According to statista.com, this year we can expect the number of people having social media accounts worldwide to reach 1.96 billion. Considering that there are only 7.3 billion people in the world, that’s a pretty big number so it’s no surprise that artists have tried to tap in to that pool to showcase their work – but is that a good idea?
Before continuing, it is important to note that by a wide margin, Facebook is the king of social media with 71% of online adults on that site alone. To put that in perspective, LinkedIn (a business marketing site) and Pinterest (a ‘these are the things I like’ kind of site) come in at second place with just 28% of online adults using each of those sites. Instagram (owned by Facebook and is just photos with captions) is at 26% and Twitter rounds out the top five at 23%. Each site has their own characteristics and each site has their own Terms of Service (TOS).
So then, we’ve pretty much established that you have at least one social media account already so the above shouldn’t really hold any surprises. Also, you like what I have to say so you should probably follow me on my social media sites (right?!?). I’ll make it easy for you – Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr 1, Tumblr 2, and Twitter. I know that seems like a lot (and it is) but many of those accounts are linked so that if I post something on Instagram for example, it will show up on my Tumblr 2 account, Twitter, and Facebook and that automation is key because each account has a different set of followers and it allows me to easily push content out across to many people with the least amount of effort. That isn’t to say that each account has identical content – just that that is a good starting point. It’s also worth mentioning that to fully engage each of those sites would in and of itself be a full time job and I admittedly do not utilize each site as fully as I could (or should). If I kept up with each site as fully as I could in order to maximize the benefit, my pack would only recognize me by the back of my head because I’d always be facing the computer. As it is, I spend a LOT of time sitting at my desk.
It is also important to note that talking about social media means talking about a moving target. For a little while now, the big platforms have been the big platforms. Some come and go (sorry MySpace), others are relatively late to join the scene (hello Snapchat) but there is also a lot of change within the top platforms. Do you remember complaining about the new Facebook layout? How about the one before that? All of which is to say that what I write about today may or may not be relevant next month, next year, or even tomorrow but rather is the ‘truth’ as I see it today at least so far as it relates to people (and businesses) that create original content.
I was worried there was too much ‘blah, blah, blah’ and not enough ‘oh, what a cute dog’ so here you go.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of complaining about the good old days but I won’t – I’ll only point out that as these platforms shift from private businesses to publicly held corporations, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to earn money so they can no longer afford to give away services for free. That means that they hold back some published content from followers hoping to entice those businesses to advertise to reach their audience. It also means that they are selling the heck out of your personal data. In fact, I recently read an article stating that a postdoc fellow (and now a new Facebook employee) came up with an algorithm that showed that with as few as 300 ‘likes’, that Facebook can build a profile about you that is BETTER THAN one that your significant other could build. In fact, with only 70 likes, a profile can be built that is more accurate than even your closest friends build about you. That’s kind of scary and it is no wonder that Facebook (and others) have gotten into the data mining business. Do you want to help them build a stronger profile – well then Take the Quiz! It seems we either can’t fathom what this means or we don’t care. Maybe it’s a little of both.
That’s all well and good (or evil and horrible – whatever), but of course, I want to get down to what it means to use social media for sharing intellectual property (i.e. photographs, paintings, etc.).
Lyle doesn’t care if the whole world knows that he loves Buddy Biscuits. Or ham. Or carrots.
In a perfect world, an artist would create a work, make it available, and someone would buy it for $6.5 million. It doesn’t work like that for most of us. We’ve pretty much passed the point where we can get by without some sort of digital footprint. As business owners, we all need to find clients whether that means clients to commission new work (portrait session for example) or to buy an existing work (fine art prints for example). Because our work is our intellectual property, ideally we would like to control that content completely. This means we would use our own web hosting platform where people would come to our sites to view our work and purchase our services. The problem is that it can be very difficult to get people to visit your website – how can they if they don’t know you exist? Surely they are not going to dig down to page 40 on the Google search to find you so it makes sense to use social media to help connect to your audience.
So then, what do we need to know about using social media to reach an audience? These are the lessons I’ve learned over the years.
- Read the Terms of Service and be sure that you are happy to agree to those terms. Did you notice that I’m not on Pinterest? That’s because when it first started out, the TOS were VERY unfavorable to photographers. They asked for too many rights and they essentially said if they ever got sued because of content you posted, they were going to sue you for damages. Warm and fuzzy, right?
- Register your work with the copyright office (best done before you upload it to any website or even show it to a client). It costs $35 to batch register as many images as you like so long as they are ‘unpublished’. Previously published works (yes, including to websites) require a bit more work.
- Don’t waste your time on Candy Crush (or what ever the new game is). If you want to take a break from work, then do something meaningful like snuggling your dog.
- Be sure to include your information on those photos – metadata (information written in to the file itself) is a great way but some sites (Hello Facebook) will strip that data out as the image is uploaded so it is probably a good idea to include a watermark too (again, check the TOS to know how the sites deal with your metadata).
- Only upload low resolution images. If you only upload a version that can be printed out at 2″ x 3″ then you don’t have to worry about someone making their own prints of your work. (The watermarks help with that part too.)
- Take some time to learn the unofficial rules. The Field of Dreams movie told us that ‘If you build it they will come’ but let’s face it – that was fiction. If you post something chances are few people will see it unless you do something to promote that work. Maybe that means spending a few dollars to ‘boost a post’ or maybe that means learning how to hashtag but it’s not enough to just post an image. Talk to an expert and ask them what works for them.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s that last one that I want to conclude with today. Chances are good that your images will be used in ways that you do not expressly authorize. For example, I posted this photo on my Tumblr site:
You can tell it’s getting cool in Tucson, the Tiki is wearing his hat.
The Hut on 4th Avenue.
And the photo showed up here:
In an ideal world they would have said, “Hey – I love that photo, let me give you lots of money so I can use it on my website!”. Instead, I had a decent idea that it had high potential for being ‘appropriated’ so I did a search for the image and found it on this article about Tikis. I certainly could have asked them to take it down and I am within my rights to ask for compensation (most countries agree to honor the copyright claims originating in other countries) but instead I allowed it. Why? Well, first of all, it does give me some exposure (they at least included a photo credit) so it is possible that it might drive some business my way (but not likely) but it actually provides me some educational value having this image out there. See, here I am writing about it to you and I use it as an example when I lecture about copyright to my students. It is an example of one of the most commonly occurring types of copyright infringement and by allowing them to use it, I have a ready example that I can relate to my students from a personal point of view and that’s worth something to me.
The cool thing about social media is that it can facilitate a story going viral. It doesn’t happen often if an image (or a series of images) takes off, it can lead to some good publicity. The Tiki image hasn’t gone viral yet and while I can’t exactly say I’ve had any image go viral, I have had some pretty good publicity that has come from posting my work online. A couple of years ago, My Modern Met founder Alice Yoo, came across my work and wrote an article about me and my work with cats. That story really made the rounds and I saw many versions of that reposted all around the world. Did it make a big difference in my business or life? Not really, but it did lead to some additional licensing avenues that I hadn’t previously had access to and, well, it was cool to see my work enjoyed all across the globe.
So in the end, my advice is to use social media but go into it with your eyes open. Understand the risks and benefits before you decide if a platform is the right one for you. And don’t sweat the small stuff.
And don’t forget to snuggle the ones that you love.