These days, having an online presence is essential for artists. Since everybody is online, it follows that your audience—fans, friends, collectors—must be too ... but where? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Vine? Google+? Tumblr? SnapChat (shudder)? How do you decide where to establish a presence, and what to tell that audience? How do you build an online persona that helps builds an audience and generates new opportunities? "Digital Self: Making Your Online Presence Work For You," a panel discussion held at Chicago Artists Coalition on August 15, 2013 addressed such topics. Artists in theater, visual arts, new media and design discussed about how to build a strong online presence, grow audience, combine professional and personal digital personae and manage the social media trend.
In anticipation of the evening, CAR interviewed artist, designer and "Digital Self" panelist James T. Green about how he established himself online ... and keeps it all together.
CAR: How do you prioritize social media? How you manage your workflow?
James T. Green: I put myself in the mindset of baking. My art-making and design work are the cake, the foundation. They take the majority of my time and energy. Social media is the icing that lends a voice to what I do—just enough but not overpowering. Social media is a great opportunity to meet new people that I may miss at openings. I can have a larger conversation with new viewers and friends.
Since I enjoy having a life outside of work and art-making, my workflow is highly structured. I usually work in focused, two-hour blocks with 15 minute breaks. (I highly recommend checking out Cal Newport’s article, "The Straight-A Gospels: Pseudo-Work Does Not Equal Work." During those breaks I check my email, promote new projects online and trade jokes with friends on Twitter and Facebook.
Describe your time management between social media platforms? Have you integrated them?
I keep in mind which platforms work best for certain types of media. For example, social media service Vine worked great for promoting my video art pieces for the "No Gods, No Masters" show at Chicago Artists Coalition in May, 2013. Since I personally use the social media services I promote on, I sprinkle in things that I've been working on much like telling a friend what I've been up to lately.
On integrating platforms, I'm not a fan of tools that automate post the same thing across multiple social media channels. It feels robotic and impersonal to me. I wouldn't tell a story the same way to three different people in person. Why should I do that online? Tailor your content to match the medium but keep your personal voice. Something that works in a tweet won't work the same in a Tumblr post. When you try way too hard, more than likely it looks that way too.
What are the gains and drawbacks of infusing your personal and professional personae online?
The gains far outweigh the drawbacks. Infusing my personal and professional life adds a personal touch to everything I do. I enjoy making art that's accessible and non-exclusive. I design for people I get to know on a personal level. A personable social media presence only enhances these. I'm a human just like everyone else—why create an online presence that suggests otherwise? The only drawbacks I could see is when your personal personae affects your professional stance or vice versa. I can guarantee that friends, future clients or people that follow my work are disinterested in every Foursquare check in, every meal or every mundane life event. If I wouldn't scream it on the street, I probably won't say it on social media.
Does exhibiting your work online affect, influence or transform the themes you work with?
Since I'm really interested in online culture in my art practice—and participate in it daily for personal and professional use—themes for future works usually stem from online interactions. I see it as the digital version of going outside for a walk and eavesdropping on conversations. Stumbling into different digital spaces, reading conversation threads, and viewing other people's content can engender different thoughts and mindsets that I may have not found otherwise.
What about analytics?
I check Google Analytics roughly every two weeks, or right before I redesign or adjust my websites. It's a great tool to see not only how people are introduced to your content, but how they interact with it.
A great example is the Visitors Flow section. You can see what pages people visit on your website, what pages they navigate to, and when they leave your site. It's a great tool to see which pieces of content are the most popular and how to design your site efficiently so visitors can find those items easily and quickly. Recently, I found a lot of hits from people searching for upcoming exhibitions, so on my main site I moved that information from a deep-level page to the homepage.
Another way I lean on Analytics is to see how others are linking to my work. This tells me which social media tools I need to know to broaden my presence in those spaces. It’s a large reason why I recently redesigned my Tumblr blog to include contact links and easier-to-read typography: I found out a lot of traffic came to that space to read my longer-form writings.
Have you ever hit a wall keeping up with your online selves?
When I first started combining my personal and professional online persona instead of keeping a private profile, I took it a bit overboard. It was all so new and fast-paced. I didn't really know how to use it properly. I had to remember that managing your online image can be a big time-suck. I never had a moment where a job or opportunity has been affected by online postings, mostly because I imagine someone else reading my content. It helps to think how your activity can perceived by strangers before putting it out into the world. The thing about online content is that it's unlike a face-to-face conversation, where the person you are talking to has tone, diction and gestures to decipher meaning. Words or photographs on a screen don't have the context for a stranger that stumbles upon it.
Make the bulk of your time dedicated to the things that matter. In my case, that's art, design and relationships with people offline. Being a good person first always guides you in the right direction of great online interactions. The rest easily follows.
Green's art practice builds upon an interest in self-identity, online engagement and exploring our growing dependence on technology. Through found online objects, user generated data and a formal graphic design practice, his work gravitates toward ethnic relationships with social media and technology, how art and design can be used to transform public and digital spaces and investigating the ownership of online data.
You can find Green online here:
- Website: jamestgreen.com
- Twitter: twitter.com/onthefirefly
- Tumblr: jamestgreen.tumblr.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/onthefirefly
This article was commissioned in conjunction with the panel discussion "Digital Self: Making Your Online Presence Work for You," produced by A.B.C. Art.Business.Create, a program of the Chicago Artists Coalition.