Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Social networking for Creative People : Good? or Bad?

Thanks to Elizabeth Short (of Crowd 6, Birmingham Blitz Derby Dames and, at the inspired Tea Stained) here's a few questions I answered for her on social networking for creative people... I'm also wondering if MySpace will threaten me, so it's a bit of an experiment... ;)

1. Please tell me a little about yourself. What you do (artistic practice or/and job) and where you do it.

I like to think of myself as an artist, although I spend most of my time helping others as a freelance multimedia specialist and teacher. Officially I’m a sole trader trading as Psicon Lab (www.PsiconLab.co.uk) and have been since 2004, although I’ve worked freelance since 2001 and been active in the midlands arts and music scene since 1998.

Commercially I supply services in art and design, multimedia and web, software and interactivity, education and events; usually for the arts, music industry, education and business. As an artist I work in a range of media (mostly digital) with a preference for live performance and draw a lot. I used to VJ (mix video clips live at clubs/events) and would love to be more involved in audio-visual performance.

2. Do you use social networking sites? If so which ones and why? (if not why?)

Recently I use them a lot. I have accounts on many, but mainly use Facebook. MySpace sends me into an intolerable rage at the log-in screen, as I dodge adverts, and it is a disaster of design and user-friendliness. It fails miserably to do the most basic task efficiently. Furthermore I am convinced that they sweep the Internet for any bad press said about them and try to destroy it – there MUST be a million complaints – but can you find any online?? I’ve looked for answers to a selection of problems and found nothing but cheery chit-chat. It is good for discovering great music though and contacting bands, labels and organisers. Given the choice I would remove myself from MySpace altogether if it wasn’t so popular and useful for music – it is THE worst website I have ever had to use, and I wish I never had to use it ever again.

Facebook on the other hand I have found to be an invaluable tool and have recently bought advertising on (ironically!) which is actually looking to pay off quickly – mainly due to a good system of targeted adverts and non-invasive display. What really sets Facebook apart though is the way you can manage the content – It has a selection of filters/lists/hiding options and privacy settings that you can use to set who sees what, and what I want to read, and when – essential tools which are vital for avoiding information overload, which MySpace lacks: contributing to the failing and pointless spam-fest it has become.

3. Do you use them for personal or as a creative practitioner for promotional use? (if not why?)

I use the sites to contact with friends and family and keep in touch with what’s going on – almost as an email replacement these days. I also have my bands on there, and groups and pages for my business. It is great for keeping in contact with people in an easy and social, and more personal way. People can also subscribe to RSS news feeds and keep up with what I’m doing/what my business is offering. I can also embed parts of it into other sites and people can help promote you with cute little tools like ‘liking’ it, tagging it, sharing it and other open communications.

I used to use Facebook exclusively for close friends and deny anyone else, but it’s become so widespread I see no point in fighting it. I also trust it to deal with changes and introduce new tools to deal with them – again as MySpace failed to do.

I do feel it is very important to treat yourself and your business as separate things though – this is a traditional business model which is actually challenged by modern thinking that ‘personal’ business blogs and networking are great for business – which they can be. The key thing I feel is choice – you may just want to buy a sandwich from the shop and not speak to the woman behind the counter, or you may want to chat and eventually become friends, but business and personal life should be 2 distinct roles, even if they do over-lap and cross-filter. Some people care about you being a person, and others just want a job done. Some people want to know what Beyonce had for breakfast, others just want to hear the song. But either way I feel creative people should communicate with each other and find new audiences, and this type of networking encourages relevant people to discover you.

4. How do you feel that they help promote you as a creative practitioner? (If at all).

They make you accessible in terms of seeing what you do, but also in terms of being to communicate with you directly – it used to be the case that people used managers and agents as middle men, now you don’t need to. Also everyone is into it and online networking sites are like an interactive directory - and you’ve got a better chance of getting business in and meeting people if your on there. Another gripe with MySpace here – the search was always completely useless – imagine if you got the Yellow Pages and it didn’t actually tell you page the plumbers were on, so you just had to stumble through it trying to find one..!

5. How do you feel about social networking sites and the use of them to promote creative practitioners?

I think MySpace did wonders for musicians and has been the source of many of my contacts on there in the industry. My music videos get plenty of play on YouTube too and have had viewers reaching into the hundred thousands, which would never have happened without major TV coverage any other way. I think artists should definitely be using them – everyone else is, why exclude yourself? I do feel that artists are cautious though – because they care about how their work is displayed and to who – but Facebook’s privacy settings actually give you control over this – person by person – you can even preview your own profile from someone else’s view just to check what’s being seen. Comments and criticisms are much more likely to be problematic but can open up debate which surely is what it’s all about anyway? Again, I think control is needed – my YouTube videos get occasional idiots leaving non-sensical or stupid comments – I delete them.

6. Do you feel that online social networking sites have community focus?

Yes, of course! That’s what it’s all about.

7. Do you think that online social networking sites will replace the use of flyers for events?

No. Online is one thing and real world another. But, I do think that ‘perishable media’ (ie, stuff that’s only needed or relevant to a specific time, or that goes out of date quickly) is better suited to the web. Better for the environment too! Flyers – as little card leaflets - may die out I suppose, but there will be some other offline promotional stuff instead.

8. As you are based in the West Midlands how do you feel that artist-led groups within the Midlands promote themselves to those within and outside the region?

Not sure quite what your getting at here, but I hope they are keeping up with things and doing everything that they can to make themselves known and progress – in fact, with networking sites they should be actively seeking to bring-in people from outside the region – it’s just too easy to reach the right people now. One of the best things about networking online is that I get fed a massive amount of events that I’m interested in attending – I’m almost spoilt for choice, I even have them fed straight into my online calendar, so am never out of touch.

Again Facebook, blogs and RSS feeds keeps me in touch. It’s actually been very valuable - as I’ve missed shows before - they just forgot to tell me about it, or I never saw a flyer or listing, if I'd have known I would have turned up.

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