a damn thing about it. Nowadays, I care less about what other people post on facebook, but concentrate on my own game instead. In some ways, it is much better to learn from photographers in other countries instead of your local contemporaries to make your style more distinct from the rest.
But wait.. what about the terms of facebook itself?
By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.
Aside from the lengthy jargon, basically it means if I upload any image to Facebook, they can use it and not pay a cent. And if I import my blog and facebook uses the articles for a book, I would be denied any income from the millions that they'll sell. Ouch.
A friend told me once that 'you reap what you sow'. We can shut one eye and continue to utilise facebook in a very selfish way for our own purposes, but we will have to answer to our conscience one day, and if we can't or choose not to, it is indeed very very unfortunate.