After almost two decades of grappling with “to be or not to be” on social media, I still find artists and all sorts of solopreneurs at odds with some of the most valuable tools available for marketing one’s own work. The reality is that most of us use social to tout what we’re up to, and for good reason: it’s mostly free, it’s easy to learn, it’s relatively easy to use, and it’s responsive, once you’ve built your following. There’s a thrill to putting something out there and getting feedback so quickly. Most people don’t get that in the rest of their lives, which is why social platforms remain not only popular, but downright addictive.
But there is a serious issue of work/life balance here, and if you’re going to use social media to market your work, you absolutely must find a way to make it enjoyable, effective, and sustainable.
KISS (aka “keep it simple, …”)
The first must is to streamline your efforts to 2-4 sites at the most. Less is more here, as trying to build a following in multiple places is exhausting and basically “splits the vote”. Keeping your focus on two or three sites at most seems to be best, but the mix is up to you, and may take some experimentation. Remember that every site you adopt must be posted to regularly, hopefully consistently, so you can build your tribe and keep your name and work near top-of-mind with those who follow you. This takes planning, creativity and good habits, especially since “cross-posting”, or posting the same thing on different platforms can actually hurt your web rankings, and will make it less likely that people will see what you post. (Yes, I agree — this sucks.)
Separate but equal functions
One method for addressing platform differentiation and encouraging people to follow you in more than one place is to assign different purposes for each platform — use each site for different sorts of posts, maximizing their strengths and keeping a clear delineation between audiences. Don’t try to force an article link where it won’t be clickable, for instance. Put it where it’s welcome. For instance,
- FACEBOOK is particularly attuned to sharing news articles and links from other sites. Their audience is widely diverse and can tolerate a broad range of topics, so this might be a general purpose sharing space where you can post things from other sources. It’s also a good place to go live, if your audience responds to that. Try out the various features there and see what works for your folks, gauging interest by what they respond to most.
- INSTAGRAM is specifically designed to be image-forward, and works best if you tend to take pictures and shoot short videos as you travel through the world… even if it’s only down the street. This is a great place to post behind-the-scenes pics to create buzz around an upcoming performance, to share adorable pictures of your friends, family and pets, and build human interest around your work. It’s good for created images and reels, too, but the size restrictions can mean extra work if you’re trying to share something that’s not square or longer than a very short video. Doable, but we’re looking for easy, right?
- LINKEDIN is best for building your reputation as a professional, particularly if part of your work is on the admin or presenting side. Sharing bits of your business can spark interest and build connections with your colleagues and even the leaders in your field, and it can help you network in a casual but very specific way.
- TWITTER, if you haven’t abandoned it yet, is good within the arts world for very quick posts and for building conversations with colleagues around the world. If you can avoid the mind-bogglingly infuriating diatribe trains. Twitter can be a place to share things you actually care about. But know that Twitter needs constant care and feeding, with a recommended 8+ tweets per day to build your gang there. It can be downright exhausting. Also, make sure you stay on top of your account settings and watch what the Tweet King is up to — things continue to change there at an alarming pace.
- YOUTUBE is still incredibly valuable for those who enjoy creating a video following — build enough of a tribe there, and it can also be monetized to bring you some income, but it takes constant posting and ongoing innovation to maintain your foothold. If you love it, give it a good shot and be sure to get some training on how to do it right. If it feels like a chore, other platforms might be a better fit for you.
- Don’t forget VIMEO for videos. A free account will limit the amount of uploades per week, but that’s manageable, and Vimeo has the advantage of focus, as they spend less effort luring your viewers to other channels once your video has completed. That alone merits serious consideration.
- BLOGGING and PODCASTING both offer a chance to build your own space where you’re the boss and you can create content that can be shared on any of the other sites. These options are more labor-intensive in some ways, but easier in others — the trick is that there are so many ways to post in either the blog or pod worlds that you can design something that is a unique fit for you, and will hopefully give you a better shot at finding your online soulmates in the process. Don’t dismiss these approaches, even though they, like YouTube, require more commitment than a couple of hundred characters a day. If you know what you want to put out there, you might crave the flexibility and archival power that come with these more enduring platforms.
- Speaking of blogging, POST might be a useful spot if you’re looking for a smaller-scale option that’s exceedingly easy to use. I’ve found Post to be a very friendly place to microblog. The interface has a minimal learning curve and shares well elsewhere. If you’re not up to a full-blown blog, this might be a good place to archive your thoughts so you can link to them on other sites. Now that Post no longer has a waiting list, anyone can create an account and interact with your content, and your posts are visible via link whether or not someone has an account. Feel free to test that theory here. It even has a built-in paywall option for microtransactions, so you can treat it like a subscription newsletter and limit access to your most committed followers, if that’s your thing. Unlike some of the other sites attracting Twitter refugees, Post has done a good job of meeting demand and improving their interface with ongoing commitment. Their site has potential.
How to Roleplay your social
Once you choose two or three sites that work for you, it’s fairly straightforward: build a habit to post to each at least two or three times a week, letting the roles you’ve set for them do their thing. If you want to share the same thing on more than one platform, consider linking one to the other, allowing the strongest site for that type of post to act as an info hub. For instance, post a longer video on YouTube or Vimeo, but link to it on the other sites and offer multiple reasons for watching, to play to your different audiences.
Don’t be afraid to play with this — once you identify a purpose for a platform, that role doesn’t have to be set in stone. Stick with it for a couple of months, then switch it up and see if you get different engagement numbers. If you learn each platform well and pay attention to your stats, you can find a combination that works for the uniqueness that is YOU.
The list above wasn’t just chosen according to popularity or some tech blogger’s round-up of preferences. There are several seemingly obvious platforms that I have not mentioned there quite deliberately, so let’s address a couple of other elephants in the room:
- Don’t completely disregard other Twitter competitors like MASTODON if you’re looking around, but bear a few things in mind. Mastodon had a big surge of interest when Twitter switched hands, but the popularity hasn’t stuck, due to their clunky interface and odd multi-server structure, making it harder to discover people with similar interests unless you already know where their space is in the system. Usage is seriously waning, and they seem to be struggling, as their namesake did long ago.
- TIKTOK has been identified by respected tech experts, almost from the start, as a potentially dangerous app that comes with very serious privacy concerns. I will not put it on any of my devices, but do sometimes watch short videos created for TikTok that have been cross-posted on YouTube. If you feel drawn to TikTok but are concerned about security, consider Instagram and Facebook reels instead.
- PINTEREST has seen its reputation and usefulness plummet in recent years, largely due to insufficient content moderation. It is riddled with so many ads and deceptive posts that I left it several years ago, and removed our site with no remorse. If you’re still enjoying it, learn everything you can about focusing efforts toward your target audience on the site. Get what you can from it, and see how it goes.
- Other sites such as WHATSAPP, SNAPCHAT, and REDDIT are considered part of the social media landscape, but operate in their own ways: WhatsApp has some interesting group functions, but doesn’t have a hefty footprint in the classical realm. Snapchat’s auto-disappear “feature” isn’t really built for marketing. Reddit is a glorified bulletin board that feels like a relic from the Compuserve era, and it can get toxic quickly. (Of course, they all can.) If you’re looking for a specific feature or niche, you should take a look at these, but they may not give you what you want.
Those are the big names, and of course things shift constantly. For now, I hope this at least offers some idea of how you can customize the way you use social media, so it doesn’t have to take over your life or become repetitive enough to make you crazy. Even though social media is proven to be important part of marketing your artistic work and business, it should still be fun, and using different platforms in different ways will reveal parallels and distinctions in those separate audiences. You may find it fascinating, and even inspiring. Be sure to let us know where you are, so we can follow you, too!