Promotion and Referral Programs in Microstock


On other pages we have talked about which images to send to Microstock agencies, how to deal with the legal issues and how earnings are calculated and paid for contributors. At this point it might seem that there is nothing else to do but wait for a monthly payment of commissions, merely periodically upload new images with the goal to slowly increase portfolio and earnings. And somehow this is certainly an option.

There are instead some marketing actions that can help to further increase the earnings related to microstock activity: first of all, the promotion of the portfolio, in order to maximize the online exposure and, ultimately, to increase the capacity to generate download; second, the use of referral systems and affiliate programs offered by almost all microstock agencies. Let’s see in detail how to manage these tools in order to get the most benefit out of them.


How to promote your own online portfolio

There are various ways to promote your works online, more or less effective depending on the medium used, but in any case with the advantage of increasing the exposure of your own portfolio and generating a greater number of downloads. Just keep in mind that it’s mandatory to avoid spamming in any case, because this can even have counterproductive effects on the performance of our images. Here are the main tools for promoting your works online:

1. Social Network

The use of the social networks to promote your own portfolio is a very effective way to generate the viral mechanism of word-of-mouth, that can increase the exposure of your work in a really fast way. However, we must remember that the search engines of some microstock agencies (Shutterstock and Fotolia for example) tend over time to penalize those images with a very high ratio between visits and downloads (many visits, few downloads), so it is better to avoid the overpromotion of single images towards users who are presumably not interested in buying them. It’s much better to promote your whole portfolio than the single images in it.

Facebook is definitely the most popular and widespread social network, but it can be also a little bit tricky when used to promoting your own portfolio: it is extremely useful to share your experience with friends, or to create discussion groups and educate other people about the microstock activity, but it is a bit more difficult to use it to reach customers interested in purchasing your images. In case you decide to publish your pictures on Facebook, it’s a good idea to add a watermark to protect from any unauthorized use of the images and provide a link to the same image on sale on microstock sites.

Among other social networks, Twitter is probably the one that allows you to get more in touch with unknown people, tied by topics of their interest, such as the digital photography or the world of microstock, through the use of hashtags. Once again, it’s necessary to avoid spamming when promoting your own work through tweets. Pinterest is probably the most viral social network, though of lesser diffusion compared to Facebook and Twitter, and Google Plus promises to get better results in the indexing of content in the search engines (for obvious “familiarity” reasons with Google).

Regardless of the chosen social network (but why not all of them?), the mechanism of promotion through social networks is quite simple: just publish articles or content accompanied by your own microstock image and the link (direct or referral) to the same image on sale on the agencies websites, or better yet with a link to your own entire portfolio (just to avoid to unnecessarily increase the visits towards a single image). [pullquote-right]”search engines on the web are able to pick up news and signals directly from the social networks”[/pullquote-right]Obviously we do not expect that our Facebook friends will go buying our images. But the search engines on the web are able to pick up news and signals directly from the social networks, thus giving visibility to our images also towards potential customers on the internet.

2. Photography communities

Photography communities such as 500px, Flickr, Picasa, Instagram, EyeEm, were first designed for sharing no profit content, such as the passion for photography and for photography-related topics. Since some years Flickr has been pursuing an interesting partnership with Getty Images, allowing its users to make their images available on sale by this famous agency. Even in the case of the photography communities, it is quite simple to promote our own works (post photos with watermarks + direct or referral link), but in this case it is better to be extremely selective when choosing the images to post, because the sensitivity of these communities towards quality images is truly remarkable: trivial or uninteresting works have a great risk of being ignored and obscured by images of outstanding quality.

Even when you join forums that discuss about photography, where permitted, it is useful to include in your signature the link to your online portfolio.

3. Website

Putting your own portfolio on display through the creation of a dedicated website is undoubtedly the most direct and professional way to promote your work. You can choose a template if you are not familiar with web programming, but it is highly recommendable to have a custom graphics. As for hosting and domain, it’s better to spend some money to have a professional hosting and a custom domain. The site is a showcase and must represent your work at best, especially if you have ambitions that go beyond the mere microstock activity.

4. Blog

Keeping a blog is a good idea to share in a more dynamic way your work and experience. Unlike the website, which should be intended as a reliable showcase through which expose your pictures at their highest glory, the blog can be a more casual, fun and engaging way to share your portfolio. Writing articles of interest, favoring the interaction with the users of the blog and attaching images taken from your portfolio is definitely the most effective tool to “explain” your work in a more operative way. In cases where it is difficult to find the time (or desire, or ability) to write content, you can also create a simple photo blog, where to give prominence to your images. But keep in mind that a blog with interesting articles is more relevant and launches in the web more signals that can be captured by the search engines.


Affiliate Programs (Referral)

Almost all microstock agencies offer to their contributors a referral program, namely the possibility of introducing new members, whether they are new customers for the agency or new contributors. This marketing activity by contributors is paid by the agencies through special commissions calculated on the percentage of the purchases made by customers or of the sales made by the authors introduced. Each agency has specific policies about referral commissions (check the comparison table):

  • some of them simply don’t allow the possibility to refer contributors, but only customers, while other agency allow you to present both categories of subjects;
  • the level of fees differs from agency to agency;
  • the duration of the period of referral is also variable: commissions on subjects referred only last a certain period of time or apply to a number of acts (buying or selling) and also vary from agency to agency;
  • other agencies, such as Dreamstime and Depositphotos pay a fixed one-time placement of banners or custom agency buttons in your website or blog.

Keep in mind that, in general, the earnings resulting from referrals do not allow big gains: it is just a way to “round up” and to promote your portfolio, as well as the sites of the various agencies. But how does a referral link work in practice?

A referral link is made from a “clean” web address of the agency’s homepage (or of any other page within the website) accompanied by the suffix that identifies our account of contributor. For example, my referral link to the Fotolia homepage is

When you click on this address, you are routed directly to the Fotolia homepage, without any consequences on your browsing experience. This way Fotolia records the origin of the site visitor and qualifies him as referred by the user “203337779“. At this point, through cookies and only until a certain period of time, when that visitor will connect to the Fotolia website to buy a picture, a percentage of the purchase price of that image will be recognized as extra earnings to the “referrer”. Obviously, this doesn’t work if cookies on the visitor’s computer are disabled. The referral link can be also directed to the page of our portfolio, as well as to our single pictures or even to other contributors’ content. You just need to add the suffix referring to your account to make sure that the link will automatically qualify the visitor as “referred” by you.

Finally, let’s talk about the difference between referral links and direct links: unlike referral, direct links are “clean” links, therefore not associated to our referral code. In other words, they do not bring any additional income, but only serve to direct users to pages that interest us. So why use these kind of links? Because SEO by search engines tends to penalize referral links, which is why those will be more difficult to be “intercepted” and then made visible in the search results. Therefore, if the goal is to increase exposure of your work, a direct link will be more effective in generating visits, as it will appear more easily in the search results, while a referral link will be more effective in generating additional earnings, but it will likely be visible only to  people to whom you send the link or that will be directly exposed to the link.

More about the world of Microstock at the following pages:

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Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.