The online and social media realm is definitely a rather exciting and stressful part of being an artist in today’s world. While there are theories about how to boost engagement, how to gain more exposure and how to leverage your work to gain more following, there really is no set standard for how to do anything online, which makes it both exciting and confusing all at the same time. Below I’ll walk you through some of the things that I’ve learned about social media and the arts.
Putting the social in social media.
My first foray into social media and photography was way back before Instagram and even before Facebook took off. It was using Flickr. At the time, it was THE place to be as a photographer. And what made it such an amazing place was the community that existed on the platform. There were artists from all over the world, creating and sharing and connecting with each other. It was the golden age of social media, it didn’t feel frustrating, it didn’t have algorithms or strategy, just creating and connecting. Many of those artists are still my close friends now and that shows you that using social media in a truly social way can really add value to your life.
As new platforms came out, I joined in. I started a Facebook page, an Instagram and posted away. But something was missing and I didn’t really realize what it was until I was called out on it. I wasn’t engaging with people. One day a comment was left on a photo on Instagram that said
“Why don’t you reply to comments?”
And I didn’t have a valid excuse. Was I that busy? No. It may have been apathy, disconnect or simply just lack of concern of being ‘involved’ but I wasn’t really being social. And I was missing out on a lot of important parts of these platforms. So, I changed my strategy and became much more engaged. I replied to every message, as many comments as I could. I reached out to other artists and collaborated, connected, praised and left comments on their photos. And I realized that this was not only helping my audience feel more connected with me, it was also putting me in a better place in terms of my own business and clients. Now I had more connection and with more connection come more opportunity. Instead of using social media as a display, it was an experience and it truly has helped shift how my time online was spent.
So, my biggest advice would be to be social. To comment, share, respond and really let people see who you are and how they can be a part of your photography life. It sounds daunting, it sounds like you have to be “on” all the time but with some clever planning it doesn’t take much time at all. I try to give myself a timed amount to do the work that is involved in social media. I’ll post, take 20 minutes to reply to any comments, messages and engage with other posts and then I’ll step away. I’ll come back for maybe 2 more 20 minute “sessions” during the day to reply to comments and messages and engage with others and then leave it at that. In total, an hour of set aside time, but spread throughout the day. You can use timers, apps or just self discipline to keep yourself accountable to the time line you’ve set out for yourself.
Plan of Attack
There’s a lot of chatter about algorithms on social media. That invisible force that either lets your images be seen or hides then behind some sort of veil. I don’t know if it exists or not, there does seem to be some sort of formula that social platforms use. And the only advice I have is to find a method of posting that suits your own individual account.
There are theories that say you must keep your captions below a certain a word count, that you should avoid mentioned certain words, avoid certain hashtags or tagging certain accounts but I say they’re all theory.
For me, on Instagram, I’ve found there is a sweet spot in terms of when I post. I’ve found that posting between 11am-12pm MST is the best time in terms of engagement. Most of the people that follow and engage with my Instagram account are based in the USA, Canada, and England. This includes brands that I work with and social agency accounts which I certainly want to be able to see my posts. When I post during this time frame, it means that most people in those time zones are awake and likely going to be on social media sometime soon, so I’m able to reach more of them than if I were to post at midnight. It may be different for you and what has worked best for me is to just slowly adjust the times I post until I feel it’s getting the most people at once. If you have access to your insights and stats you can also see the times, days of the week that most people are active. Again, I don’t know how accurate or trustworthy those are so it’s best to conduct your own research!
When I do post, I typically spend about 20 minutes replying to comments and messages. I don’t know if this helps keep the image in some form of exposure but for me, I think it’s easiest to reply when I’m already sitting and working on posting.
I try to go easy on the hashtags personally, I find that they haven’t really brought in much of an audience unless they are very specific to a theme or holiday. Instagram issues a weekend hashtag project and those are usually a good one to create from and post as the community as a whole is quite actively looking through it, plus there’s the potential for your image to get shared on Instagram’s main account. There are rumors of shadow banning happening to Instagram accounts the mis-use or overuse hashtags which is one reason why I try to keep mine to a minimum.
One place that I’ve been using them more often is on Instagram stories. You can use hashtags to drive viewers to your stories without them being noticeable in your post (you can change the colour and the size to make them almost invisible). This can help get new viewers to your account and is also helpful when pitching to potential clients (more and more often clients are asking for screenshots of stats/story views)
Dillon asked a great question that sort of ties into social media and that was how to stay motivated on daily/weekly/monthly challenges.
For me I find it easiest to stay focused on these challenges when I’m not the only one doing it. I’ll often join in with other people on projects or challenges that already exist (Instagram’s weekend hashtags, lightbulb project etc) this helps me stay more accountable when I know that other people are in the same boat.
I’ll usually keep myself in some sort of a routine, in the case of the lightbulb project, I know that the themes come out on Monday. I’ll often come up with my concept during the week and set aside Saturday/Sunday to shoot and edit. I find some sort of routine or schedule can be best when working on staying committed to a project like a daily or weekly challenge. I’ll usually plan out the week/month ahead of time so that I know what I need to do to make it a success. If the project is a weekly one, I’ll plot out my ideas, what I need, when I need to shoot it, and when I need to have it posted by. That helps keep everything laid out and simple to follow, a roadmap to success is always helpful!
The benefit of doing a challenge type project is that it’s easy to get other people (as well as brands) involved. Creating a hashtag, getting a small group together, it’s all another way to get and keep yourself growing and connected to other artists and potential clients.
Sandy asked a good question about the importance of using stories on Instagram. Using Insta-Stories is becoming more and more important in the social realm, but why? What purpose do the serve?
I’ve noticed that through stories, I’ve had more conversations, more engagement and had an opportunity to connect with more people than I would have with posts alone. Stories allow for a more “candid” look into your life as an artist and help to break that wall down that stands between the viewer and you.
Like all other types of social media, it can become quite easy to establish a routine and get people engaged in it, using stories. Last year I started posting each morning a “Daily Reminder” which was a short few words of motivation for others to read. After a few days it started to get some more engagement and people started engaging every day with them. After a few months I gradually started posting less of them and people noticed right away, that small act had become part of their Instagram experience. The same thing happened last month, I started posting short slow motion clips of my coffee steam in the morning and people started engaging saying “can’t wait for tomorrow’s” and when I missed a day, they noticed. Stories are a useful way for people to get an inside look at you, but also a way to keep engagement going.
You can share your post in your stories to get people later in the day to go and have a look, you can use the Questions feature to engage with your following to help with ideas, connections etc., you can use the stories to really allow the viewer of your work to be more involved, and therefore be more likely to keep staying active in your work.
It can be daunting and somewhat awkward to post on stories, I admire people that are able to record themselves every day and be confident and clear in their delivery, for me I have to plan it and practice it and even then, it’s not always natural but it ALWAYS results in feedback from viewers, which I think is important. When I think of the accounts that I engage with most, almost all of them post regularly to stories, it helps me connect with them and I’m more likely to engage with them online and off.
There are many apps out there to help with stories, but two that I find quite useful are Unfold which has templates that you can use to craft clean, easy to read/watch stories with a distinct theme. I also like to use Adobe Spark which is a platform available with your adobe subscription, it’s a pretty simple and powerful way to create quick graphics to announce projects, mix text and words and add animations to images.
In short, stories are part of the Instagram experience and keep you in the sight of the people watching your work.
The world of social media can be overwhelming, it can add to anxiety and it can feel a bit useless and pointless at times. But, the key to staying positive about it is to remember that there are people connecting you with you and engaging with the work that you’re creating. Try not to pay attention to numbers, and statistics, and followers. They’re “rewards” for doing the work that in reality don’t mean anything, the rewards that matter are the connections you make with other people. I’ll end with a quote from Drake from the recent Grammy Awards that I think is fitting with social media, it’s easy to interpret this in terms of art, if people are engaging with your work, if they’re liking and commenting on it, if they’re buying it or sharing it with others. You’ve won.
We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. The point is you’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and snow, spending money to buy tickets to your shows, you don’t need this right here. You already won.” – Drake