I once read that we swipe our smartphones up and down on social media equal to the height of the Statue of Liberty -- every day! While the thought of polishing a national monument is mesmerizing, many of us feel like we're wasting our time on social media, or worse, as artist Ellen Rutt (@ellenrutt) puts it, "We've scrolled endlessly into a zone of self-deprecating despair."
Facebook counts 2.8 billion monthly active users worldwide; Instagram has over 1 billion. Social media is how we connect with the world, and for artists it's a tool we either dive in to or run away from. But before you delete those apps, you might be interested in what I've learned in my conversations with artists around this month's topic -- namely, social media really is what YOU make of it.
Ask yourself, are you there to share your work, to sell your art, to find community?
Price Valentine (@bigpinkjewel), who shares on Facebook, Instagram and OnlyFans, reflects: "You have to understand why you're on social media. I can completely delve into creativity because that's what it's all about for me. My OnlyFans page is addressing an interesting phase of my life -- a coping mechanism -- it's Price's playhouse. I set the rules, in a world that is so out of my control."
While Facebook has become a platform for news articles and vacation posts from your grandparents, Instagram is more visually focused, with artists migrating there. Rutt sees it this way: "Instagram has the potential to be an expanded portfolio; it'll be the first place people look when searching for your work, so I think posting the work you want the world to see is way more important than gaining followers and likes."
While we may not want to be the next influencer, this advice from Beth Haidle (@ehaidle) was valuable, "Everyone I know who is trying to get more followers on social media is miserable."
And what is the point of visibility if there isn't some hope of actually making a sale?
Local artist Laurel Taylor (@wilde.ink) has been using Instagram to share her creative process and to offer limited-edition prints. "Have a website link in your profile," she says, "so those who are curious can learn more about you as an artist. You never know when someone digs into your work and wants a piece to call their own."
Haidle moved to Instagram for the creative interaction.
"I was told to get on to see what artists are doing; to find and meet artists. As an art grad, I miss the classroom and the supportive environment. I started to follow artists and they were talking about their process and materials. It inspired me. If I was getting that much out of it, then I may as well jump in." Haidle posts daily sketches to her 137K followers, treating it like an art diary.
Once you are focused on how you want to use it, what and when you share is just as confusing, frustrating and at least for me, rather vulnerable.
Jennifer Villela of PR firm V Media, doesn't want you to be shy. "Be sure to post videos of yourself making work. Seeing the technical process is so interesting and engaging for audiences." Share the magic of making the work; give people something new to discover.
Cecilia Cuff (@parseseco and @thenascentgroup) states, "The best thing you can do is be consistent in your posting, because it works better with the algorithms. It rewards those who continually give them content. And it also rewards your audience. It's draining, but it's an amazing free platform."
Price Valentine agrees, "Consistency is key. There are apps that you can use to create a content calendar and that publish the posts for you. They even tell you what time is best, based on your followers."
Rutt uses an app called Later. "I have started scheduling my posts on Monday for the whole week. This helps me plan things in advance and keeps me off my phone."
Now, about those algorithms. These large companies can change their platform any which way they choose, and it can impact your visibility. I was really surprised to hear that artists are actually starting to move back into the world of newsletters. Here is local artist Mandy Stapleford's (@mandystapleford) astute point, "In terms of media, our email and our website are the only things we now own. These companies can change the rules at any time."
As artists creating in the 21st century, we must be maker, seller and marketer. Laurel Taylor reminds us "we are witnessing a shift from the traditional 'gallery representation' way of doing things to artists being able to create their own businesses and hone their own followings by being their authentic selves and creating what their hearts pull to -- and I think it is a beautiful thing."
Let's keep the conversation going. Join us on The Paseo Project's Instagram page (@paseoproject), Tuesday, April 13 at 6 p.m. for a deeper discussion.
J. Matthew Thomas is a Taos-based architect, artist, curator and director of The Paseo Project. He posts inconsistently at @jmattthomas.