Creativity thrives on connections, and creative professionals often make a living on the basis of the community they build and interact with. Now more than ever before, those connections are discovered, developed, and sustained online. Maintaining a presence on social media can be a powerful tool for business—but only if it is approached thoughtfully and intentionally.
As a communications and social media professional with over a decade of experience in social media and public relations , I can personally attest to the power that a great social media presence carries -- and the pitfalls that can come. For creative professionals, a well-managed social media presence simply can’t be beat.
Over the next five articles, we’ll outline everything you need to know to put the power of social media to work for your creative business, from defining your brand voice to picking platforms, technology tools to interaction strategies.
Before all of that, however, it’s important to establish a baseline of what role social media plays.
Nothing can kill a great party faster than someone who only talks about themselves, and just about every social media network is much the same. Though it can be tempting, if you treat social as nothing more than a digital telephone pole to put your poster on, your effort will be less successful.
Definitions for what counts as “social media” vary widely - and for good reason. The exact networks and functionality may always be shifting, but there is one thread that connects them all. In the end, there are people on both sides of the screen, with the network facilitating communication. As online communities, they’re also places to build relationships, share your work, and communicate. They are the digital version of a community, and need to be treated as such -- communities. Think about it this way: Facebook is a living room where you invite in your friends and family. Twitter is a cocktail party where you meet new people interested in the same things you are. LinkedIn is a conference networking event, where you may have informal conversations, but about business topics.
No matter what creative field you’re in, you’re already surrounded by content that tells the story of your business. Figuring out what to post just means identifying how you want to tell your own story—and sticking to it. Not-so-coincidentally, the posts that are the most successful on social media are the ones that have that undeniable ring of authenticity about not just your work, but who you are.
For example, check out these posts from Washington State creative professionals below. As these examples show, authentic posts can be short or long, personal or political. The form itself isn’t the most important thing, the sense of the post fitting who you are is.
Your “brand” really is just the collection of feelings and ideas that you want someone to consistently have when they interact with you. Much like building a friendship over time, the more often someone encounters a similar experience with your brand, the more clearly they’ll understand and remember your work. If you’re not entirely sure what you want your brand to be, start by asking yourself these questions:
Using the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to develop a brand ideal that can drive your decisions about social media -- as well as your business in whole. For example, leather workers Colladay Leather put their brand message this way:
“...we want our products to cause you to ponder beauty and inspire you in your own creative journey.”
This is effective for two reasons: it focuses on a feeling and experience rather than a specific product or service, and it speaks to the values behind the business.
Once you understand what your brand’s about, you can create general guidelines for how you communicate -for and about your business. It can be easy to get caught up in the culture of the social network you’re on and lose your brand voice. Guidelines will help ensure that across networks, your posts always sound like they were written by the same person, even if they’re not. Answer questions like:
So how does all of this translate to actual content for social media? Use your answers to the questions above to guide the choices you make about what to share, and how to talk about it.
A big part of sharing online isn’t just about sharing the big successes or big ideas - that only creates a 24/7 highlight reel that’s exhausting to see, and even more exhausting to create. Instead, look at the words and phrases and feelings of your brand, and then look at what happens in your everyday work that demonstrates those things.
The posts that will get the most engagement, and be the most successful for your business, are the posts that help the people out there get to know your brand better. It can be scary to think about letting others into your everyday life, but keep in mind that you’re not necessarily creating social media content for people exactly like yourself. The things that -may seem very everyday and banal to you are exactly the things that are fascinating to others!
There’s currently somewhere around 50 “major” social networks. Some (like Twitter) have proven they have staying power, while others (RIP Vero) are practically forgotten in moments. When you’re deciding where to represent yourself as a creative professional online, which networks you start with can help communicate your brand identity to the right people.
The medium is part of the message.
There are three things to keep in mind as you consider this choice:
Just like you’d never have a conversation with your mentor the same way you would a client, the communities that you are involved in online each have their own personality. This is why you’ll never want to cross-post the exact same content to different networks. Even if it’s minor edits, customize what you post to the community you’re in.
There are more details about network best practices in the calendar template also provided as a part of this guide.
In social media, the tools that you choose to use can make your life easier. There are three areas where technology that works for you can help: planning, content, and metrics. While there are paid options that can help with all of these, starting out with free options to figure out what works best for you will lead to a better result.
The best content is both consistent and intentional, which benefits from structure and planning. It can also save you quite a bit of time to plan ahead, because you can batch-create part of your content.
There are two ways to approach your planning—with either a content focus or a network focus. A content focus means listing what things you want to post about, and then placing your posts about those topics on a calendar. A network focus means planning day-by-day what you’ll post on each network.
Generally a content focus puts what you’re communicating about your brand first and foremost, and allows you to vary what you post across whatever networks work best for you. This is what our free week-by-week social media template calendar starts with-—but figure out what works best for you. Google Sheets, a calendar, or even a set of post-it notes across the bottom of your monitor can all be used to plan what you’ll be posting each day based on the content you have available.
Organizing that content in some way is key. Our calendar can help here, too. Facebook and Instagram allow you to schedule your posts ahead of time.
If you decide to use a social media scheduler, there are several free and paid tools that can serve you well:
Most social media networks have content creation tools built in, but most social media pros use additional tools. No matter what tools you use, it’s helpful to have a folder in Google Drive, Dropbox, or another backed up storage solution to keep track of what you create.
A few to check out:
The performance of your social media should help guide your strategy. Most networks will give business accounts access to some kind of metrics.
First and foremost, pick which metrics you want to focus on. Depending on your goals in social media—selling products, reaching a new audience, nurturing an existing community, or maintaining visibility—you may be looking at different metrics.
Sales, reach and impressions, engagements, or audience size could all indicate success. Review your metrics with those key performance indicators (KPI) in mind.If you have posts that consistently do well, try testing out more posts like those. If you have posts that consistently under-perform, try something different. Either way, your metrics can help guide what you plan.
Now we know that on social media the content - you put out is a major part of what leads to your success. But the interactions you have with others on the platform matter just as much. Changes to algorithms have also meant that the interactions and communities you build are essential. With that in mind, you should spend at least as much time interacting as you do creating content.
There are three primary elements to interaction: building a following, directly interacting, and handling conflict carefully.
No matter how good your content, without a following, it may be falling on deaf ears. Building a following on social media can be a slow process, but consistency will win in the end.
No matter what network you’re on, the formula is generally:
Across just about every network, interacting with your community is the number one way to build a successful presence. You can do so in a variety of ways on each network, but it comes down to four basic steps:
While it’s usually the number one fear of creators on social media, complaints present an excellent opportunity for you to change a negative to a positive. Research says that most social followers are willing to give your business the benefit of the doubt when you respond, and it helps show that you’re listening to your potential customers.
There’s a few major things to keep in mind:
Social media is one of those tools that can give back three times more than you put into it, as long as you treat it as the community it is. With a strong sense of your brand, the right tools for the work you want to do, and intentionality blended with authenticity on your side, your creative work can truly benefit from the social community.