Vlog 003: Being an Idealistic Content Creator (Creating Content in 2017)

Being an Idealistic Content Creator

I’ve been a content creator my whole adult life. While this started with studying several instruments, it eventually changed to photography, programming video games, studying painting - and finally writing a PhD thesis: today, my professional life consists of producing paintings, as well as curating exhibitions (also I’m doing a videography project that I’m in love with).

More specifically though, I need to introduce myself as idealistic content creator: over the years, my focus has always been on understanding a craft’s quality, in order to then implement it as best as I could. My mission was craft, and time not spent on advancing that mission felt wrong - as a result, business topics (branding, marketing, business development etc.) were never on my mind. My thinking was that any focus on PR would manifest my own disbelief in my work’s quality: once I started to get my head into PR space, wouldn’t that be the final nail in the coffin of self-disbelief, in my own work?

I never saw the arrogance in this.

I didn’t used social media to proactively push my content (or myself) as a brand. It felt wrong to even read PR material: I understood social media as distraction, as today’s television: a neverending stream of garbage and pushed egos - why would I subject my work to that? As a side effect, this let me stick to my comfort zone: my craft, and the believe that if I’d be good in it, middlemen would eventually take care of the rest. Ultimately, I subscribed to the romantic notation of quality guaranteeing success.

Social Media Today: A Currency

With social media having been around for over a decade, I want to recap the situation that today’s content creators find themselves in:  there are more of us than ever, with more potential visibility than ever. Social media hosts an endless amount of individuals too, whose lives could be enrichened by our creations - if only they’d know about it: potential customers, 99% of whom have never heard of you or seen your work (let’s quickly recap the numbers too: Facebook 2 billion. Instagram 800 million. LinkedIn 467 million. VKontakte 447 million. Tumblr 345 million. Twitter 330 million. Pinterest 200 million).

While we thought that having websites would result in our work being discovered, we now know that they offer zero discoverability: they mostly make sense today as digital homes and archives, for those who already know us. While special-interest forums can be used for personal networking purposes, they don’t easily offer audience growth. Ultimately, neither websites nor forums offer what seems to be the most important aspect of today’s content creation reality: social media as currency.

While some of us ignored social media as distraction (“It’s virtual! A bubble! You’re wasting your time!”), others embraced it to gain visibility. They did so by showing their work, their processes, their lives - and accumulated followers over the years. In retrospect, it’s obvious that many of us idealists missed the real-life consequence of social media: it being a currency. Those that worked for years to gain followers aren’t just “more visible” today, on their specific social media platforms: If Harding Meyer has 29k followers on Instagram, if Emma Hopkins has 84k followers on Instagram, if Katie Mack has 211k followers on Twitter (WHAT! It was 180k just three months ago!), this changes how the world sees their works, and listens to them - it’s an impact that’s not limited to the “virtual” world at all. It changes our relation to them in the real world:  if you’re a professional, there’s nothing virtual about social media. Social media isn’t just “a currency”: it’s a real-life currency.

Emma Hopkins (Instagram)
Harding Meyer (Instagram)
Katie Mack (Twitter)

With whom will middlemen (galleries, publishers, labels; universities, employers etc) want to collaborate: with me, a painter with less than 500 followers - or Emma Hopkins? The situation today is very straight-forward: social media makes our marketing efforts transparent. If you don’t put the hours into it, you will appear sloppy to those who do: you risk being seen as hobbyist, independently of your work’s qualities.

As a professional, ignoring social media is like not brushing your teeth: while this doesn’t create problems today, it has consequences when disregarded for years. If you want to operate autonomously, if you want your work to be visible, then you need to embrace social media. Social media changed the landscape not only for its users, but for everyone else too. If you ignore it, your visibility and relevance will implicitly fade: it’s a visibility-tide that keeps rising, with you being able to chose whether to work with it - or have your visibility drown.

Ethics and Marketing

My words make it sound futile to resist, while ultimately participation is still a personal choice; my goal is not to have you start posting erratically, but to slowly get aware of a situation: don’t be the frog who didn’t know about the rising temperature. It’s your choice how to proceed. But I do want to tell you that nearly all established professionals, in nearly any field, use social media to strengthen their voices, to speak to their followers, to spread their mission.

If you disregard social media as marketing, and marketing as wrong, I have a very basic question for you: do you pursue your craft as a profession, or as a hobby? Because if it is the former, than there’s simply no excuse but to work towards your customers - because you need customers, and you want customers.

I realized only recently that most people’s aversion to marketing is based on their understanding of it as a cheap way to sell crap: to sell a broken care to a blind person that can’t drive. This is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about bringing quality to a world that drowns in superficiality. I’m talking about a world that needs both aesthetics and ethics. I’m talking about accepting your work’s uniqueness and accepting that there are people out there whose lives will benefit from experiencing it - whether that’s a video game, a painting, a theater production, a massage, a repaired car, an exhibition you curated, or a statement against misogyny.

I’m talking about your responsibility, as idealistic content creator, to embrace your work as a product, and embrace your customers as individuals who want to experience and embrace your world: but who can’t, if you stay silent about it.

Only by believing in your work (and yourself!) will you be able to start marketing it appropriately: not by exaggerating, but by working ethically towards making people see it - people whose lives will benefit from it. Also, think about the alternative: if us idealists don’t enter social media for real (Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, VKontakte, ReddIt, Behance, LinkedIn, Tumblr etc), the level of quality on each of these platforms will strongly be influenced by others whose aesthetics and craftsmanship aren’t anywhere close to “ours”. By people who, in the worst case, aren’t in it for idealistic reasons. By disregarding all these platforms, aren’t we guilty of ivory-tower-ism? What about gamergate: if we’d all have been on Twitter, couldn’t we have made a difference? I don’t know a single painter who’s on Twitter. Why?

I’ll start posting specific steps on how to start your journey - how to embrace an ethical way of accepting marketing for your craft, so you and your work will gradually be seen. How to engage with an international audience, leading to your work becoming better, your motivation to rise, and your sales to increase: by having made the world a better place, in the small way that you can influence the world.

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  • I agree that it’s become virtually impossible to get people to become aware of your work without cultivating a social media following and putting in all the work that entails. However, I think apart from the impulse of shying away from using social media to promote your work due to concerns over that being “commercial PR”ish, there’s also the real concern that many forms and platforms of social media have become straight up unethical. Many social media platforms can be said to be built on exploiting cognitive human quirks in our reward system to capture and retain attention in ways that ultimately are not in society’s or the individuals best interest.

    The discussion of how or why these platforms are unethical is a big one, but my main question is: what choice is left to a content creator who on the one hand wishes to spread awareness of her work as widely as possible, but on the other hand doesn’t wish to become complicit in what are arguably unethical platforms or systems? By not using them, you withhold your support, but you also probably prevent your criticism being heard by those you want to reach the most.

    • Christian Bazant-Hegemark

      Hey Jon – thanks for your comment. It’s a common, and super valid concern. I think the easiest way out (deux ex machine) would be to find an ethical social media platform. That would be awesome.
      Until then, it apparently sucks – it’s choosing between a rock and a hard place. For what it’s worth, my current mission is mostly to make content creators aware of the consequences of not using social media. Especially in the fine arts, people don’t see those yet. No good choices can happen if knowledge is missing :/

  • Just wanted to say this was insightful and inspiring. I’ve remaines fearful of embracing social media too readily for the exact reasons you’ve outline and I’m making an effort to force myself into the routine. Thanks for posting and I’ll be back 🙂

    • Christian Bazant-Hegemark

      Haha – thanks Joshua. It’s a difficult joruney, and I’m not particularly far on it. But I think by now, after having done so many interviews with individuals who progressed way further on this path, I finally seem to get its importance =)
      Specifically, thanks for adding your website – it’s awesome to see what readers are actually up to! Cool work! <3