First of all, I need to explain how I got to this point. Last year I decided to leave my graphic design career behind and focus solely on Illustration. To reach that I started practicing every day and showed my work on Instagram. The more my following grew the more I also wanted to interact with them and of course, have more following.
I bought courses that would explain how to get More engagement, turn my followers into fans, and raise my overall appearance in front of my crowd. I learned that having a constant stream of stories is the right way to go so I showed myself and my life every day all while engaging with my fans and posting new work. I learned to use the interaction button, do polls, and build storylines. I learned how to tag the right way, use the right hashtags, and write captions that inspire. I estimate today that I spent at least 1 - 2 hours a day on marketing myself on Instagram and that does not include the browsing yet and checking out what others do.
I had about 7000 followers which were constantly growing and I started to also finally see some turnaround with sales on my website. I was at the top of my game!
Then something happened.
From one day to another I was not able to log into my account. I was hacked and the hacker threw me out of the account, charged by PayPal for ads, and then Facebook noticed my account and threw me out. If it was because of the hacker or because I had illustrated nipples in my art I will never know. -> You can read more about this here.
I suddenly was out of the game. Months of work to grow my account, all those contacts, all my strategies suddenly worthless. I was shocked and did not understand the whole impact yet.
But there was also another feeling I recognized: Relief.
I was on a forced break and as much as I was devastated by the loss of my one and only marketing tool I was also so relieved that I did not have to continue doing my one-hour Insta routine any more.
So there it was. That emotion. I tried to ignore it hard! After a week I opened a new Insta account. Added some work, tried to force me to dive into my routine again, and failed miserably. My whole body told me no. I resisted hard. I love being in front of the camera. Sharing my art and my stories with my die-hard fans but I was also resisting the routine and tools I had to implement to make sure their attention stays with me. Fighting the never all-mighty algorithm to stay ahead in their feed.
So I took a deep breath and looked my resistance hardcore in the eye and asked it:
Why wouldn’t you want to restart your feed on Instagram?
My Resistance answered:
1) Instagram failed you and I don’t trust it anymore.
If they did it once, they will do it again. And you are not the only account they delete or censored. More and more critical voices are censored and their accounts repeatedly disabled. Those are mostly images that showcase people and scenes that do not conform to what society sees as normal and are reported for it. [Your Post Has Been Deleted – Censorship on Instagram | Vogue Italia] Do you really want to play a role in the growth of a company that purposefully silences voices from your own community and communities you support? [Artists take stand against social media censorship | The Art Newspaper]
2) How is your mental health doing?
The daily task of coming up with compelling content that your audience want’s to see influences your daily mood. You are constantly thinking about the next post and the next story. What will drive the most traffic to your feed and to your new post is influencing your mental health. And it is not only that. You can’t stop yourself from visiting feeds of artists that are further ahead than you. From people that are where you would like to be. You scroll through the feed which leads you regularly feeling empty and disheartened. Why create if there are so many people who are better than you? [Social Media and Mental Health: Time for a Digital Detox? | Psychology Today] BTW his is not at all accidental! Most Social Media Platforms are designed in a way that will keep you hooked. It will create a cocaine-like hit every time that you visit their services. Making it harder and harder to even have a "healthy" relationship to their services. Do you really want to support this beast, as long as they use these manipulating techniques? [Social media copies gambling methods ‚to create psychological cravings‘ | Technology | The Guardian]
Which leads me to the next problem:
3) Your creative work is suffering because of three reasons.
Admit it! Sometimes you create art only for the feed. The art's purpose on Insta is to drive your audience to like that image. And therefore be seen and shared. So you create things consciously and unconsciously that you think people would like to see. This is not necessarily a choice. Your brain wants that dopamine hit so you will create what it tells you to get that. You are tuning into a content creator that creates daily Insta art instead of staying true to your work. Taking time for your pieces and share it with the world when they are ready.
You’ll automatically copy what you see. When your biggest input is Instagram or other social platforms (and it automatically is when you look at it for more than an hour a day) you will create art that is influenced by what you see on those platforms. It is really hard to avoid this when you are constantly bombarded by the fleeting images you see. This Is proven by the simple fact that more and more photos and also Illustrations look very similar. Yes, there was always the phenomenon of new artists copying established once to learn, but never before in history did we have so much bombardment of art that we can see every day. [everything on Instagram is starting to look the same: Insta repeat proves it] I believe that it fundamentally changes your work and automatically makes you one of many, instead of allowing your work to be truly unique.
You have limited time for your art The time you spend on social media could be divided differently and more effectively. You could spend it to create more meaningful work and practice your skill or you could work on other marketing tools that might be more effective.
4) Does your work truly belong to you?
So not only do you give Instagram a right to store your browsing history and store your data but it can also use your work whenever it pleases for any reason they like: [Do You Own The Content You Post To Instagram? Should You Watermark It? | by Mark Dalton | Mark Dalton | Medium]
But it isn't only Instagram itself. The biggest issue you faced when you were posting regular, were companies that used your work and reposted it to advertise their own products. Sometimes they asked, sometimes they didn’t. You loved it when private people communities or online galleries share your work, but at the moment they make a profit from your work they have to pay you. At least in theory, in reality, nobody ever does.
Which brings me to the next point:
5) Is your work valued?
For years now artists and creators made content that is freely available for anyone. Just think about the many illustrations you solely created for the purpose of posting it on Instagram. Most of the time these illustrations created a lot of likes and share but did not sell one single poster on your website. Why? Because why pay for it if you can get it for free? Of course, there are a few people who manage to live from their art. But from my perspective you need to have a loooot of followers to make that happen, if you ever reach that peak which is getting harder and harder every day. In the meantime, you create more free content that is not valued for its time and energy that you put into it. It’s simply a brief moment in somebody's feed that is maybe, just maybe appreciated with a like and even more rarely with a follow. Does that make your art valued? [Freeconomics — Why free content is bad | by Øyvind Hellenes | Mission One | Medium]
6) Facebook uses your data to pay itself but who pays you?
With the daily browsing, you give away all you data to a company that sells it to 3rd parties like companies, stores, small businesses, and basically everyone who makes an add on their platform. They are making money off you but who pays you? Definitely not the platform! So either you work with a company that sponsors your posts, selling their product to their fans or it is the fan that turns into a customer if they decide to buy something from you that you created, right? And at what cost? Your fan, follower, and customer need to put themselves in the same hamster wheel that you are in, seeing advertisements for things they don’t need and compare themselves to others and occasionally feel inspired if the algorithms allow them to be. Is that really the most sustainable way to connect to your fans?
So that’s the moment where I jump in and tell my resistance :
But what about all the possibilities and opportunities for creators to connect and make an income?
The resistance answers:
Of course, there is an amazing world of people on these platforms that you can connect with and share your thoughts. It helped you so much to see body liberated women and a diverse queer community be ok with your own body and sexuality. It was amazing to be inspired by other artists and connect with them through these platforms.
Social Media in itself is not evil!
But the tool and algorithms it uses nowadays to make money have such a negative impact that I ask you if it is worth it! If it is worth the attention and the pressure on your mental health and one of your fans? If it is worth your creativity and freedom of expression?
When social media started it was a perfect gateway to feature yourself as an artist and to get recognized and shared but ultimately nowadays it grew to be a fraud. It is only designed to truly make an impact for the social media company itself everything else is only a convenient byproduct. But for most creatives, this system does not work anymore and it makes you even more lonely, burned out, and poor than you might be without it. I don’t say let’s all leave it. But I believe we need to change the assumption that good content can be free and start charging for what it is worth. That is a true connection and an exchange that will lead to higher quality art and content for the people who are brave enough to take that step. [The Creative System Is Broken — Together Let’s Put Creativity over Everything | Patreon Blog]
So the resistance asks:
What will you do?
And I have decided. I am not going to ignore you this time and I will listen. Currently, the negative impacts outweigh all the positive ones. As much as I love each individual person I met on Instagram, I believe there are others ways in which I can stay in touch with them and they with me, the classical Social Media machine can’t be the only way for an artist and I want to find out which other ways there are.
Starting by quitting Social Media for 3 months.
This is an experiment in which I will try to find other ways of connecting and making an income that does not include social media in its classical form so Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, Snapchat, and Twitter. I will be talking about my experience, how I will be doing it, and what steps I am taking on this blog and on the new social platform that I believe, after putting a lot of research into is it, is the only platform that treats fans and creators equally and allows an algorithm free experience called Patreon.
But Patreon comes with a cost. Because you pay the creator to create and the creator gives a bit of the earning to the platform so it can stay ad-free, data safe, and algorithm free. Because if we want to create fair social networks there is just one way: paying for it yourself, and therefore choosing what you see and when you see it like a movie, a newspaper, a magazine, or an art piece.
I will talk about Patreon and why I believe it is more than a social platform in an upcoming article.
In the next Blogpost, I will talk about the situation I am starting with and the very first steps I am taking to prepare myself for the jump of Instagram
If you are interested in more behind the scenes content by Andrea Forgacs visit her Patreon page where she talks about her creative business in a weekly podcast available nowhere else on the internet.