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Taming the social media montster

Taming the social media montster

Social media is full of opportunity to gain greater exposure to your work. Yet for self-employed artists it is also an energy-sapping, time-sucking insatiable monster.
Here's what I've learned to survive ... and thrive!
This post was written to help artists use social media to grow their art business, whether its fine art, music, pottery, photography and the like… not creators looking to monetize their accounts by posting other artists' work.
First, let’s start with some disclaimers: The advice I am about to share has been accumulated over the past five years as I’ve grown my Instagram following. Since I hit 10K and beyond, I am regularly approached to promote other products (AKA influencing) but I made a decision NOT to monetize my account because it doesn’t meld with my manifesting philosophies. Since I do not play that game I will not discuss “influencing” in this article.
Also, I do not come from the social media marketing world; I am not a techie or a professional creator so I will not go into deep technical strategy on hashtags, engagement methods, and all of the other nuts ’n bolts of the business. There’s tons of information about social media strategy generated by people with more knowledge and technical sense than me. I recommend that you spend plenty of time learning about your choice of platform, whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, or another.
However, over the years as I have consulted with social media professionals seeking help for my own accounts, I’ve come to realize that much of the marketing strategies for social media doesn’t really apply to individual artists. It doesn’t speak from a place of truly understanding the soulful nature of art and the synergistic relationship between the artist and their audience. And it certainly does not respect the energies of the creative artist. But it is from this vantage point that I can speak with some authority and sincerity.
I’ve grown my Instagram account successfully but it wasn’t without mistakes and frustration. Since I do not possess a techie brain I still struggle to understand all of the rules, algorithms and nuances of stories, reels, videos, etc. and just when I begin to figure it out, they change! I’ve watched other artists struggling too- with burn out, disappointment, and a sense of failure when their posts can’t generate the likes and follows that they hoped. I’ve watched these artists implode under the pressure. The symptoms of it can be witnessed when they “overshare” or post controversial things. I empathically wonder if it's because they become so stressed and have lost their sense of self and balance. For example, I’ve watched really good people become “canceled” because they mistakenly share personal but unpopular opinions - or something from years past resurfaces and in today’s touchy cancel culture, it ruins their reputation in one fell swoop. I’ve personally lost 400 followers and received hateful comments after I posted what I thought was a positive bi-partisan political message… and even though I do not regret that post or it’s message, it certainly created a sense of trepidation about what I share going forward.
Losing followers isn't always from posting mistakes. Social media platforms occasionally purge accounts. During 2020, Instagram purged and changed their engagement policies and I lost many followers and engagement dwindled. It was so frustrating that my artistic "mojo" took a hit.
I realized the real danger was that I had been attaching too much meaning to my follower base and when it changed for the worse, my sense of artistic self-worth went with it.
I’ve witnessed my own kids start their own channels or accounts with much excitement because they saw someone else become insanely successful. It seems so easy, right? Until you begin and realize it’s not as fun or simple as it seems. And shortly thereafter- disappointed and confused - they allow their accounts to go dormant. Now, the same phenomena is happening in the NFT world and artists rush into it in hopes of striking it rich in the meta verse only to realize they are one of a million others trying to grab the same elusive golden ring.
It is very easy to become consumed by all of these enticing opportunities and to take the downturns personally. The social media monster is a real threat to the spirit of an artist! Yet, social media is a necessary tool for gaining exposure and connection within the professional field and that’s not changing in the foreseeable future. So, how do you survive and better yet, learn how to thrive within a highly competitive, nonstop and challenging environment?
Here’s my top ten ideas (in no order of importance) for surviving the social media monster.
1. Start where you are or begin anew?
Most of us have experience with some social media platforms. We simply began to post things and over time learn what we like to post and also what we like to consume from other accounts. However, when we consider building a professional account, it can feel daunting. Building a large following takes time and consistent effort, so you don’t want to start over very often. However, if your current follower base isn't aligned to your new, intended content, it might make sense to start over.
Whether you continue with your current account or decide to create a new one depends on a few things:
Does your current account feature a lot of personal or unprofessional posts that interfere with your professional image? Did you create it when you were an angsty teen? Perhaps it’s time to begin anew!
Do you want to manage several different accounts? For every account you create, you will need to spend time and energy nurturing it. I recommend fewer accounts that you can really focus upon.
Is your handle (public username) of your account appropriate to your business? The clearer it is, the better. For example most artists use their first and last name which is easiest for your followers to remember. If you pick a random (albeit creative) name, it may not show up when they search your name. Don’t be clever - be clear! Make your handle and bio very specific to your brand image. If you’ve made this mistake, some of the platforms make it nearly impossible to change your handle. In these cases, you might be forced to begin again.
2. Who are your people?
Are you familiar with the vibe of the social media platform? Which platform does your target audience prefer? Which one provides you the most ease and enjoyment (which is important because you will need to dedicate consistent, long-term time to building your presence on it, so you should enjoy it)
If you want to expand to a new platform (for example, you have an instagram account but now want to create a TikTok) consider using a similar handle so that viewers recognize you.
Beware of trying too many platforms at once, wearing yourself too thin. I would encourage you to focus on one at a time before expanding, so that you can focus on the nuances of each including understanding what the viewership of the platform wants. It would be a mistake to think you can simply copy content from one to the other and expect it to work for both.
3. Understand your goals.
What do you hope to accomplish with social media? Many of us don’t really know, we just feel we need to join in. But, I recommend spending some quality time determining your WHY first, and then create goals and milestones that align to it.
Remember, it’s easiest to get where you want to go if you KNOW where you want to go first.
If you are unsure, then begin by building your portfolio with posts that you are proud of. Only post your best work. When I began, I posted once per week because that’s all I could manage consistently.
While you do that, look at other artists that you admire. Become aware how they use social media to connect to their audience. What can you learn from their vibe to inspire your own?
As you spend the first year filling in your “portfolio” then you can start experimenting with other things to engage your viewership. Pay attention to what your followers respond to. And keep in mind what you want your brand to say about you.
Make sure you engage with your followers regularly. Make it a habit especially in the early growth period to check in often, several times a day. Focus energy on your social media because we can "sense" when someone focuses their time and spirit on their posts. If you want your account to grow, then make sure you are giving it the attention it needs. In other words, "Water what you want to grow."
4. Create a niche and a brand.
A niche is a topic or theme that consistently runs through your art. It might be a message or subject matter. When people think of your brand, they think {fill in the blank}. Do you know?
Where do you envision seeing your art? What inspired you to be an artist? What are your plans for the future? Make sure your brand image incorporates this.
When people scan your account, what do you want them to understand about your art? Help them answer their questions: “Should I follow this artist? Do I gain something from it? Do I connect to it?”
Generally, your niche and brand are more apparent than we make it to be! If you don’t know, ask friends and family. Or engage with your followers - find out who they are, what they like about your content. Check out where they are coming from. This will help you understand your demographics… your “people” and that reflects your brand.
As you experiment with new styles, content and subject matters, run it through your “brand filter.” Does it connect to your established brand? Does it support or detract from it? How can you gradually evolve your brand?
Sometimes we feel we need to make a change. To our art, brand … to, well, everything! Artists are naturally creative ie: changing, morphing, growing. This inclination runs counter to the concept of a “brand” which is supposed to be predictable and consistent. Be aware, if you choose to change your art style, message and/or brand image you may experience a drop in your followers as some may no longer connect to the “new” you. It’s the nature of the beast so if you do make major changes, do so with care.
5. Plan the work and work the plan.
Create content that supports your brand. Think about who you are and what you want to communicate about yourself.
Decide what percentage of time you are willing to devote to creating content. Within your week, consider how important it is to your goals, and how to balance it with your projects and other demands on your time. (I've got a great way to establish priorities which I will write about in the future... called the Bucket game)
Put together a calendar and preplan. Sketch in timely or seasonal posts.
Spend one day a month thinking through your posts and what you want to talk about and write them out in a word processing document. Then, when it's time to post you can just cut and paste.
Decide what content you need to create and apply a realistic time limit to get it done.
Organize your files of previous work in a system that makes it easy to find when you want to post it. You can repeat posts to fill in your schedule.
Experiment with your posts:
• Ask an engaging question to build rapport with your followers
• Show “work in progress” with videos
• Snap pics or short videos of yourself (what do these pics say about you?)
• Post timely artwork based on current news or seasons
• Share your thoughts, struggles, victories- thoughtfully! Remember, what you put out there, will be there forever!
• Try different platforms but pick one or two to focus on so you don’t wear yourself too thin.
Experiment, but don’t feel pressure to continue it all. Find your flow, your vibe and go with it.
6. Find your consistency and comfort.
I spent a portion of this past year testing my comfort zone, trying new content ideas and different platforms. Some of them are a good addition to my social media plan. Others aren’t and I discontinued them. Try different ideas, but find a few you enjoy and do that consistently. It becomes your “style” and is part of your niche and brand that I mentioned before.
Many “experts” recommend posting multiple times a day. But keep in mind that advice is for businesses with a large following, over 100K. If you have less than 5K, posting multiple times a day would be annoying to them! And will devour your time, energy and focus that you should be spending on your art. Create a realistic schedule that you can do consistently, for the long-term.
No matter what the experts say, you have to enjoy creating your posts. If it doesn’t feel right, I let it go. I want a peaceful, joyful life and creating content that makes me uncomfortable or makes me feel like I am trying to “fit” into a trend just doesn’t make me happy (sorry TikTok, you’re not my thing.)
7. Manage your expectations.
A growth strategy is great but understand that the effort you put in will be required consistently, long-term, as long as you manage your own social media. That said, sometimes you will want to apply more time and energy to growing your reach or engagement. And other times your artwork demands more time and energy. It’s this push/pull that creates conflicting priorities.
Remind yourself often that social media isn’t the end product or primary focus either. Keep it’s power and importance in check! As we’ve discussed, create a plan and stick with it. If it becomes too much, then change the plan.
Social media is a powerful marketing tool, but it’s not nearly as important as the work that you produce.
8. Cheats are for cheats, not you.
100K followers in two weeks!
WOW that sounds great, right? Wrong. Creators have developed all kinds of shortcuts and hacks to get more followers quickly (basically scamming you so you pay for their services.) These are not REAL followers who are authentically interested in your or your art. They are usually bots or inactive accounts that do not engage with your posts and won’t help you show up on your real audience’s newsfeeds. Your account can also get banned.
Understand that follower QUANTITY does not truly help you build your brand. It’s like building a house upon a weak foundation; it can collapse at any time when the platform changes their algorithms to weed out the spams and hacks. So you really want to focus on QUALITY followers who are authentically interested in your posts, engage with comments and likes, and ultimately become customers of your art business.
When you feel tempted to try one of these “get rich quick” schemes remind yourself of your long term goals. Know who you are and what you want to do with your art. Stand in YOUR truths so you cannot be swayed or dazzled by promises that seem “too good to be true.” And grow your presence with good, consistent practices.
9. Social Media popularity is transitory and success is a moving target.
All social media is transitory… meaning it changes and shifts constantly. What worked last year may not the next. Don’t take it personal when followers drop if you’ve been doing your best. Perhaps you can change up your posts, or perhaps its because the algorithms changed. If you are growing and evolving as an artist, sometimes that means your followers will shift too. Don’t let it stop you from growing.
10. Ebb and flow.
It’s OK to take a break once in a while. I am a huge advocate for work/life balance. It is just as important to REST as it is to work. Plan regular opportunities to recharge your creative energy and reconnect with your family and friends.
Don’t sacrifice your personal happiness to chase the fleeting and fickle attention of social media. Even if some of your followers leave and your goals are delayed when you take a sabbatical, you will have plenty of time to recoup any losses because social media will be around for a long, long time. As long as you are seeking greater exposure, it will be part of your work schedule.
Remember to manage social media so it doesn’t manage you! ~Kat
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