You may have noticed that lately I’ve been making more of a push to draw attention and add followers to my sites on social media. As artists (and I cringe to classify myself as such, but have been told by more than one semi-reputable source that I should) if we want to take that next step and try to make a living through our creations, we must also dabble in self promotion. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s just downright embarrassing. But if we want to share something that we’re proud of or solicit the feedback that helps us grow, sometimes we have to wave our arms, stomp our feet, and say “Hey world, look what I’ve done!”
Social media can be a very effective tool in this pursuit. For one thing, it’s free and it’s open to anyone. This can allow emerging artists without financial backing or a known product the opportunity to establish themselves. There is also the potential to reach people in mass, and rather this means fellow artists, casual viewers or possible customers, the networking capabilities of these modern communication channels are unequaled.
But social media can also be frustrating. Especially when you’re trying very hard to make it work. Behind the scenes we “artists” see more than what commonly crosses your newsfeed. Sites such as Facebook and WordPress have built in analytic tools that allow page administrators to gauge the impact of their posts. Through these monitors we don’t necessarily see who is viewing our work, but we are told how many. We are shown the number of people that visit our sites in a day or month, which stories they have shared, visitors by city or country of origin, and even age and gender demographics. It’s all relevant because some social media sites are set up to allow more visibility to those posts that garner more interaction. Kind of a “you gotta be seen to be seen,” sort of deal. Therefore, we need to try and engage our viewers in hope of reaching a greater audience.
Beyond that, deep down inside we all just want to feel valued. We want to feel that people are in some way emotionally touched by the work that we do. What we present might evoke feelings of anger or joy; of peace, curiosity or passion. We crave the ability to instigate this. We pour our hearts into our creations, send them out onto center stage, and then step back and anxiously await a response. So although the statistical feedback we receive may be superficial and serve to create a false sense of validation, it also provides hope. Hope that people are interested. Hope that somebody believes our work is worth looking at. Hope that somehow we’ve struck a chord.
On the contrary, when the figures come back and the numbers are low it can seem like nobody cares. This can feel like a real slap in the face, especially when you’ve put a lot of time into something and you realize how it stacks up against other material floating around the web. For example, let’s hypothetically say you’ve stayed up all night editing photos or writing a blog post, ended up with something you’re happy with, and are eager to see the reaction. A few hours later, you find yourself dredged in self-loathing as your offering has only generated a handful of views and elicited absolutely no individual response. Adding insult to injury, you scroll through your Facebook feed and see people clamoring over the most ridiculous things. You notice that one person shared a picture of a can of spaghetti-o’s- and it got 37 likes! (Hypothetically speaking, of course…) It’s all rather silly, but this is when it become’s easy to get caught up on numbers and wonder what you’re doing wrong.
With that in mind, I received a powerful message this week that immediately put everything back into proper perspective. For the past three years I have sold my photography in Iowa City at the Downtown Farmers Market. During this time I have developed some great friendships with people I have kind of come to know as my “regulars”; familiar faces who swing by my booth with some consistency to restock on cards, check out what’s new, or simply stop and say hello. It’s not uncommon for these conversations to be continued through email or other electronic means, so I wasn’t initially surprised to see a familiar name pop up on my Facebook message list the other day. Unfortunately, the news was not good.
The message was from a woman who I see quite regularly at the market; who with her husband has purchased several of my photos and often stopped to look at my work. As with many of my market friends, I’d grown quite fond of seeing them and always enjoyed our conversations, especially when the husband and I got on the topic of travel. You could tell that he had a real passion for nature and enjoyed comparing stories of visits to scenic places we held in common.
Sadly, she was writing to tell me that her husband passed away last week. Though I never realized it based on his seemingly ever-cheery disposition, apparently he had been ill for quite awhile. Beyond this heartbreaking news, she also wanted to take a moment to let me know that together they had enjoyed following my photography and writing, and how now it was bringing her comfort during a very difficult time. She closed by saying, “Thank you for all you were for us and what you continue to be for me…”
I have to admit, reading this brought a tear to my eye. I’m of course saddened by the news and will very much miss seeing this gentleman at the market on Saturday mornings. I am also overwhelmed by what amounts to one of the most profound compliments I’ve received in my life. To know that my work could touch someone in this way, to bring joy during good times and comfort in sorrow… that’s all the validation I will ever need.
I’m not mentioning names out of respect, but those who need to, know who they are. I just want to take this chance to say again not only how sorry I am for your loss, but also to thank you in kind. Your words have provided an inspiration which I’ll carry with me always, and a reminder I’ll never forget.
It isn’t about how many people are seeing your work… Its those you’ve touched that matter.