Managing Metrics: Social Media & Validation
by Taylor Slattery | July 8, 2021
For creatives living in the age of the internet, social media feels like a necessary evil. On one hand, the ability to build an audience and connect with clients without needing to leave your room is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up. But on the other hand, unless you keep your expectations in check, it can be a detriment to both your creative practice and confidence.
Many people fall into the trap of letting their lifestyle or creative direction be directed by likes on Instagram. If you’ve set out with the goal of amassing followers and likes, then this is probably the best means of doing so. But if your reason for being on social media is to share your voice and your vision, then you need to be ever-vigilant against slipping into this bad habit.
If you’re using social media as a means of self-promotion, then first and foremost—treat it as a tool. Establish this dynamic and constantly check yourself in order to maintain it. If you give social media the power to control how you feel about your work, then the dynamic has shifted in favor of the platform. It’s no longer a tool. It’s become a vice.
Remember that as a tool, social media is only good for one thing—reaching people. Whether that means getting eyes on your products or connecting with clients, the goal should be to connect. Within this user-platform dynamic, most users themselves are the product, and advertisers, the customer. The longer they spend on platforms like Instagram or Facebook, the more ads they can be served, and the algorithm is designed to this end. If you’re using social media as a means of promoting your business, however, then you fall into the latter category. You’ve become an advertiser.
By using social media to sell products or promote yourself as a creator of some sort, you’ve signaled to the platform that the ability to reach your audience is of enough importance to you that you’re willing to pay. Obviously, it’s in the platform’s best interest to leverage this position and the best means of doing so is to limit your ability to reach your audience to encourage you to pay for promotion.
They may be followers whose sole purpose for coming to the platform was to follow you, but that doesn’t mean you have control of how you reach them. Withholding your audience is just one of the ways social media can distort your perception in regard to your work. You may see interactions with your content start to shrink and think your followers have lost interest, but the more likely scenario is that your work isn’t being shown to them.
Beyond just the case in which your reach is being suppressed to push you towards spending some money on advertising, there’s also the algorithm to contend with. The exact mechanisms of its inner workings are mysterious. So much so that the teams responsible for building them don’t even fully understand how they work.
All this just to say that while metrics and insights gained from social media can be of some value, they should be taken with a 10-pound grain of salt. Basing your decisions, whether in business or your creative practice, solely on information gleaned from social media is ill-advised, to say the least. Social media can only offer you a distorted, fun-house mirror view of things—certainly not the full picture.
At the end of the day, just remember that social media is a tool. Don’t let it dictate your feelings about your work and never rely on it as the sole means of contacting your audience. Build a mailing list and explore alternative means of reaching those who are interested in your work, like Substack.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.