A few months back I had a conversation with one of my Daughters who is also an Artist and has her own art account on Instagram. The conversation mainly revolved on how hard it is, even in today’s internet driven social media society, to get your work noticed by people. I’m going to show my age here but, things were never really easier back when I was beginning because we didn’t have the open wide web like we do today and social media sites like Twitter or Facebook weren’t even a thought on anyone’s minds. So when we did art, we shared it with those around us- our family and friends. That’s it.
In contrast, today we have the ability to share our work with the entire world. Well, with those who have internet access. So theoretically speaking, it should be easier to share our work with thousands if not, maybe even, millions of people right? Well, here’s the thing, it isn’t.
When I began with Twitter and YouTube and later Instagram, there was a drive in me to get my art and videos out as much as I could so that my follower counts (in YouTube terms-subscribers and views) would grow to astronomical proportions. I tried hard. Every day. Every night. I was a Man on a mission. My Twitter account slowly grew. From 10 to 50 to 100 to 1000+ followers. My Instagram account, which took a bit more time to grow, surpassed my Twitter account gaining me 5000+ followers. And YouTube? Man, I hit 8000+ subs. So theoretically speaking, I shouldn’t have a problem promoting my work right? I mean, come on, 1000+ Twitter followers + 5000+ Instagram followers + 8000+ additional YouTube subscribers and all I should have to do is post an image for a product or book I’m selling and bamo! Instant sales. Instant success. Instant views. Money in the bank.
Reality check. While I am grateful for those follow and subscriber counts… they really haven’t made anything easy. And that’s the point I’m trying to drive here. I was under the impression that with my follower growth would come success. And success hasn’t shown its mug. Here’s the thing that becomes an unhealthy addiction when it comes to social media and the need we have to gain followers. We start out with 10, then strive for 100. Once we reach 100, we move the goal post to 200, reaching 200 we now desire 500, reaching 501 we now desire 1000, and the vicious circle of desire continues. Want proof? Look at you tubers that have reached landmark subscriber counts. YouTube sends them a plaque to commemorate their success and you will always hear them say-without fail-lets try and reach the next goal post. I have yet to see anyone whose reached 10,000 or a million subs on YouTube say thank you, that’s more than I could ever dream of without following up with let’s go for the next 10,000 or 2 million or 3 million or whatever. To no fault of their own. It’s just an addictive thing. I know. Because I was caught up in this addictive game for a long time, to the point that when my follower and sub counts stayed on the same number for months on end, I got depressed.
Nothing I was doing, nothing I could do, nothing I did, would make the numbers grow. What happened? Did I reach a plateau? or maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough? Yes, that had to be it. I wasn’t working hard enough so I would work even harder. Churning out an image a day without fail. Cross promoting my work on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. And I made sure to jump on those new shiny social network sites that vainly promised to kill off Twitter or Facebook. Remember Google+? You don’t? Ok, that probably proves my point.
But seriously, no matter how much I tried, I could not make my follow counts grow (Although I need to be honest and say that, yes, my YouTube subs continue to grow even with little content). And there’s one more thing I noticed. This was the big one. The wake up and smell the coffee moment.
I looked at Instagram in particular when it comes to this one. Remember, I had 5000+ followers. Even at one point 6000. But here’s the thing I noticed, nothing I posted ever really reached beyond 300 likes… hmm…
Let’s look at the math. 5000 followers and each post barely broke 200 with some very rare occasional posts reaching 300 (very very very rare). Shouldn’t those numbers be a bit higher? I’m thinking, 5000+ followers and out of those 5000 followers I should, at least, be getting 2000 to 3000 likes per images. No? I mean, 5000+ people at one point tapped on the follow button because they like my work. Ok, ok, you’re right. Some of those could easily be spam bots or whatever they’re called nowadays. So let’s take those 5000+ and humbly lower it to… I don’t know… 3000? Ok, we can work with 3000 genuine human folk who at one point in their lives said, hey, I dig this guys work, let me follow him! 3000. Now, let’s say, out of those 3000, 1000 stop using Instagram because they move on or end up not liking the platform. So now, we’re left with 2000 followers still on the platform still following my work and I’m still barely getting 200 likes per images. Regardless how you spin it, the math is off. Something is off. Is it Instagrams screwy algorithms? Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it. But we can’t put the whole blame on it.
So what I’ve seen is that as a whole, we artists can’t put emphasis on follower or subscriber numbers. Those are just numbers. And I get it, we’re a numbers driven society. We need to see high numbers to feel any worth especially when it comes to our work. We need that validation. But to what extent? To the extent of saying that if I don’t have more than 200 likes on my work my work is trash? Because it seems that’s what a lot of artists are getting at. If they don’t have more than 1000 followers on Twitter or Instagram they are trash. Really? I grew up in a time where I only had 3 followers. My Mother, my Cousin and my best friend. They were the ONLY ones who saw my work. They were the only ones I could show my work to. There was no internet. There was no social media. There was no way to get your work in front of hundreds of people unless by luck and hard work you got picked up by a publisher. And even then your book and art had to be stellar in order to grab attention. It wasn’t easy then. It’s easier now but that doesn’t mean instant success. Especially when it comes to follower counts.
I encourage you to not focus on numbers. Be glad if you have them. But having over 1000 subscribers or followers doesn’t make you better or less. You are you. Your art is your own and it is for you to share on social media or on your website or blog. Drive people to it. Sell it. Promote it. Promote the hell out of it. But don’t ever, ever, let numbers dictate your worth. Because in the end, the ones who benefit from those numbers really isn’t us, it’s the machines and suits behind these platforms. So create. Regardless the numbers. Work hard to show your work. To better yourself as an artist and a human being. And for once, free yourself from the chains of addictions that is social media follower counts. Trust me, I did and I’m so happy for it.