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Checking Out of Social Media

I’ll be leaving Instagram in about a week.

You might disagree with this choice, but I’m used to that. People told me I was foolish to quit Facebook and Twitter over a year ago. That decision had no effect on my business, but paid off big for my mental health.

So-called online marketing experts will say it’s best to be authentic.

Well, this is about as authentic as I get.

Instagram is not a creative space, it is a vehicle for delivery or denial of dopamine hits, and like any addictive substance, what once made you feel good, you eventually use to keep from feeling bad.

Building an Instagram following today revolves around frequent posting of content. Stories, videos, images, ads, all in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm into offering your stuff to an audience that will show or deny approval by tapping their finger on a little heart.

It doesn’t matter if that content is new or relevant, as long as it’s frequent.

To feed that beast, or get noticed by an art aggregator or influencer, I end up creating things simply so that I have something to post, which means the more detailed pieces that take many hours to complete suffer from inattention and take longer to finish.

Or I have to come up with clever gimmicks or pictures or make up stories that take me away from the work that pays the bills, in a vain attempt to fool myself that it’s advancing my business, when there is no supporting evidence.

Then I waste more time checking to see if anybody has liked or commented, and am always disappointed in the results, no matter what they are. After which I spend more time scrolling through the feed until I realize that the half hour I’ve just wasted on nothing could have been time spent drawing, painting, writing, bookkeeping, or on admin stuff. These are things that actually DO impact the success of my business.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for weeks, read countless articles on both sides of the argument, taken into account the bias inherent in each, while trying to filter my fear of missing out. I’ve explored the extremes of what-if worst case scenarios, the conjuring of which I am a pro.

I tried switching to a business page, to pay to promote my posts, but the only way you can do that is to go through Facebook, which meant I would have to go back on Facebook not only with a personal profile, but with another business page.

That’s like going back to an abusive relationship after a clean break.

Is it possible that the owners of Instagram will have a re-awakening, change their direction and suddenly make the platform better for everybody again? Or is it more likely that its best days are in the past and it has become infected by the same toxic decay plaguing Facebook?

Granted, I could be making a huge mistake, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People said that quitting my job many years ago to become a full-time artist was a mistake, too, and that worked out pretty well for me.

My income comes from a few different sources. There are daily editorial cartoons I email directly to my newspaper clients across Canada, print sales of my whimsical wildlife paintings at venues and shows, and licensing of the animal art where they end up in retail stores or on other sites. I don’t need to manipulate the data to convince myself that these sources produce revenue. The proof is in my bank account.

With Instagram, I have to tell myself it’s worth my time, even though I don’t believe it.

I posted a close version of this on instagram to give people a chance to see it before I pulled the plug. I still run into folks who think I blocked them on Facebook, even though I’ve had no presence on that platform for well over a year. They just missed the announcement.

It might seem like a ploy to get people to follow my newsletter and site. That would be accurate.

The only reason I was on social media was to direct traffic to my business. I’m a commercial artist. This is how I pay my bills. One of the things people forget about social media is that if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product. Instagram does not deliver me any value and it’s not paying me for my time, the ultimate non-renewable resource.

I have this website in which I’m invested, regular blog posts, a newsletter and I’m easy to find online. I plan to start recording more time-lapse videos on my YouTube channel, without being restricted to the one minute allowed by Instagram. All of that produces sustainable and searchable content that doesn’t disappear into an attention span black hole.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Saturday Morning Email

My friend Kristina in California sent me a short email last week, asking me if I thought the work on my book might be responsible for the creative block I talked about in my latest newsletter. While it took me almost a week to respond, I realized when I did that I wanted to post it on the blog. I was going to edit it, but thought it was more honest to just post it verbatim.

“Hola! Sorry, I was remiss in responding to this. A little discombobulated as of late.

I honestly don’t know what the issue is this summer. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like I’m on cruise control or stuck in traffic. Still moving, but feeling like I’m not. The funny thing is that financially, I’m having a great year. Usually there’s been a little growth each year, nothing exponential but creeping progress. 5-7%, that sort of thing, which in business is apparently pretty good. 2015 over 2014, however, there was a small drop for the first time. About 2% down. This year, however, I’m up 15% so far! Now it’s not all about money, of course, but you’d think that would feel like progress, but it doesn’t.

This social media experiment is very interesting. Clearly an addiction, and deleting the apps from my phone and iPad was the right move. It has become a knee jerk reaction to be checking it all the time. I was at the bank yesterday over the noon hour, so a bit of a line, and I would normally be checking the social media feeds. Yesterday, however, I was reading a book on my phone. I’ve been complaining for quite a while now, that I no longer have time to read. Obviously, that’s a choice I made. I also feel less keyed up this week than I normally do and I think that’s a benefit of not feeding the social media monkey. We had a cool thunderstorm here the other day, a real boomer with lightning and a great sky. That doesn’t happen here often as the mountains create unstable systems. Storms don’t gather steam until they roll out onto the foothills headed for Calgary. I was going to record it to get some stills and then thought, “what am I going to do with it?”

The whole reason I’d do that was to share it on social media. Instead, we just watched it. The constant sharing of everything has become insidious. And it sucks up a LOT of time. I get into a conversation and before I know it an hour has passed and that painting time I covet so much has gone away.

Then there’s the other side of it. I miss seeing what my friends are up to and talking to them. I’ve let the assholes control my habits. To avoid the politics, nasty comments and hate speech, I’ve limited my own interaction with friends and family. To promote my own work, I need to post stuff on my pages, but social media isn’t supposed to be one sided. It’s supposed to be give and take, back and forth, otherwise, it’s just one person talking in the conversation. So where’s the line? Where’s the balance? How do I use it effectively to promote my business without sucking up all of my time and still interact with my followers so they don’t feel it’s so one sided on my part?

I’m painting this morning, but actually thinking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Behance, worried that I’m doing it all wrong. In reality, however, ask 100 people how to do it right, and you’ll get 100 different answers. It feels like we’re all being conned.

So this hiatus is giving me plenty of food for thought. I’ve toyed with the idea of just posting less and not worrying about the likes and shares. Or starting up another personal profile and simply not accepting friend requests from toxic people and ignoring the more controversial posts.

But honestly, it feels like I’m a drug addict saying, “well, maybe just a little heroin.”

Funny, this response to you just became a blog post. ;)”

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.