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Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons—Part 2: Facebook

Yup. Facebook is just about ubiquitous now. It almost doesn’t even matter what thing it is that you do. Whether you’re looking to find an audience or build one, if you want to be in front of eyeballs, Facebook is a critically (and, on some level, disappointingly) big piece of that puzzle. Just about everyone and their mother has a Facebook account these days… often to the embarrassment of both those people and their mothers. As a person interested in gaining exposure for your creative work and skills, I’d advise that you be on Facebook, too. It is, after all, where the people are.

That said, almost no one goes on Facebook looking for art. I’d argue that more folks should, but that’s beside the point. Most people are also not on Facebook to be sold to, either. They’re there to socialize. They want to see photos of their friends and family. They want to find out about the cool and interesting things that their friends and family are doing or consuming. They want to share their opinions about things that are happening in the moment.

So it’s important that you “tune” what you share and how you share it in such a way that it matches what people expect to see on Facebook. If you don’t, that’s a quick way to get yourself ignored or—worse—reported.

Fortunately it’s not that hard to meet expectations in this case. Most creative work clearly falls in the realm of “cool and interesting things”… especially if your work is good. The biggest thing to remember is that you really should check any “hard sell” tendencies at the door, even when you eventually start buying ads. This is all about being useful and interesting. People will go to your work because you have a reputation for being awesome, not because you’re reposting the same work over and over again, asking folks to buy it.

But first this: There are no shortcuts

I should have mentioned this in my previous post, because it’s really important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever the latest hot social media platform purports to be. Do not go on these sites with the expectation that you’re going to be an instantaneous success. Yes, it happens. People also get struck by lightning. I wouldn’t advise that you try building a career on that strategy.

Effective social media marketing (that’s what you’re doing, if you haven’t guessed yet) is not a “set it and forget it” thing. It requires work and dedication. Most importantly, it requires time. You’re not generating customers. Your building relationships… with people. Real people. Healthy relationships are built up over time, but trust can be shattered in an instant.

You will not see measurable results immediately. You might not even see much in the way of results over the course of months. Be prepared for that. Most “overnight successes” are the result of long term dedicated perseverance. A cynical person would say that you’re “playing the long con”. Sure, if that somehow helps you feel better, you can say that. But the relationship-building perspective is a much more positive outlook. Let’s try not to be the cynic.

Now… about Facebook.

Get a personal account

The starting point in Facebook is going to be a personal account.

“But I’m running a creative business. Shouldn’t I—” No. Stop that. Just read this and let me explain.

Start with a personal account. There are a few reasons for this. One of your primary goals here is to be an actual person (you’re going to see me say this a lot). Facebook is all about interpersonal interaction. The feed of posts that you see from other people on Facebook isn’t entirely chronological. It’s software-controlled and certain types of posts are weighted as being more valuable or interesting to Facebook users. The posts that the software decides are more valuable and relevant to a specific user get higher priority in their feed. Naturally, posts from individual people are weighted more heavily than posts from organizations or brands. You’ll hear marketing people talk about “the Facebook algorithm”… this is what they’re referring to.

From a purely psychological perspective, folks like to know that they’re interacting with a real person. Even when they’re dealing with companies, people gravitate to the ones that offer a more personal touch. Be a person. Be honest. Be a little vulnerable. Of course, don’t post anything you’re not comfortable sharing, but you’d be surprised how positive the response can be when you share that you’re frustrated with something you’re working on because the results are just not turning out right for you. You’re real. You have problems, challenges, and successes just like everyone else. It’s a very positive image to put out and one that people are drawn to.

Another reason you want a personal account is market research. With a page or “professional” account, it’s slightly more difficult to engage with people as people. This is also why I might suggest that if part of your creative process involves using an assumed name (pen name, stage name, anonymous handle, etc.), then it may also create a personal account for that assumed name as well.

In any case, in order to gain a fandom, you need to understand what fandom is. Again, people are on Facebook to socialize and discuss the things that they like and don’t like. You’re doing market research here. Find people who you imagine would be fans of your kind of work. Watch what they post. See how they speak and write about those things. Those are the things that you want to share and the language you want to use.

I used to say that in order to gain following, you need to first understand what it means to be a fan. I’m going to revise that slightly. In order to gain a following, you must become a fan of your fans.

But how do you do that? The next section can help.

Be personable, join groups

Hands down, one of the most valuable things in Facebook are Facebook groups. Groups are user-created pocket communities on Facebook, typically dedicated to one topic, or a class of topics. There are groups for everything from high-priced masterminds down to groups for people who flip their pillows to the cold side when they go to sleep. Did you ever wonder where internet user forums went? This is it. Yeah, forums still exist, but not nearly in the same capacity and volume as they did in their heyday. With groups, Facebook provided a lot of the appeal and function of traditional forums, but without the need for setting up your own domain or installing and maintaining forum software.

So if you’re looking for your fans, the best places to find them are in Facebook groups dedicated to material similar to the things you make. That’s the most direct route. But there are also sideways approaches as well. For instance, let’s say you’re a science fiction writer. Sure, it probably makes sense for you to join a group that’s a book club for science fiction fans. But a lot of science fiction fans are also really interested in general technology or space exploration. There are Facebook groups for those interests as well and you should join them.

There are a few benefits to joining these groups. First of all, it allows you to observe your fans in the wild. You see what they like, what they talk about, and how they talk about that stuff. This is immensely useful for when you ultimately start crafting your own posts and messages. It should be reasonably natural to you; chances are good that there’s a high overlap between what you like and what your eventual fans like. So you’re not being deceptive. At most, you’re learning a new language.

Another value of groups is what I suppose you could consider “professional development”, but I prefer to think of it as connecting to your peers. These are the other creative people like you who are producing the kinds of things you like to produce. Of course, connecting with your peers will be a benefit to improving your craft. You’ll get to be a better painter or writer or musician. But just as important, you can discuss the more business-y side of things. Marketing techniques on the internet sometimes change rapidly. By connecting with your peers, you get a better chance of being aware of those changes and adjusting to them as necessary.

And there’s a personal benefit to joining groups. It makes the Facebook experience itself much more tolerable. Remember that the Facebook feed isn’t entirely chronological. It’s weighted by what Facebook’s software thinks you’re most interested in. Groups are one of the best ways to “juice your feed” and train Facebook’s software to show you things that interest you and make you smile. Facebook will understand that you much prefer seeing concept art for giant robots instead of vacation photos of your cousin’s sister-in-law’s kids.

Now, once you’re in a group, it’s OK to lurk for a while, but you’ll get much more out of it if you participate. And for the record, participating does not mean going in every group and posting, “Buy my thing!” It also doesn’t mean sharing the same content across all of the groups you’re in at the same time. Remember, that’s not why most people are on Facebook. Respect that. Post in groups the stuff that you think is relevant to that group. And don’t just make new posts, respond to the things other people post. Human nature has reciprocity built into it. People are more likely to respond to the things you post if you already have shown an interest in discussing the things that they post. Do that. Be a real person.

Get a page, but don’t focus that much on it

Yes. You are a business. So, yes, you will eventually need a “professional” page on Facebook. But as I mentioned before, pages don’t get nearly the same reach and exposure that personal accounts do. The reason for this is pretty simple. Facebook assumes that if you have a professional page, you’re there to sell something. If you’re successful at selling, then of course you’re making money. And you’re not just making money, you’re making money on the back of their infrastructure. That makes their platform have literal value to you. Value that they [rightly] think you should pay for the privilege of using.

So aside from just squatting a placeholder space for your creative business, the reason for getting a page is for when you eventually start buying ads. There’s a pervasive meme online that says, “If you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement. However, by setting up a professional page on Facebook, you’ve essentially announced your intent to be on the flip side of that statement. You’re no longer the product. When you start advertising, you become a buyer.

But advertising is a big topic for another post (probably for another site altogether). For the time being, just set up your page and do the hard work of drawing organic traffic to it. I’ll get more into how exactly you do that in the next bit.

Use your personal account to promote posts from your page

By being a real person and doing real person things like joining groups, posting interesting things, and responding to interesting things other people post, you’re naturally going to grow your number of friends and followers on Facebook. That number is likely to grow way faster than the number of followers for your page. Again, this is built into Facebook’s design. Pages get less play than personal posts unless you pay for advertising.

However, there is a bit of a way around that. Facebook has a built-in facility for sharing the posts of others. That way, you friends and followers have the ability to see the cool thing that was posted by someone else you follow. It’s a great mechanism for sharing cool stuff with more people. The really handy thing about this is that it’s possible to share posts from pages, too. So, by using your personal account to share the stuff that you post on your page, you naturally increase the organic exposure to that stuff. Granted, this assumes you have more connections on your personal account than followers on your page (which is likely), but it does get your stuff in front of a few more eyeballs without paying for ads.

There is some limited value to this tactic, of course. Friends and family (who you’re really not all that interested in marketing to) probably don’t care that much about your work… or they’ve seen enough of it or heard you talking about it privately enough. Fortunately, you can tailor your shares. You don’t just have to share right to your user profile. Instead, you could share your page’s post directly to a group. This gets your work in front of the people who it’s most relevant to… and even some folks who aren’t actually following you or on your friends list. Be careful with this approach, though. Nobody likes a spammy jerk.

I can’t repeat it enough: people are not on Facebook to be sold to. Of course, cynically speaking, just about everyone on Facebook is selling something—could be their next book or the impression that they’re the perfect family—but Facebook wants to maintain the illusion that we’re actually socializing and will penalize you if your posting style tries to shatter that illusion.

Create a group (if it fits)

I’ve already mentioned that groups are a great way to juice your own Facebook to show you the kind of stuff you are most interested in seeing. It can also work in reverse. What I mean by that is the fact that other people have also discovered how joining groups can help them customize their feeds. So they’re joining groups for the same reason. Now here’s the interesting thing: at this moment, group posts aren’t penalized for exposure the same way that pages are. So if something gets posted to a group, it’s far more likely to be seen than something posted to a page. This is why in the last section, I suggested that you share your page posts in a relevant group.

You don’t have to stop there, though. If it fits what you’re doing, why not create a Facebook group of your own? If you already have fans of your work, then perhaps you want to make a group that’s dedicated to the stuff you do. You can build a community around your creations. If you don’t have a fanbase yet, that’s OK, too. You can create a group that’s dedicated to something related to your work. Maybe you produce short films. You can make a group dedicated to watching and reviewing short films that get posted online. Or maybe you use a specific piece of software or paint or coffee while you work. You can make a group dedicated to that and post relevant things there… even share things from your page.

And it works for connecting with your peers, too. I have a small group that I made that’s focused on sharing the daily creative work that people make. Could be finished work, could be works in progress, could even be failures. And in whatever medium. The idea of that group is that we’re trying to make something everyday and sharing our growth and progress. I’ve personally found it great for both building relationships with peers as well as getting feedback on my work so I can improve.

A note on branding and image

I should make a quick note here about personal branding and image. Just about every social media platform that I’m aware of allows you to provide a profile image. There are other blog posts and sites on the web that do a better job of telling you the specifications for these images and what-not, but I do have a few more generalized tips that are specific to being a creative person trying to get people interested in your work:

  • Use your face… or some relatively accurate representation of it. The important word in social media is social. People don’t want to socialize with a logo or a photo of your art or your cat or your dog. They want to socialize with another person. So show that you’re a person. Use your face in your profile image. Of course, I bend this rule a little. I use a cartoon-ish line drawing that I made of myself. However, it does look like me and I keep it up to date when my face changes (haircut, facial hair, etc.) More importantly, I do the next thing…
  • Be consistent. I may bend the rules and use a drawing of my face for my profile image, but I use that drawing as my avatar everywhere. Every social media platform that I’m on uses the same profile image. That way people know that I’m actually me.
  • Be casually professional. What in the world does that mean? I mean that you’re pitching yourself as a creative person. Unless you’ve really worked hard to build a brand image around you looking like you sell real estate, you probably don’t need the suit and tie in your profile image. At the same time, you also probably don’t need to be using that photo from when you ran naked down Main St. Be real, but be classy about it (unless, of course, looking like a crazed half-zombie is part of your personal brand).

Facebook (and most other social media sites) also allow you the ability to add a “Cover Photo” or header image for your profile page. This is the big image that’s at the top. This is the place where you want to show off the stuff that you do. If you’re a writer, show your book covers (or something writerly). If you’re an illustrator, show your art. If you’re a musician, show album cover art or a photo from a live show. Again, there are better sites out there than my blog for getting you the right size for this image, but just know that your cover image is the thing that you can use to show what you do to folks who visit your page. And this, too, is something that you should try to keep consistent across all social media platforms that support it. Cover images are a little harder to keep consistent because the dimensions vary from one site to another, but you’re a creative person. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

What do I share?

And here we get to possibly the most important section of this giant diatribe of mine. What exactly should you be sharing on your Facebook page? and in your groups? and in your personal account? In truth, the specific answers are going to vary from one person to another. However, I have a few guidelines that should hopefully help:

  • Decide ahead of time how much of your personal life you want to share, and stick with it. As I’ve said multiple times in this post, Facebook is a place where people socialize and share their lives. You might not be comfortable sharing everything with everyone. It’s not just about your privacy settings on Facebook. It’s about having discipline in what you post and share… and explaining that to your friends and family. Your friends and family will find you on Facebook. Prepare for that. But if you’re not comfortable sharing your family life with the world, you don’t have to post photos of family gatherings. And if people tag you in photos, you can remove those tags if you’d like. The point is that you want to decide early how much you’re comfortable sharing and then maintain that policy.
  • Regularly re-evaluate your decision on how much of your personal life to share and adjust as necessary. Of course, nothing is forever. When you share a little bit of your personal life—your struggles, your successes, your cats—it humanizes you. It makes you a real person. You may find that your original “tell no one of my personal life” policy is a bit stiff. Or maybe loading your photos with 50 images of your cat is a bit much for folks. It’s not a bad idea to revisit your decision every handful of months and determine if that’s still the best way for you to go. There are no rules against changing your mind.
  • Images and video content are especially good at the moment. Humans (well, most humans) have huge eyes. Visual content tends to be very attractive to us. So it’s no surprise that people are naturally drawn to posts that feature something more than just text. And by extension, it should also be no surprise that the software that controls Facebook users’ feeds adds additional weight to posts that feature images or video. So even if your work isn’t inherently visual (I’m looking at you, writers and musicians), try to include some kind of imagery with your posts where appropriate.
  • Prioritize content native to Facebook. On the subject of images and videos, Facebook, like all websites, doesn’t necessarily want its users to leave. It wants them to stay there. So if you have an image, upload it directly to Facebook rather than linking to it from your website or ArtStation page. Likewise for a video. Facebook prioritizes the content you directly upload over links to YouTube or Vimeo. Other sites and platforms may be better for showing your work, but if you want that work in front of more eyeballs, try to go native and upload directly.
  • Keep light on the sales pitches… very light. It’s a rough rule of thumb, but I’d say that no more than 10% of your posts should be about selling your work. You’re not a car salesman. Well, I don’t know that for sure, you might be. But don’t be a pushy car salesman on Facebook. It reflects badly upon you and will get you exactly the opposite results from what you desire.
  • Most importantly, share things of value… things people are actually interested in and find useful. This one is the key (that’s why it’s last). Be a real person. Post things that other real people are interested in seeing. Give your thoughts and opinions on those things. Provide useful advice and suggestions. Participate in discussions at a deeper level than just saying, “I agree.” Facebook discussions can be as deep or as superficial as you want them to be. You’re welcome to talk about the weather, but try to do it in an engaging way. You are, after all, trying to convince people that you’re creative, right?

So that about covers it for Facebook. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments! Did you find this useful? Let everyone else know by sharing this with them.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come!