How do you use social media to its best advantage without letting it destroy you mentally? Last week, I gave a talk to the graphic design students at TasTAFE about sharing your creative work (and yourself) on social media for the whole world to see. My design pal Nat had read my blog post about craft markets, blogging and social media, and he invited me to talk with his Cert IV / Diploma students.
Me: Sure, I’d be happy to talk about my experiences. But I admit that I’m nervous.
Nat: That’s why you’d be perfect for this. You feel nervous about stuff and you think things through.
Mm-hmm, and that’s why I went dark on social media for an entire year. But stepping away from it allowed me to figure out how to navigate the personal, unrelenting nature of social media without letting it get to me. I’ll share my observations over here with you, too.
(NB: This post is aimed at neurotic creatives on social media, but if you still feel anxious/frustrated about putting yourself out there, keep reading! I’ll be focusing on visual feeds in this post, like Instagram and Facebook.)
1. Not all advice is worthwhile advice.
There’s an ocean of information there about marketing yourself online, and I guarantee that you’ll find useful advice. Keep in mind, though, that many of the pdfs, seminars and online courses are often produced as a tidy means of self-promotion for the people selling them.
So whilst you’ll find heaps of fantastic advice, trying to absorb everything useful – let alone the rest of the non-useful bits – will overwhelm you into paralysis. Any advice you hear, from myself included, is not one-size-fits-all. You have to determine which advice is pertinent and useful to you.
2. Quick question: do you create content for yourself, or for other people?
Answering that question can help you strike a healthy balance. Audience awareness and nurturing your creative passion are both important, as it turns out!
If you lean towards creating for yourself: self-promotion is a necessary evil.
Most of my presentation is aimed at the people in this camp – the passionate creatives who focus on their art, who figure that marketing will just, idk, sort itself out. If you create work solely for yourself, and you genuinely don’t care if anyone ever sees it: respect. If you’re painting in watercolour and chucking your canvases in a fire barrel afterwards: respect.
But if you’re creating work solely for yourself, yet wanting a response from the world out there: you have to promote yourself. It doesn’t matter how much skill or labour went into your work. You can’t expect people to automatically find it, or even to like it. Your audience is out there – but it’s on you to build it.
If you’re doing it for the gram: remember what your true goals are.
Meanwhile, if you’re already deep into social media, but you find yourself posting bland ‘instagrammy’ things, spamming hashtags, and stifling your interests in order to chase likes – then social media is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself. Your goal becomes earning little hearts, rather than your broader goals as a creative. Is that what you want?
Obsessing over social media metrics is an easy trap to fall into, and it’s one that I’ve fallen into myself. I couldn’t avoid monitoring the numbers of likes and engagements for each post, so I inevitably felt inferior every time I saw more popular posts on my feed. That misplaced focus will grind you down.
3. Social media is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage.
As a creative professional, there’s a surprising amount of non-creative work that you have to do, and putting yourself out there is one of those things. Many people have an instinctive understanding of social media, but I have to study it like algebra. I memorise key concepts and strategies.
You know those beautiful Instagram profiles that make it look effortless? They are:
- Tracking their metrics
- Following visual guidelines for their imagery
- Scheduling their content in advance
- And so much more.
You can’t play the game if you don’t understand it, and there are many resources online that can introduce you to basic social media strategies. Just remember what I said about not all advice being worthwhile advice.
An example: batch scheduling. I schedule multiple Facebook + Instagram posts in advance, through an app called Later (formerly Latergram). I create several posts at once, on a Friday, and then the app auto-posts through the week. Ta-da. It feels odd to be so calculating with my online presence, but it’s no different to developing any other aspect of my professional self-presentation.
4. You are always a part of your creative work. Embrace it!
Your work was created by somebody, and your audience wants to know about the person who made it. They want to know what makes you tick. What inspires you? What makes your work different from your competitors? Your unique identity, perspective, and creative vision is the secret sauce.
Don’t be afraid to show your face, by the way. It’ll build trust with your audience, and deepen your sense of mutual connection. And no, it’s not about looking model-hot – it’s about showing the world who you are. People will remember you for who you are, rather than being ‘just another designer’ or ‘just another photographer’. It also demonstrates that you’re confident and comfortable with who you are.
You might be wondering: who would be interested in someone ordinary like me? Well, let me tell you right now – it’s more people than you think, if you’re willing to be vulnerable and let them.
5. Your professional self is always part of any public display.
Just like how your identity is always there in your creative work, your social media presence is intrinsically linked with how you market yourself as a professional. Be aware of how you are being perceived by others, and whether it’s how you want them to perceive you.
- How do you think the total package – you and your work – is coming across to the audience that you want to attract?
- Are you communicating who you are, and what you want them to see?
Pro tip: using separate professional and personal accounts is helpful for maintaining a boundary between the two. Are people following your business account because they love your product or service, or is it because they want to see cat photos and your lunch?
6. Appearances matter (because social media isn’t free from, well, social standards) – but there are ways to handle the pressure on your own terms.
Sigh. I know that I should say that appearances don’t matter, and that good work stands on its own. But in the interest of honesty: I’ve found that even merit-based creative fields still pass judgement based on appearance.
You’ll scroll though your social media feed, and you’ll notice how the images you see of “successful creative professionals” are often conventionally attractive, and it can really mess with your head. Particularly if you’re not a straight white guy. (Or, let me put it this way: every single creative friend I’ve talked to who isn’t a straight white guy feels the pressure to glow up.)
Please, don’t feel like you have to hide yourself because you don’t fit some perceived ideal. Like, I will never be a willowy blonde influencer with perfect teeth. But feeling like the best version of myself, doing the things that I love, erases my lingering worries about it.
- Have some nice photos of yourself where you feel confident about how you look and how you come across. Your clothing, your body language, and your surroundings can say a lot about who you are. Own your narrative.
- It also never hurts to have a few polished, well-lit photos of yourself that you can use for professional purposes. You never know when you’ll be asked for a headshot for an article, or a gallery blurb, or a workplace profile.
- I share photos of myself where I’m fully happy with myself, and I wouldn’t care how people would judge me. Someone finds those photos of me in a Google search? Good. I want them to see.
7. Find sources of personal satisfaction outside of your work.
You are so much more than your work, you know. You’re a friend, a partner, a loving daughter, a doting cat dad, or whatever the damn hell else you feel like.
Maybe you like taking care of plants, or lifting weights, or chasing after your kids on the beach, or cooking gourmet burgers. Great! Because if times are tough, and you’re feeling a bit raw after witnessing everyone else’s successes on social media, these interests are great for getting you outside of your own head. Tangible accomplishments work wonders for self-motivation, no matter how great or small.
Honestly, this is the only way to deal with it when the social media gremlins start to get in your head. Don’t rely on validation solely from your work, or from the response it gets.
8. Enjoy the social side of social media!
My friendships with other creative social media folks are a constant source of inspiration and support. It might take time, but the relationships that you nurture will reward you tenfold. You have people in your corner. look out for them and they will look out for you.
And if you see something cool online, or discover an artist whose work really speaks to you? TELL THEM! The creative people you admire also appreciate being seen and understood. I’ve sent messages to people whose work has deeply inspired me, and hearing back from them on a personal level feels incredible. (Like: I yelped a little when I saw that Kristina from the art studio Inaluxe had responded and liked a heap of my posts.) I love getting to shout-out the people who’ve inspired me.
It’s a reminder of the positive power of social media, and the real reason why most of us are there in the first place.
In summary, I personally view the guidelines to online self-promotion as a brain-melting set of contradictions. However, I find them manageable if I stick to what feels healthiest for me. And maintaining that balance lets me genuinely enjoy vibing with others. Being a creative on social media isn’t all bad, I swear!
What have your experiences been like? Does any of this ring true for you? I know a lot of sole traders who feel like they have their hands full; hopefully you guys feel heard.