The Pros and Cons of "Likes"

As independent professional artists, we often have to wear many hats that might or might not suit our personalities or backgrounds. Marketing, sales, public speaking, website maintenance, etc. In this article, Artist Elaine Weiner-Reed discusses some hazards she has experienced and observed in the domain of marketing on social media platforms. She confides that she is still learning and trying to determine the right balance of marketing online as it suits her own philosophy and goals. She cautions us to stay alert to the pitfalls so as not to lose our way or our artistic voice. She questions: How much is too much of a potentially good thing? How real is this virtual world? Keep reading to learn more…

Have you ever been mystified as to which of your creativity-related posts garner the most attention? Why do some images bring in the likes and others – not so much? Why do people follow or unfollow you? In the case of the latter, do you ask yourself what you might have done wrong – when you know you did nothing wrong. Except maybe… (fill in the blanks)? So we sit in whatever social media tool on which we are focusing for the moment and we self-examine, wondering: Did I post enough? Did I not post often enough? Didn’t anyone like my sculpture? Did that painting lack something…or have too much (or too little) color? We could go crazy wondering, so we have to let-it-go to some degree.

As you enter or continue on your path of promoting your art or craft via the many social media platforms, remain alert to the reality that all likes are not created equal. Heeding the wrong ones or fixating on the quantity – and not the content quality – of your likes could adversely impact your art, your morale, or even your artistic direction. The Psychology of “Likes,” “Loves,” and the rest of the emoji spectrum is a complex combination or clash of ideologies. People post and like (or not) for as many reasons as the world has stars. How do we know if a like is really a like or just a knee-jerk button click that could equate to something like the following: “I like you, but not your post or your artwork. I only want to be polite, so I will like this without looking because it’s you we’re talking about. You always like my posts, so this one’s for you.” While there are no emojis for these sentiments (at least not yet), there are indications that between 15-40% percent of likes are the equivalent of a polite nod rather than an enthusiastic “high five.” My research to date indicates that the most genuine likes tend to be accompanied by comments on a given post. To me, a comment equates to a real human.

Feedback, Followers, and Change

Everyone craves a little positive feedback now and then. Artists are no exception. As with almost everything in life, there is positive feedback and POSITIVE feedback (the best). For many of us, the best feedback comes from experts in the field and a select group of our peers. In order to maintain a sense of reality in a world gone mad with likes and followers and SEO marketing advice, I distinguish professional feedback from general feedback. Even that can be broken down ad infinitum, but for the sake of simplicity, I define professional feedback as that which comes from an established, recognized artist or art historian with years of experience, objectivity, and a list of qualifications and credentials. I define general feedback as feedback coming from diverse outlets and social circles – friends, buddies, family members, associates, etc. There is a science and “an art” to marketing online, so do your own research on the social media platforms and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) opportunities and leverage what you can in your own style. If you can afford it, hire an expert after making sure they are the right person to handle your marketing your way. Feedback has its place, but we need to keep a clear head and let our artistic voice and vision ring true – despite the current of popular opinion. It’s all relative, correct?

 

Theory of Relativity
Elaine Weiner-Reed - Theory of Relativity ©2019 - Acrylic, 36H x 24W inches

Artists Change and Evolve Over Time. The truth is, as hard as it might be, there are stages and turning points in our careers in which we often have to lose one set of fans to grow as artists, changing themes or styles or direction. Engaged on this new path, in time we will establish another set of followers and supporters. As artists, we need to stretch our creative wings so they can gather strength to take us to where we need to go, to help us soar. I think of this gain-loss as a critical crossroad and a professional turning point – a fork in the road where we face down our comfort zones along one path and change or the great unknown along the other. When we come to such forks in the road, we have a number of decisions to make. Do we need more training? Do we want to explore new media, some of which require classes and workshops – often more than a short-term investment of time and attention. Some career decisions are more challenging to make than others. Some could require years of apprenticeship and we have to consider how our temporary absence or our definitive change in style or theme could impact our career path, relationships with a gallery, collector expectations, etc. I remember when I transitioned from oil into watercolor painting my Mother and other people felt disappointed and shocked. They took it personally, some thinking I was nuts. People missed my paintings of pretty seascapes or landscapes and mourned my change of direction. My Mother repeatedly asked (with longing): “Are you ever going to go back to painting in oils?” “Perhaps someday, Mom,” I would reply. “But it will be different.” As I explored the new media and found my voice a few years later in a much more expressive way that suited me, people began to acclimate and like my new work. I was pleased, but what was more important to me was the satisfaction I had found in expressing myself and my ideas in my own style. We need to realize that these career decisions could result in a loss or exchange of “likes” and patrons. Only you can make the right decisions for you and your career as you take each necessary next step.

I believe that the truest thing we have to give the world as artists is our unique voice. No one else can express things exactly like you or I do. This is why I caution everyone to do their best to ensure creativity decisions do not hinge on a superficial or fleeting current of popular opinion – which can be fickle at best. For as long as possible, you might choose to straddle two forks in the road, keeping tuned into your muse, objectives, and creative vision. By keeping your head on straight and goals clear, you will not be swayed by people who like, don’t like, or ignore any given art-related post. As always, thank supporters and continue to engage with them, but always heed your own creative compass and “due north” where your art is concerned.

 

Forks in The Road: Beware the Shifting Sands of Popular Opinion

Change is constant, but evolution in one’s creative style or voice can be gradual or sudden, depending on many factors. When facing a fork in the road, ask yourself: How did you get here? Do you like what you’re doing at the moment? Is it fulfilling? Is it challenging enough or not… and why? Have you been treading water or are you heading in the direction you planned? Do you know where you want to go from here – creatively speaking? Answering these questions will help you move forward, either remaining comfortable where you choose to remain or inching forward towards a new set of objectives – some clear and some to be discovered along the way. Ask yourself: What matters most and satisfies you most: keeping your fans happy or keeping yourself happy? Playing devil’s advocate, consider this: Do the myriad fans actually read your posts? Is there interaction? Do they purchase your artwork? If yes, congratulations. If not, then measure or modify your time spent posting against time creating.

Note 1: Positive feedback is good – in the right measure and in the right perspective. Heed only the real or significant posts. Ask yourself how much of the feedback is genuine and “real.”

Note 2: Lack of positive feedbacks or “likes” does not necessarily mean your work is undeserving. It could mean a hundred different things, none of which is connected to the worth of your artwork, among them: You forgot to include a key hashtag. You posted on the wrong day or at the wrong time of day (i.e. internet traffic schedules). Your post was fuzzy, or your wording was complex…etc.

 EWR Instagram Pic

 

Establishing a Following: Organic or Pay-to-Play?

Organic Growth: These days, it is challenging to present a consistent presence on social media platforms. I fall into the organically-grown end of the spectrum, fitting within the segment of posters who prefer growing their following so that we get to know our followers and their respective art/style and journey along the way. I generally post one or two times a week on three or four social media platforms, taking time to check out what my favorite artists and people are doing and saying in their threads. To me, it’s primarily about building lasting professional and amicable relationships. My goals are to post my own work while finding and following artists whose work and mindsets I admire after examining a selection of their posts. Over time, we organically establish an online e-relationship wherein we follow each other’s growth as artists, applaud each other’s successes, and commiserate on life’s ironies. I prefer quality over quantity, relationship over gamesmanship. Not that I wouldn’t like my followers number to increase, by the way! …smile.

Pay-for-Likes: Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum are the artists to whom posting is almost exclusively a numbers game. They are not looking at artwork or style or artist. Many from this group hire SEO experts or other people to post on their behalf. To them, it’s purely business and their goals do not include establishing online relationships – except where it suits their business model. To them, quantity is king. This group often pays for follows. How can you recognize them? You will note that many of these profiles indicate a very high number of followers (i.e. 32K or more), only a couple hundred or so posts, and a similarly small number of people they follow. Some of these profiles are good or well-known artists, but the majority are not. I knew of one artist in this category who employed robots to find-follow-unfollow artists in their game to fame. Their expressed goal was to get to over 25K followers, which they in fact paid to achieve incrementally – so much money for so many new followers. How the pay-to-play option works is that someone hires/employs a robot/app, which is designed to find and follow hundreds of artists on a weekly basis in guise of the paying artist’s name (handle), and then it cycles back and unfollows all those new followers a couple of days later - after they had followed the other artist back. This kept the pay-to-play artist’s number of followers constantly growing while limiting their followed artist list to a few hundred. So - how do you know if a new follower is real? One way to tell is to check and see if they just liked your latest post, upon which they instantly followed you. If they didn’t go back over your portfolio to like other posts, hold off and consider not following them back – at least not yet. In general, this kind of a Like/Follow methodology is indicative of a robot seek-and-find application and the reality is that you’re likely being targeted by a robot. What do you observe?

The jury is out on all of this as far as I’m concerned, so while I keep engaged to a point, I am reserving judgment. Good, bad, or indifferent, despite all the buzz and SEO and marketing advice touting different practices and recommendations for success, likes in and of themselves lack substance. I tend to prefer the world of face-to-face human interaction over virtual reality alternatives. For me, likes are most meaningful when they come with comments and connect to the real world – in other words, to a voice, a smile, and a live human at the other end of a handle. What do likes mean to you and how important are they? Consider carefully how you choose to grow your following and your business. What matters most? As we move forward in our careers, each of us has to remain mindful and alert. Mindful of who we are and what our goals are. Each of us has to figure out how we want to build our own success story. Knowing where best to invest our time, money, and energy involves staying centered and focused. Decisions great and small matter and reflect on us, so with only 24 hours in a day, let’s spend them all wisely, creatively, and well!

 

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