If you’re self-employed, a freelancer, or in any way working in a creative field, you’ve likely heard SO much about the importance of building a big social media platform. Even when I was in grad school for creative writing, platform-building through social media always seemed to be a topic of discussion. With the importance of social media to your professional career and personal brand being emphasized left-right-and-centre, it’s hard not to get obsessed with making those follower numbers grow. I myself have fallen into the trap of getting all caught up in the race-for-followers, believing that the little number next to my name would make or break my career.
That being said, last summer, I had really had enough. I was sick and tired of the social media rat-race and felt like I was both exhausting myself and wasting my time by being so constantly glued to my social apps. Last July, I took the plunge and went on a three-month experimental social media detox to see what difference it might make in my life and career. I could write a whole lot about this topic so, for now, I’m just going to focus on what I’ve learned about the importance of social media platforms for creative careers.
In a nutshell, social media is important, but it’s also not nearly as important as the word on the street would have you believe. Here’s a breakdown of both sides of the coin.
Why Social Media Is Important
Social media is excellent for self-promotion and building your business. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all amazing tools for getting the world out there and building awareness about your product or service. Think of it this way, if you’re looking to buy some custom wedding invitations, are you more likely to start researching every single artist who pops up in a Google search, or will you be more inclined to reach out to the calligraphy artist who you follow on Instagram and whose work you already know and love? My guess is probably the latter.
Social media can help you build your platform and establish yourself as an expert in your field. By sharing content that is relevant and helpful to your target audience you are not only building a relationship with them but also cementing your reputation as someone who has value to offer them.
Perhaps most obviously of all, social media is one of the best ways to connect with others. They say that the online world is merely an extension of the offline one, so the connections you make online -- whether they be with potential clients, collaborators, or mentors -- can easily translate into real-world opportunities. I myself have made loads of great professional connections online and those have led to some pretty cool opportunities.
Why Social Media Is Not Important
Social media isn’t enough to seal the deal. By this I mean that, unless you have hundreds of thousands of followers, your social media presence isn’t going to make or break your chances of getting a gig. There isn’t a significant enough difference between 1000 followers and 2000 followers to make a potential client walk away. While it may seem tempting to reach for those 100k followers, it’s extremely hard to get those kinds of numbers organically and you want to be careful about where and how you spend your energy. It’s better to have a small group of followers that convert and engage, rather than a large number at the top of your profile but no clients or community. If trying to grow your following is distracting you from putting your all into your business, your manuscript, or your songwriting, it’s time to reset your priorities.
Social media is not important for maintaining your business. If you’re not trying to grow your business, increase your client list, or explore new directions, social media isn’t all that necessary. If you’re happily trucking along and simply want to maintain your professional status quo, there’s no reason why taking a break from social media will change your career in any way. From experience, I can say that being off social media for three months made no impact in the status quo of my career or my income. That said, if I’d been looking to acquire new clients or grow my business in that time, it might have been a different story.
Ironically, social media is also not important for connecting with others. While being on Facebook and Twitter does make connecting super easy, it’s not the only way to network. If you really want to meet new clients, find a mentor, or grow your business while detoxing from the online world, there are a million ways to do so through non-virtual networking opportunities. Go to a book launch or an art festival and you’ll be surprised how many people you meet, you just may need to step a little outside your comfort zone.
Social media definitely has its pros and cons. While it is certainly incredibly useful and helpful to anyone who owns a business or is self-employed, it certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all. At the same time, I would never want to dismiss a tool like social media completely as it has certainly proven its benefits. The key is to use social media to your advantage without making it more important than it is and letting it take over your life.