Lately we saw a proliferation of YouTube videos about VERO social network and its role after the decline of Instagram. This happened because Peter McKinnon did a video about it, and many photography channels just copy what the popular ones do — a rushed repetition of each other’s content, editing and aesthetic.
The rise of McKinnon being so unbelievable, many thought they could as well do the same reproducing his video format, the way he dresses and talks, the content he makes. The colors and tonal values, the skinny black jeans, the tattoos, the knives and coffee, everything from his brand is being analysed and replicated. Many of his video collaborations involve his own popular clones, and I find it especially amusing.
Some YouTubers are less ambitious and try to just jump on the bandwagon MacKinnon is driving. So if he makes a video saying Instagram is dead and VERO is the future, they will also make that video. Or maybe do a video saying the opposite, for stirring controversy. Their goal is only to build traffic for their channels — attracting sponsors and monetizing.
Some might say that since I am talking about VERO I am also jumping on that that bandwagon, but there are at least a couple of important differences: this blog is not my job, it contains no ads and it is not sponsored. I am writing about VERO because I think its sudden popularity in this context can expand what I wrote about online photography communities in the past.
VERO is far from being something new. It launched in 2015, and that means it is 7 years old. It gained some popularity in 2018 and then it was basically forgotten until McKinnon posted about it — and here we are again, talking about how VERO is better than anything else and — as YouTubers shout since weeks — why you should “switch to it”. Or not. It depends on what gives their videos better traffic performances.
The point is, VERO is really good, and in many ways it is indeed better than Instagram, but its current configuration won’t let it to reach nor surpass Instagram in terms of social relevance. If changes won’t be made, VERO will soon go back to being a niche social network, until some new strangely enthusiastic popular influencer will bless it again.
Yes, I am being ironic when I say strangely, because I strongly doubt a sponsoring powerhouse like McKinnon would ever promote something for free. And the fact that he spent quite some time with VERO’s CEO is also making me wonder about how genuine McKinnon was in his videos. But I have no proofs, just some basic logic.
So, why am I pessimistic about VERO’s future?I will try to summarise the main points of my thinking.
Instagram became a part of everyday interaction for hundreds of millions of people. It is a platform where everyone can express themselves (to a certain degree), with or without an artistic intent, with or without business ambitions. It accomplishes this by being everywhere, used by everyone, constantly.
On Instagram, businesses and artists are a minority talking to a vast, immense amount of visitors that are just consuming content. Much like YouTube, but even more integrated in our lives.
If we look at Instagram, we see it slowly gained traction and it then made a huge jump forward when viral celebrities started using it. The endorsement by people like Bieber made it clear Instagram could become huge and attract brands, businesses and all that comes with it. Bieber may now finally look like the joke he is, but at the time he was unbelievably popular, and millions of fans started using Instagram only cos he did.
I believe photography was never the real focus of Instagram, once it became big enough: it started as a way for sharing rudimentary smartphone snapshots with filters, and it then evolved into a general content sharing platform — they were initially using photography only because that was what the networks and smartphones realistically allowed.
As soon as networks became faster and smartphones more capable, the shift to video started, also thanks to the popularity of Snapchat. Instagram never stopped copying and integrating other companies’ innovations, always driven by its goal of having everyone consuming content, generating data, interacting. Now it is mostly a social focused on short videos, in the future it may focus on VR, and so on.
Photographers are unhappy with Instagram’s current priority being video, and especially with the limited reach caused by new rules and limits, and here VERO marketing comes into play.
VERO used Peter McKinnon’s endorsement for trying to look like a proper home for all the photographers being unhappy with Instagram. For this reason, VERO is becoming saturated by photographers, but as I wrote in previous posts, most photographers don’t need a following made by other photographers. Can you imagine if HCB’s or Lindbergh’s or Salgado’s photos were only seen and commented upon by other photographers? We probably would not even know about them.
Photographers create images for sending them out into the world, in some way or another, where they can be seen by people that are not photographers but that can enjoy these images. At the moment, VERO is risking to become another 500px, and that is not good for them, because it will face the same destiny. Or Flickr’s one. Places where professional and hobbist photographers showing their photos to other professionals and hobbists.
The issue is always the same: if you want to create a platform that becomes a part of daily life and provides a wide audience for artists, creators, photographers, then you need to first attract the ones that are wanting to consume and share such content.
VERO has great features for creators but it is not yet attracting the ones that want to consume, nor the ones that want to promote their business, or viral pop culture celebrities.
The app also has its shortcomings, which are probably contributing to its slow growth among consumers, compared to creatives. I thought about listing a couple of them, but I ultimately decided this has nothing to do with the message of this post.
What concerns me — and what motivate this post — is the underlying message propagated by McKinnon and others: the fact that photographers need a social network. Flickr is dead! You must run to Instagram! Instagram is dead, let’s move to Twitter! No wait, let’s move to VERO! In the constant search for an online platform, as if this was an essential component of photography. I think that’s not the case. On the contrary, I am sure social media was and is hurting photography more than anything else. The connections made on social media are mostly superficial and empty. From a photographer’s perspective, the time spent on social media double tapping photography and occasionally commenting “so cool! great tones! I dig the composition!” etc to random pictures would be much better spent buying and reading photography books, taking photos, printing photos, growing and learning and exploring life through this wonderful activity.
Social networks can be marginally useful for photographers, sometimes, maybe, with a big maybe, but in my opinion that is not enough to balance the bad. I keep Instagram because there is the occasional client that wants to connect through it — deactivating it for some months and bringing it back when needed. I briefly tried VERO so I could write an informed post and understand it, as a follow up to my articles about social media and photography. I still have a Twitter account, mainly for nostalgic resons about friends that are not walking this planet anymore.
I mentioned McKinnon a lot, but I have nothing against the guy: he is brilliant at what he does and he is just doing his job of influencer for VERO. I am not against VERO either, because it actually is — on paper — better than Instagram. I decided to write this post when I realized I was witnessing once more an attempt of using influencers for convincing photographers they need social media if they want to be photographers — the insinuation that a photographer needs a social media account, and choosing the right one is a big part of being a photographer.
Granting this importance to social media opens the door to all kind of negative time wasting, like choosing what to shoot or share depending on what can be popular or what fits our grid, or judging our photos according to their performance on social media, and so on.
Social networks are a ruthless popularity contest, with rules being changed and enforced by private companies wanting to profit off your passion for photography. They are golden cages where day after day your honest passion is being bent and eroded. And you will be addicted to following the rules and dapting to what is popular. Psyschology and neurosciences experts are being paid crazy amount of money to make sure this happens.
When McKinnon is looking so desperate, soul crushed, because Instagram is not what it used to be (ah, the good old days!) and he doesn’t know where to go for posting, connecting with new people and “loving photography again”, I take it for what it is: sponsored content made by a guy that pays the bills sponsoring stuff, and that can sponsor stuff because he has a massive presence on social media. What he achieved comes from being popular on social networks. He needs social networks. Photography doesn’t.
It is also funny he says that on VERO he can finally connect with people and love photography again, and yet at the moment I am writing this he only follows 28 people and they are basically all the same people he already connects with and collaborate with on other platforms. He never answers comments, even then ones with reasonable questions. It seems he is posting on VERO because it is some part of a definite promotion contract — but again, this has to be just me being mischievous…
I wish VERO good luck, and I hope it will follow its noble premises and eventually become a useful tool for personal and business communication, but I am extremely pessimist about social media and I doubt there is a way to fix its inherent flaws. I don’t always agree with what Jaron Lanier says, but I highly suggest you to read his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now from 2018, it is extremely interesting and it can spark some further reflections.
I know I sound like a broken record, but really, this may very well be the fundamental message of this blog: if you love photography, make it a part of your life. A big one. Read and watch photography books. Create your own books and magazines. Print your photos, hang them on your wall, make them a gift to others, sell them. Study and learn about light. Study other photographers, and not only their photos, try to take a look at their lives, at why they made some choices instead of others — it is fascinating. Shoot what brings you joy, but get out of your comfort zone sometimes. Don’t let social networks and trendy influencers take control of your passion and reduce it to their own financial playground.
Photography is a great way for exploring and understanding the world: learn to do it your own way.
PS: Wikipedia says about VERO that “the name is taken from the Italian word for truth” and this is, well, untrue. In Italian, vero means true, while truth is translated with verità.
I am hosting a Ukrainian refugee family, and you can help us!
As many of you already know, I am hosting a Ukrainian refugee family with a baby that just turned 2 years old. I managed helping them escape war and reach Italy — I luckily have a little country home for them to stay as long as needed, where they can enjoy nature and safety, far from war.
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Thank you for your kindness and empathy!
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Thank you from the deep of our hearts.