Managing your online identity…

I wanted to post some guidelines for students regarding managing an online identity for professional practice although I guess this would really apply to anyone who was looking at how they represent themselves on the web.

In a lot of respects I think that none of this is rocket science but with the recent proliferation of social media on the internet hopefully these pointers will be helpful when it comes to thinking about how and why we choose different platforms and approaches.

In someways the areas I’m going to look at have an art and design focus / leaning but tbh I don’t see why they wouldn’t apply to any discipline.

I’ll break this down into different sections.

Your own Website.

The explosion of social networks has meant that a lot of practitioners have found that they are able to do business very effectively through their social media sites. As well as the giants like Facebook there are numerous sites like Pinterest and Instagram that enable a user to define an identity online.

However I feel these are no substitute for a bespoke web presence. Although you may get more views on your networked sites you are constrained by the terms and conditions, you may have intellectual property and content ownership issues and you have to adhere to ‘umbrella’ styling and infrastructure of the site you have subscribed to. Additionally although you might get the foot fall many users will only be viewing your content on a feed making their interest very transient.

Creating a web site with your own domain name and your own site design gives you total control of your image and content. Its like inviting someone to your studio or your home rather than meeting them at a gig or down at the pub.

You are also not beholden to the popularity or currency of a network site. There are lessons to be learned from myspace.

Domain names and hosting are comparatively cheap.

Website design has also become far more accessible. There are lots of design tools available many offering e commerce options pre configured for you so all you need to do is add your content and products. Creative bloq have published a good list here.

And if you don’t think you have the design chutzpah to create your own pages there are no shortage of web designers competing for site design jobs at competitive prices.

The real benefit to investing time and/or money into a home for you practice on the internet is that you create a space that is uniquely your own. Somewhere you can showcase what it is that you do without constraint or compromise.  Somewhere that you can publish your content on your terms and manage your products and your archival/legacy material. Visitors can bookmark your page and if you offer mailing list subscriptions you can build a contact list of your customers and followers outside of the moderated/managed networks of the online giants.

In respect to this its worth thinking about how you then make your site more than a static instance. If you offer regular free/free to view updates, or discounts for people buying directly from you, promotions and member only content people are more likely to come back. You want to create a central hub for what it is you do so that when someone finds/is signposted to you in the vastness of the internet you have something there to get excited about and something that people will want to come back to.

In the next sections I’m going to look at approaches to getting people to visit your site but I wanted to start with the Website as the core concept here because that’s exactly what it is… the core. Its’ the hub of an online identity. Your presence elsewhere online should point back to it creating your own network within the worldwide web.

A different sort of social networking.

The ‘BIG’ sites.

So I mentioned FB, Pinterest, Instagram and their ilk in the introduction. But for the professional I feel these sites are in a lot of instances a waste of valuable time and resources. I’m not saying that they are redundant and if you do have accounts they can be a useful source of traffic but they suffer from a serious downside.

If you choose to push your business through, for example FB, then you have to be very careful about the persona you are presenting to the world. Everyone has heard stories of employers checking profile pages and feeds for ‘incriminating’ pictures of potential employee’s out on the town, which maybe represents one extreme end of this issue but for me what is more of a problem for the mainstream networker is the subtlety of the social network promoter’s dilemma.

What does your feed become? Are you diluting (and in some cases poisoning) your business message by mixing your personal content with your professional? Do you punt illustrations by day and party life by night? (Although this can work for some kinds of more hedonistic business model). Additionally do your ‘real’ friends want your work life plastered on the feeds that they are just interested in sharing their ‘social’ lives over? Its tempting to ‘soft launch’ a professional career in the comparatively congenial surrounds of friends and family but if you are going to succeed online then it is very unlikely that meaningful income, commissions and opportunities are likely to come from this group.

A better option maybe is to create bespoke ‘group’ pages where your business can exist alongside your own identity. Then people who want to follow you professionally can opt in to your ‘work’ feed.

But it still stands that the big ‘general/all interest’ sites are not places that have by default a focused audience.

The ‘Discrete/Specialist’ sites.

For my money a much better area to invest your networking efforts is the ‘specialised’ or ‘discrete’ networked media sites online. To come back to the analogy of the pub I used earlier. You are likely to get a lot more interest in your modular synth business if you spend your evening at a meet up for modular synth enthusiasts than if you go to a pool hall. Similarly if you search the web for (and you will find them for pretty much all disciplines*) a network of enthusiasts in your field online you’ll find a social media space which offers a much more targeted audience than the ‘web whales’ discussed above.

*BTW if you can’t find a specialised site for your discipline…. MASSIVE opportunity…. to set something up. A forum, a group on a larger site, a blog for enthusiasts in that field, whatever… but seriously those gaps in special interest (and there are not many left online) are like digital liquid gold….

In practical terms quite simply you need far less views/foot fall in a specialised arena to generate the same number of links/click throughs. You might get a thousand transitory ‘likes’ on a piece of jewellery you post on Pinterest, but like as not zero sales (and maybe a few viewers who go on to plagiarise your work/idea.*) On the flip side on a bespoke jewellers network almost every view comes with an increased possibility of a meaningful ‘web transaction’.

*On that note a little pointer – Watermark your uploads – Get credit where its due and also stop people reposting your work without crediting you.

The more specialised social networks also offer a window onto the wider communities of practice on as well as offline that although groups on FB and it’s ilk also offer, very often you will find the threads and events publicised and planned off the mainstream grid on the micro networks of the real enthusiasts.

They also offer more specialised tool sets for their discipline so for example www.behance.net or dribbble.com both have great portfolio display options that FB just doesn’t offer.

Another thing with sites like these is that they become the ‘go to’ places for people looking to commission or employ specialists for business’ and projects. Why would you surf FB to find a designer. You’d go to a design site.

And obviously you need to make sure you insert the links back to your home site… a line on the end of the bait and hook if you like!

So backing up to look at the bigger picture here again… these sorts of ‘social’ sites’ can form a useful (and profitable) part of your online identity. They can act as out posts for your practice. They can bring you business directly or draw people into your web but equally they can be quite ‘ here today and gone tomorrow’ so you don’t want to invest your entire business online in any one site.

Active participation in Communities of Practice.

A down side to the interwebs, and one that it is important to be aware of in terms of selling your work, is over crowding. The global market place the net has created is a magnificent thing but it also makes it hard for new comers and small enterprises to stand out in the crowd.

So how do you make yourself seen (or heard) in the mass?

I think one part of the answer is pretty simple… get involved. And by get involved I mean participate in the community surrounding your practice.

This could take many forms. I’ll single out a few I think are good return on investment in terms of time and effort:

  • Be active in forums. Ask questions. Answer questions. Read new posts, follow links, comment and even make jokes where appropriate. If opportunity presents itself (and you’ve been part of a forum community for a while) consider moderating for a bit.
    Forum activity pays double dividends. You get a better perspective on the game you are playing. Something that you might never have thought of might come right out of your monitor and smack you in the face. And also if you set your signature up right every time you post you get an advert/link to your web pages right there.
    Forums are also valuable because of their currency. I remember back when I was playing a lot of poker on and off line. There are a lot of good books on poker, however the real wisdom is on the forums. A book takes months or years (or a lifetime) to write and a long time to publish and distribute. And an inaccurate supposition can’t be edited. Forum users are able to respond to changes in the market as they happen. Comment and discuss in real time. Tuning into the right threads and poasters can be extremely worth your while.
  • Read blogs… and Comment! Again similar to forums but a bit less of a free for all. You learn and you get exposure… also it should set you up to….
  • Write you own blog. I think this is a great way to get your web presence out there. You can blog your personal journey of enquiry. You can blog ideas, reviews  and observations. You can blog your own work. You can blog other peoples work through features (creating a buzz about you by creating a buzz about them!) and maybe they’ll blog about you back or at least link your blog on their site creating… more traffic for you both.
  • Tutorials. Set yourself up as an expert. Or at least a ‘becoming an expert’. Share your techniques. Get your name out there as someone who is a sufficiently expert practitioner that you’ve decided to pass that on. Another double dividend. You get exposure but also along the way you refine and hone your craft. You’d be surprised at how much you learn by creating learning material. There’s a saying in education that if you are told about something you get about 20% of what’s to know. When you do it you get over the 50% level. But its only when you teach it to someone else that you get 80% + in terms of real understanding.
    One note here though. Don’t scrimp on creating tutorial content. Be concise. Use good recording equipment. Don’t um and er your way through. Script shit. Rerecord. Edit. Make it good. Seriously. A bad tutor only becomes an object of ridicule.
  • Take part in competitions and submission challenges. This is a great way to push your work. It gives you the chance to get your work featured if you do well (and sometimes even if you don’t… some challenges/ comps don’t get a lot of entries – even on a big site not many people have time to enter everything) and if you keep plugging you might win one.
    Plus it gives you a great reason to create work in a real world situation. Working to deadline is healthy. It stops procrastination.It gives you focus. You have to meet a brief. That incentive can easily get lost if you have an open end on everything you do.
    Deviant art has regular weekly and monthly challenges that are worth checking out. And they draw and they cook with it’s sister site they draw and they travel offer good opportunity for illustrators to submit artwork.
    Another benefit of taking part in these sorts of challenges is the opportunity they offer to build a portfolio through producing the work you need to take part. At the end of the day you can have the best online set up in the world but you need fresh and regular content to get the most out of it.

Your Work!

Lol – so this post has run a bit longer than I was expecting so I’m not going to type much more on this today.

But before I sign off I thought, given I’ve written so much about the vessel, I should probably write something in regards to the content you actually present.

Now I’m someone who maybe through lack of focus or maybe through boring easily have found I’ve worked across a number of styles and media types over my career. Which is fine (I hope) but maybe from the point of view of a viewer no the most ‘consistent’ experience. And thats really the key point I want to make here.

Consistency.

Presenting a body of work that makes sense.

Having a style.

I’m not telling you to be a one dimensional person. But I am saying that maybe while you get your online (and off line) identity established that you would do well to establish a style, visual, audible, literary, conceptual, whatever. People like to engage with stuff that makes sense to them. Stuff they can follow. You might be evolving your ideas and concept faster than you can keep pace, but if thats the case then no one else will be able to keep pace either. If you don’t present a ‘body’ of consistent work it is unlikely you will build a following and maintain it.

So I’ve worn my wrists out for  the day I think. Hopefully if you made it this far (and apologies for the TL>DR nature of this cliff) you found something helpful. I’d be interested to hear any comments on ways you might be managing and building your own online identity?

Until next time : Keep it Ed Tech!

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