Becoming a Full Time Potter - Social Media
Social media is an incredible tool if you want to become a self employed creative. It allows you to showcase your work, reach and interact with your audience, and sell directly. For free. With a potential audience of millions.
All you need to do is get your work in front of the people that want to buy it.
At the simplest level, you need to make work that people want and present it to them in a way that allows them to understand why they want it.
I'm not going to talk about making work here, that's down to your individual preference. It should be the work you enjoy making and that appeals to you.
How you present it is also a little down to taste, but there are many things that everyone should be at least considering. You want to be showing the work in a way that allows someone to understand what it is, how it's made, why it costs what it does, and how it would fit into their life.
I think we are lucky as potters, as the aesthetic choices that inform the work you make are a very good starting point for your branding and ethos. Are you making rustic and quirky woodfired stoneware, or minimal and clean porcelain? The principles that guide your making process should be echoed in your logo, in your photography, in your captions, and so on.
Good photography makes a huge difference online, but nowhere more so than Instagram. The good news is that you don't need a professional photography studio, or even a dedicated camera, to take acceptable images. Almost all of my pictures and videos are taken with my phone.
A bad camera can take a good photo in the right lighting, but it's very hard to compensate for bad lighting. My studio isn't an ideal background for photographs and the natural lighting isn't great either, so I made myself a very inexpensive photobooth:
It's 2 of these lights and an IKEA white wood countertop from the bargain corner. The lights are technically ceiling panels so need a little adaption to attach to a vertical surface, but once that's done they give a bright semi-diffused pure white light. The colour of your light sources will affect how your work appears in pictures, so try to get the broadest white light you can unless you're intentionally colouring it for stylistic purposes.
I wanted a matte white surface with a slight wood grain to place the work on, and found the easiest, cheapest way to get something like that is the reduced section of IKEA. Between the lights and the surface, I spent about £50 on this setup. This picture is taken with my phone:
It's not perfect by any means, but it's a cheap and easy way to get consistent images.
I generally use the standard camera app (I have an Android phone) and adjust the exposure in Instagram, but if you want more control then have a look at Open Camera and Snapseed. Open Camera gives you greater control over the camera settings, including white balance, and Snapseed has a few neat editing abilities than are missing from Instagram.
I always use Open Camera for video recording on my phone. It allows you to lock the focus and exposure, which prevents the jerkiness that can come from the camera readjusting every time you reach for a tool. If I'm editing on my phone I use ActionDirector to crop and change the speed of the footage.
So now you've done all that, how do you get Instagram followers?
The short answer is 'slowly'.
It takes a while to start getting traction on Instagram, you have to be ok with that. In my experience the first thousand followers are the hardest by far. Of course, there are plenty of ways to grow a following quickly but almost none of them are good ideas. It might seem tempting to buy followers, use a bit of software to automatically follow and unfollow people, or do a follow for follow (F4F) strategy, but these are terrible ideas in my opinion.
The way I see it is that there are a few situations you can be in:
You can have a lot of followers that are all interested in what you do.
You can have a smaller number of followers that are all interested in what you do.
You can have a lot of followers with few that are interested in what you do.
You can have a smaller number of followers with few that are interested in what you do.
In my opinion, situations 1 and 2 are a much better place to be than 3 or 4, even if someone in situation 3 might have a lot more followers than situation 2.
You have to remember that Instagram use engagement with your posts as one of the measure of quality. If you build a following that aren't going to engage with you, then the system will count that against you. Of course, that only applies to followers that aren't interested in what you do. Having more followers that are engaged will only ever be a good thing, but don't obsess over the number of followers you have and definitely don't compare it to others (not all followers are equally valuable).
Don't forget to post videos too. Videos are great for getting followers, pictures are great for getting sales (an idea I got from Curt Hammerly). I think this is to do with how Instagram features videos on the Explore page, but it might just be that videos are better at getting people's attention. It's not possible to see the whole of a video in a glance, as you can with images. Once you've stopped someone scrolling you're far more likely to get them to click through to see your other work.
Which leads on to whether you should post personal images on your main grid as well. In my opinion you can probably get away with a personal image occasionally, but if they make up a noticeable proportion of the images then it makes it less likely that people will follow. I use stories for behind-the-scenes, personal content instead.
None of this has to be complicated. Just try to provide value to your viewers, whether that's a pretty picture, a technique, or an explanation of a process.
I use IFTTT to automatically propagate my Instagram posts to other platforms. For a while, this was the only way I used Pinterest, but I've recently begun to see the power of a more targeted strategy.
Pinterest is a totally different platform to Instagram even if on the surface it seems similar. It's not really social media as there's no social element, it's more of a visual search engine. The important thing to understand is that it creates connections between images that are grouped together. This means that you want to be pinning more of other people's content than your own, but in a curated way that builds a broader context for your work.
If you start a board called 'Mugs' and you only pin pictures of your mugs in it, there's less reason for anyone to follow the board and less information for Pinterest to use to make connections. If you fill that board with a carefully curated selection of the best mugs on Pinterest, then your pictures will be recommended to people who have that interest. The same goes for something like interior design. If you have a vision for the sort of house your work is designed to sit in, you can make all of those connections through themed boards.
They even have a 'More ideas' tab that suggests posts you might want to add to a board, making it incredibly simple to fill with content. Just make sure you're creating value through curation, there's no point in adding something you don't like to a board just to make up numbers.
It's well worth setting yourself up as a business account, to make the most of the analytics. You can also claim ownership of your website and social media accounts, which allows you to track the analytics for your content when it's uploaded by other people too.
As it currently stands, direct video uploads are only available in the USA, but they seem to be a fantastic tool for reaching a broader audience. I'm looking forward to them being rolled out more widely. In general, it really seems that Pinterest are trying to make their platform the best it can be (they're one of very few that still allow you to use a chronologically/non-algorithmically sorted timeline if you want), images have a very long life on there, and there is a massive audience. It's definitely worth spending a little time to get the most out of it.
I only recently started uploading to YouTube. The way the platform searches and recommends videos means that content has a very long lifespan and it can feel a little pointless adding videos to the wealth already there, but there's an active community on there. I generally just upload the same videos as to Instagram, but make the most of the longer time limit and lower compression rate to upload higher quality videos that will stick around for longer.
I've included Reddit on here because it's one of my favourite platforms, not because it's particularly good for self promotion. In fact, it's actively hostile towards excessive self promotion.
There are a few active pottery subreddits (Pottery and Ceramics) which have good communities, a few viral subreddits that can help your content get in front of a wide audience (such as oddlysatisfying), and a few niche interest subreddits that will be interested in occasional posts showing related work (such as muglife).
This is potentially your best option for promotion, and is certainly the safest. Any of the other platforms mentioned could change or close tomorrow and everything you've built on it would be lost. A mailing list is yours to keep forever, and it's (in theory) made up of your ideal customers.
There are more ways to use a mailing list, and more advice on the subject, than you could ever need, but how you use one will depend on your making and selling process. Even if you don't use it much, it's well worth giving people the opportunity to sign up to one in case that ever changes.
As with the other posts in the mini-series, these are ideas I've picked up from various people that know more than me, and things I've learnt as I've gone along. There's no right or wrong way to do it, so if this doesn't fit with your goals and experiences please let me know and carry on doing what works for you.
Either way, I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject so please contact me with any comments.
Other posts in the mini-series: