by Katya Bozukova
When it comes to social media, I get the feeling that we are all damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Sure, it has a number of benefits (visibility! New friends! Cat videos!) but....
it’s a thin line between taking a little break from working and spending the next five hours scrolling and liking and watching YouTube. (Believe me. I have done it. The aftermath is not pretty.) Even if somebody does not take pleasure in social media, there is always the pressure to be there, to be available. Especially if you’re a creative. How will people know about us? We must participate.
Must we? Really?
|How much do you need?|
If you’re an author or an illustrator wondering how much energy, or any, you want to put into social media, the short answer is: however much you feel like. I recognise, however, that this is very broad, so in this post, I would like to offer up some food for thought - from my experience - and hopefully it will generate a helpful discussion.
Distracted from distraction by distraction. –T.S. Eliot
Social media can be a big black hole for your happiness and creativity. Let’s get the big one out of the way. Social media can be a huge distraction. You’re going about your day and you suddenly remember something interesting you read years ago on a now-extinct Tumblr. You do a keyword search in case anybody saved it for posterity, and then you find yourself binge-reading articles about what your coffee order says about you (as if your life wasn’t complicated enough without you thinking the barista is judging you). And that is just when social media is a benign distraction–I can’t log onto Facebook now without being depressed over the state of the economy, politics, or the environment. It’s not that these things didn’t exist before we had all these connectivity platforms - but they are more visible now, and harder to mute. As creatives, we are often self-led, and we have to take extra care to place appropriate value on our time, and the space we let other things take up in our heads.
Social media can also help to bring you up when you’re feeling down. I read some articles recently that the likes we get off Instagram on subpar work makes us lazy. I immediately got a flashback to when I was a child and all the adults I knew discouraged me from going to art school because it would never amount to anything. I’ve written a whole article about this on my blog, but basically it boils down to this - it can be difficult starting out as an artist or a writer without any guidance or reassurance. We find it hard to justify investments into a creative path, or taking risks, when it’s just us and our work. Social media can give us a little boost of confidence - one that a lot of us, I feel, don’t get readily.
Even if you don’t enjoy social media and never want to use it, there is still a benefit to calling dibs on an account. Have you heard of a “digital trust fund”? (It isn’t stock in Twitter.) As we learn more about the long-term consequences of social media shaming and identity theft, some parents have taken to creating email and social media accounts in their children’s names with the intent of giving them their passwords when the children are mature enough to manage their own online persona. This, I feel, is a good idea for everyone - particularly if your name isn’t easily Googleable. I’m not saying you need to make a commitment to using the account - digital trust funds are by definition empty - but think about it this way: fans of your work will want to connect with you, and if your name or pen name is distinctive, they will be looking for you through that. (Alternatively, they may look for the official pages of your books or characters, but I’m guessing there is no point in making those until your book is officially “born”.) Now imagine somebody decides to take advantage of that and set up a spoof account with links to downloadable malware, or impersonates you on Twitter and starts attacking people, or posting crude images? Social media providers are good at removing truly offensive and dangerous accounts, but it could be a bad experience for your fans, not to mention a lot of headaches for you as you try to sort it all out.
Once again, I’m not saying it will happen. But consider the effort and payoff for one scenario over the other–taking a few hours to set up an email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is far easier now versus having to rush to do it when your career takes off, or having to deal with the aftermath of a digital prank or worse. Just please make sure you use different, and strong passwords, and where possible, enable two-step notification (that way even if your password gets guessed, or cracked, you will still know if somebody other than you tries to access your accounts, and you will be able to prevent them from doing that.)
You can separate your private life from your public account. I repeat, you CAN separate your private life from your public account. It’s not easy, because some platforms make it extra hard to find and set your privacy settings, but if you can invest the time and effort, you can make your social media accounts private and only have an official business page. Luckily for us, there are plenty of step-by-step tutorials online that explain how to set up your private account online, and then it is up to you to decide who has access to it or not. Admittedly, that does not stop your friends from tagging you in photos or reposting something you said, but if you are concerned with how the people close to you are sharing things you say in your private Internet space, it might be worth having a conversation with them about what you want to achieve from having an online presence.
Example: “Yes, Aunt Margaret, I understand how you may think my knitting techniques might be controversial, but I would much rather we discussed this over the phone, instead of the comments section in a public Facebook post you made to criticise me. I love to be able to talk to you while you’re all the way up in Singapore/Cape Town/Sydney, and I value our relationship, but I am a public figure as well as your niece and I don’t want to hash out private disagreements in front of my colleagues/clients/potential project partners and employers. Thank you.”
Privacy doesn’t have to mean the death of your creative career. There are plenty of authors and creators who aren’t readily available on social media. Shannon Hale, for example, famously wrote why she wasn’t available years ago, and this remains one of my favorite blog posts of all time. You should not spread yourself thin if it’s not something you can sustain - there are many people who have creative careers without being public figures.
And you can still Skype with Aunt Margaret.
Some forms of online creative business do require a social media presence. I have recently started an account on Red Bubble, an online platform that allows me to sell prints and other merch without my having to front the manufacturing costs. How many sales have I made? One - from my best friend in Chicago. I’ve since been upping my game a little, adding a blog, Facebook page and an Instagram account, as well as reviving my Twitter. Maybe it won’t make an ounce of difference, but it certainly can’t make it any worse–and there is no other way for me to publicise my work right now.
I think of all the creatives whose social media accounts are just as important to their fans as their physical work - the vlogbrothers, Maureen Johnson, Amanda Palmer, Jennifer Weiner, Laura Jane Williams, Emma Gannon. I think of all the people I have discovered by following so-and-so on Twitter or Instagram or YouTube. I think of all the things that I learned when I was still living in Bulgaria and had to rely on my father to bring me untranslated books from England, because that was the only legal way for me to find out what the hype was about. I think of how, reading Marissa Meyer (she was still on livejournal then) and Shannon Hale’s blogs, I actually learned about the real publishing process and the reality of authors’ wages is, and how that helped me make a sober decision about my studies.
Social media can be a curse, but I would not wish it away for anything in the world. You may prefer to thread the surface, or dive right in, or, like me, to dip your toes in and out depending on what you need at a given time. But let’s think about it practically. Let’s use it as the tool it is, rather than magic beans–and do proper passwords and two-step authentication.
Katya Bozukova, a writer and a visual artist, is a PhD candidate, doing a project on social media technologies and the family. You can follow her and her work on Wordpress, Facebook, Instagram, Red Bubble and Tumblr.