Social networks and blogs
Online social networks can be an excellent way to attract large numbers of people to your work and it has become increasingly essential to use these platforms for creatives. They are valuable (and free) promotional tools for your practice, exhibitions or projects you are involved in and can lead to further opportunities such as more exhibitions, press coverage, art jobs, and even the sale of work. Through regular use it is a creative way to build your public profile as an artist and a way to research the art world to build upon and create new networks. However, maintaining any social network takes time, and each one has its own quirks and etiquette to negotiate when you first start.
- Social networks are largely designed for two-way communication, so just pushing information out about your work won’t engage people for too long – you need to spend time interacting with people and reposting or commenting on other people’s content that interests you. There should be a healthy balance between promoting what you do and what others do. Get into the habit of distributing or sharing relevant and interesting information and art.
- Audiences on social networks are bombarded with information, much of it from their real-life friends, and content pushed toward them from unknown sources is likely to be ignored. In other words, don’t spam! If you don’t know someone in the real world then you need to develop a relationship with them first. You could do this by mentioning someone else’s work through your social media or leaving feedback on people’s posts and bringing yourself slowly to someone’s attention. At any networking event you might attend and meet people at, follow up the connection on social media, whether a comment on a post or a DM that can quite simply start with ‘good to meet you’ or a simple ‘thank you.’
- Social networks are an excellent research tool to learn about the art world. You can find out about artists, curators, press, galleries, exhibitions and opportunities. Actively engage with the art world, follow people you admire and begin to have or join in on conversations with them where you can. Look at who is engaging with you, for example people commenting on your feeds as it could be an interesting professional connection. Include people where relevant on occasion that you have worked with in the past who might like an update on your work from time to time or peers.
With any social network, start slowly. Test it out for a while and see which platform suits your way of interacting with the world.
With all social network sites carefully check the terms and conditions of the social networks you are interested in before posting images of your work. Most have licensing agreements built into their terms of service, so you are signing over some limited rights for your content to be reused without your further permission.
That being said, the rewards can be significant in terms of exposure. Here we present a short overview of some of the main social networks, drawn from our experience and those of artists we’ve worked with.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
Although Facebook has been around the longest as the first social networking site, Twitter and Instagram (owned by Facebook) have been gaining a lot more users and large audiences and so they have become two very important social media / social networking platforms. Although there are some differences in these platforms, the ways in which you can engage on them have many similarities. After registering to each site, users create a profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages, post status updates, photos and share videos. On all of these platforms users can send posts to their network or open messages to each other, both of which anyone can view, or they can send direct messages that are only seen by the recipient.
Twitter enables users to send and read short 280 character messages called “tweets”. Registered users can read and post tweets, but unregistered users can only read them. You can post 4 images with any tweet so it is can be very visual. There is also a list function on Twitter which allows you to filter people into different categories such as ‘Press’ or ‘Curators’ which means you can keep track of people and their news as well as potentially invite them to events when appropriate.
Instagram is focussed on posting images on your ‘feed’ but you can use up to 2200 characters in your posts and up 30 hashtags per post. Even though Instagram is image based you still need to spend time on the word content to improve the quality of your posts which will in turn increase engagement. You can post a single image or an album of ten images per post on your feed. You can also repost something to your own feed or stories or use Repost or Regram for Instagram. On Instagram the only website links that are ‘live’ at the moment is the link on your profile page, so you may need to change links on your profile from time to time when you want to direct people to certain news such as a piece in the press, another website etc.
Facebook owns Instagram and a lot of similar functions of Instagram are replicated on this platform too. The main difference on Facebook is that you can create Facebook events and groups so you filter different types of contacts and can maintain separation between professional and personal posts. Some artists (and especially organisations) maintain a Facebook Page, linked to a personal profile but posting under the organisation’s name, which allows any other user to follow them without having to be accepted as a friend, and provides further separation between personal and professional posts. Facebook users can also get information about talks, opportunities, events and exhibitions by following Pages or accounts, but many artists choose not to post images of the work here due to licensing concerns. Facebook Pages also come with useful and detailed statistics, so you can understand your audience and create targets for their activity.
Hootsuite can also maintain Facebook Pages and profiles alongside Twitter, bringing both of these accounts into one place.
The popular uses on all of these platforms are:
- Sharing pictures and videos including insights into your work such as inspirations and work in progress.
- Share knowledge, information or wit by sharing stories or links and supporting your networks.
- Hear about people or organisations that interest you
- Directly contact people you might not know personally
- Update your followers about your work, events or current activities you are engaged with more regularly than an email mailing list
- Keep up-to-date with specific topics or news
Further insight and Tips
You can start live videos on all of these platforms for a limited time to promote events or talk about your work. But consider lighting, sound and whether it may be of interest before hitting the live switch. Also if you are filming an event it is best practice to inform the audience that they are being filmed and give them the option to opt out of being filmed.
Instagram and Facebook have a stories function. Stories are good for sharing something for a period of 24 hours: i.e. something more ephemeral, behind the scenes or informal such as a work in progress that you may not want to have on your own curated and polished feed permanently. You can also share other people’s stories to your own stories feed, for example an opportunity or an artist’s work you might want to share with your network.
Hashtags, # first invented for Twitter but now widely used across other social networking sites, are used to refine and join up content for a particular subject, allowing you to also follow events on social networks. Anything can be hash tagged, so for example if you are promoting an exhibition you can make the name of the exhibition a hashtag to allow others to add to your conversation. Be careful of ‘hashtag dumping’ – this means adding in lots of unrelated hashtags to your post to attempt to get more likes. This can be counter-productive as you aren’t using specific hashtags to target your audience.
Twitter and Facebook tend to have a more conversational aspect, and can be used for forums, debates, or resource sharing. You can share links on your posts to help promote your activities, especially if other users share this info on their own social network feeds – this pushes your message further and in turn helps build your professional profile.
Use your own name on your social network profile so you are easy to find. Include important biographical information such as where you might have studied, achievements and associations. This will also help people decide whether to follow you and look at your feed.
On any platform the pressure to feel like you need to keep ‘active’ means sometimes people don’t take time on their content. Endless selfies, for example, can be off-putting and unnecessary. Take time on coming up with engaging content, look at the impact different posts have, and analyse your own data and content. It is not how much you post but the quality of what you post that counts.
If social networks are used effectively it can help you build your networks through connecting you and help nurture professional connections. Through regular interaction you will become more visible and memorable, helping to forge relationships that also translate into the physical world.
Every social media platform now has their own analytics, but many other companies mine their data for insights into user activity: Artquest uses Tweetreach. You might also find tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck useful in managing multiple accounts – keeping your professional and personal accounts separate. chenhaot.com will help you compose tweets that have a strong chance of being retweeted. For Instagram you need to change your account to a ‘business account’ in order to get basic analytics.
Artist Interview and advice
Artist Binita Walia (@Tspaceinbetween on Twitter) has created large scale public and private architectural glass commissions since 1995. Having joined Twitter in April 2010 and later Instagram she has quickly found herself becoming part a large network of artists who use social networks daily to communicate, share and comment on everything they are interested in, from politics to feminism to art.
We interviewed Binita about her experiences and prepared a list of tips from the interview below.
- Social networks can take some time to understand and find a way that feels comfortable to you. You need to create a good profile picture and description text and try out a few different ideas before you settle on something good. People won’t follow you unless you sound legitimate and interesting. Put a link to your work and say briefly what you do. When you first start, watch how others use social networks and learn from their techniques until you feel confident you know what you’re doing. There is a quirky etiquette on these platforms: some people will only follow you once you follow them, and only about 20% of people on Twitter do most of the tweeting. If you want to be a ‘leader’ in Twitter then you do need to tweet a lot, retweet and join in discussions.
- Look at users previous posts to decide if you want to follow them. Follow curators for insights into who they work with and how they work. Start by following all the artists information sources like a-n, Artquest, Axisweb, DACS, Q-Art plus the galleries and magazines you are interested in, and check who they are following for ideas on others to connect to. You can also follow your favourite artists and friends.
- Make friends by responding to conversations. Often artists post from art conferences, exhibitions and events which means you can join in with them directly, as a conversation is taking place. Binita mostly meets new people on Twitter by engaging in these conversations..
- Show and share. Sharing work in progress, a new show or an exhibition you have enjoyed offers an insight into your work and inspiration, building audiences who are interested in the same things that you are.
- Beware the Twitterstorm
Remember that anything you tweet can be retweeted and shared endlessly: what you write becomes part of the public domain, so never write anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face or to a large audience.
See also a-n’s video guide to Twitter for artists below
A blog is a discussion or informational site consisting of entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). Many artists use them for longer pieces of text as they don’t have the same post length limitations of social networks. Although many blogs are gathered into specific service communities, like Blogger, WordPress or a-n’s artist blogs, they often rely on Twitter and Facebook to further promote content.
As posts are longer, more effort and momentum is required to keep them current. When writing a blog, it can be useful to have an interesting title to frame your entries and help give you and the readers a framework.
To draw attention to the difficulty of maintaining a blog long-term, artist Cory Archangel produced a blog listing blog posts written to apologise for not blogging.
Many artists integrate a blog into their website for news or social content to keep this separate from their portfolio or artists statement, and ensure their content is not hosted on social platforms that may impose automatic licensing on their images.
See also a-n’s video guide to blogs for artists below.