Tackling Common Social Media Challenges for Artists
Social media can be tricky for all of us. Should you use it as a way to show yourself in the best possible light or use it as a way to be authentically vulnerable with the people who are in your network? Should you use it as a platform to talk about social and political issues or is that just virtue signaling? How do you modulate between the nice dopamine hit you get when you get a “like” and the negative feelings you might experience seeing people whose social media presences make them seem blissfully successful and happy?
It’s important for artists and arts organizations to be able to connect with your audiences in the places that the audiences already are. In many cases, that means social media. Instagram, because it’s such a visual medium, is particularly important for artists. But, in addition to the challenges social media poses for the general population, it can be uniquely challenging for artists to manage and navigate.
Inspired by a conversation we had in the Creative Outpost, we are outlining some of the specific challenges that artists encounter when managing social media presences.
Social Media Platforms are Evil
It can be infuriating to feel like you have to use platforms from tech giants like Twitter and Facebook (to say nothing of how much the internet is powered by Amazon Web Services) because you know that you’re making money for billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, or Jeff Bezos. These platforms are free to use, which means that we are the products. Data from our behavior on these apps is sold to advertisers who then advertise to us on those platforms and track our behaviors across our digital lives. Plus, we the users are the ones who create value on these platforms! Social media is nothing without the people generating content and interacting with one another.
Artists, or anyone who is especially attuned to questions of digital privacy or wealth disparity might be extra sensitive to the sinking feeling that being on social media is just creating value for billionaires and advertisers.
On top of the wealth aspect, social media can have serious negative mental health impacts, especially for adolescents and for girls. It can increase feelings of loneliness, depression, inadequacy and other negative feelings. It can, also, of course, help people connect to communities beyond their physical surroundings which is crucial for people who are misunderstood or isolated in their physical location.
Not wanting to engage with social media because you don’t want to support these platforms of the people who profit from them is a tricky problem. We get it. I, personally, don’t want my data and behavior to help more billionaires accumulate wealth or more companies figure out how to sell products to me that I don’t need. But given the current state of the world, especially digital infrastructure, it’s almost impossible to construct your life in a way that doesn’t benefit these big companies.
If you are finding yourself overwhelmed with guilt about using these platforms, we recommend a bit of gentleness for yourself. We are all a part of this flawed system and engaging in it doesn’t make you a bad person or mean that you are to blame for its faults.
However, if being on a particular platform causes you more harm than good and makes you not want to engage on the platform, you don’t have to be on it! If you opt out of social media or specific platforms, you’ll have to find other ways to market to your community and to expand it using tools like email. If it causes you too much distress to use social media, you don’t have to. Plus, if you’re resentful of a platform, you probably aren’t going to be that enthused about putting in the work to make it beneficial for you.
Social Media is a Time Suck
Artists are busy! We are often working as our own creative production team, administrative support, marketers, fundraisers, and more. Each of these is a job in its own right. On top of the work that keeps us busy in our creative practices, we are often working day jobs. Plus, living the rest of our lives. It’s hard to find time to make art. You do not have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé
Social media takes a lot of time. It requires taking photos, writing captions, and scheduling posts across whichever platforms you are using. You have to take the time to follow relevant accounts and engage with them, follow up with anyone communicating with you either in the comments or in the DM’s. It’s no wonder that social media management is a full-time job.
Social media management can feel all-consuming. One of the ways to manage your time on social media is to set both goals and boundaries. By determining a set number of posts you would like to make on a given platform every week, you can encourage yourself to actually make those posts and also lessen the pressure to be on these platforms all the time. You could also set up discrete, focused sessions in 20 minute chunks once or twice a week to follow relevant accounts related to your work and engage with them. Setting aside specific time for social media will help you actually make that time without feeling that you’re always being haunted by the nagging feeling that you aren’t doing enough on social media.
Boundaries Between Self, Project, and Social Media Presence are Slippery
The lines between who you are in real life, the persona you portray on social media, and the work that you make can get blurry. It can feel like you are turning into your social media self or that you barely recognize the persona you’re portraying on social media because it feels so far away from your physical life. You might also worry that people are only interested in your art because your social media presence makes you seem cool and interesting. The slippery space between self/art/social media is a confusing place to be.
It might help you to clarify with yourself what kind of social media presence you want, and to recognize it as a decision you are consciously making. You might decide that you want your social media presence to feel more distinct from your personal identity, more marketing than giving an inside peek into the life you lead with your friends and family. You might decide to build your social media identity to more closely model your everyday life; less polished, more off-the-cuff, more like a friend than a business. You might also decide to split these into different accounts. For example, a more professional account that focuses exclusively on your creative practice. However you decide to present yourself on social media, making it a conscious choice rather than something you fall into can help you better articulate the boundaries between yourself, your art, and how you present it all on social media.
There’s no easy solution to maintaining your sense of self while marketing on social media. It’s designed to make us want to portray ourselves in the best possible light and designed to make us want others to see us as interesting, cool, worthy, and successful. It’s not a sign of personal failure if this is a source of challenge for you.
Social Media Makes You Feel Inadequate
Social media can make artists feel like you don’t quite measure up. It’s easy to get wrapped up looking at other artists or arts organizations who appear more successful than you; who have higher follower counts, more professional-looking photos, who make it look easy to be on social media as an artist or an arts org. We can all get in our own heads about who is better than us, who is more successful than us, who is more popular than we are, and who is better at social media.
Because of the ways that algorithms work and how popular users have a wider reach, social media platforms tend to show you users who are “successful” on the platform. So it’s tough to avoid these feelings.
If you find yourself comparing yourself to people on your social media feeds in ways that feel damaging, try unfollowing. Simply stop following people who make you feel anxious or inadequate! If, for whatever reason you don’t want to completely unfollow an account, you can always mute it so that it doesn’t show up in your feed.
It’s also important to remember that, generally speaking, everyone is trying to put their best foot forward on social media. Someone looking at your feed is only looking at what you want them to see. In the same way that there’s a difference between your social media presence and your everyday life, nobody you see on social media is quite as polished as their feed presents them to be. Everyone is curating a persona or brand identity.
It’s Hard to Know What to Post on Social Media
Okay, this one is actually the easiest challenge to address!
We know that artists often aren’t sure what exactly they should be posting or how often. That’s why we’ve put together a list of social media content ideas for artists! We recommend sharing behind-the-scenes looks into your process, any fundraising updates you have, your inspiration, and much more.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.