Posted by: Liz Massey | April 26, 2009

Where do you go to find creative community online? Part I: The standard bearers

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Image courtesy SXC.

Everyone, it seems, is just too busy these days – between day jobs, family responsibilities and responding to the extremes of the current economic climate, it’s hard to carve out time to create. And if it’s becoming hard to do something as basic to being an artist as create, it’s becoming harder still to find time to commune with fellow artists and innovators.

Many creative folk have recognized the usefulness of social networking and social media to connect with customers, announce developments related to their work, and keep up with friends and family. The popularity of online social networks continues to rise, and with that swell of popularity and visibility have come a plethora of ways for artists to make likeminded friends, within their own neighborhood or from points scattered across the globe.

This post kicks off a three-part series, which is intended to be a sampler of the ways artists are connecting online, as well as creating communities of supporters and buyers around their own work.

(Disclosure: Some of the links below came to me originally via a terrific Lateral Action post, The Top 10 Social Networks for Creative People. I appreciate their legwork on this and highly recommend you read their entire post.)

The current standard bearers

OK, most people have heard about the mainstream, large-scale social networks MySpace and Facebook by now. And while many of us are using the networks to find old high school or college chums, check in on our sisters or nieces or nephews, or drop a line to former co-workers from across the country, it’s possible to connect with new creative cohorts in a meaningful way, as well.

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MySpace

While a lot of people are turned off by MySpace’s gacky page backgrounds and the extreme youth of its core audience, it’s also acknowledged that for some types of musicians, having a MySpace page is simply a part of doing business and building buzz. Here’s what the Lateral Action folks had to say on this one…

“For many creatives, joining MySpace will be a matter of taste, but the consensus is that if you’re a musician you don’t have a choice – you have to be on it. Andrew Dubber, a respected authority on web strategies for musicians, says his dislike of MySpace ‘borders on the pathological’, but his verdict is unequivocal:

“’I’m not a fan of MySpace. Hate it with a fiery passion, in fact. And yet, when I compiled a recent top 10 list of music-related sites that artists NEED to be on, this came out as number one. It’s not relevant because it’s good – it’s important because it’s so widespread.’”


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Facebook

Facebook is a lot of fun. I’ve become a dedicated user, not so much to promote my creative endeavors as to integrate them into the rest of my life.

People have tried to come up with cute metaphors for Facebook and how people are using it, but for me, it’s a friend/connection air-traffic-control system. I can keep my eye on many friends, networking contacts, co-workers or work “alumni,” family members, etc., digging deeper if I see something they’re doing or sharing that’s of special interest to me, or if I don’t see them post anything in a while. In addition to connecting with from my past and present, I’ve begun befriending a select number of blogroll pals, interviewees from this blog or Write Livelihood, and just plain cool people I want to follow.

Moving well beyond using simply using Facebook to connect, some artists are finding source material for their art in the status updates of their friends, which I think is fabulous! Mashable.com recently posted an amazing story about Stacey Williams-Ng, who paints portraits of her Facebook friends based on their status updates. A series of these paintings, “What are you doing right now: Status updates make the case for art,” will be on display at the Underwood Gallery in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, through mid-June.

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LinkedIn

The Lateral Action story notes that for many creatives, LinkedIn seems a little, um, buttoned-down for their tastes. And it’s true—LinkedIn is pretty business-focused. Originally there were no places to tag friends in the embarrassing “ancient history” photos you might post, find out who’s currently online and chat via instant message with them, or take “How OCD are you?” quizzes. But LinkedIn’s all-business approach has two main advantages for working artists:

  • Since you’re required to link each person you whom you send an invitation to join your network to a specific work context, you’re far more likely to know this person from “real” (offline) life and their connection to you is far more likely to be useful to you in terms of creating a beneficial mutual exchange, whether that’s of ideas, personal contacts, recommendations, etc.
  • The groups and question/answer features  available on LinkedIn are a way to exponentially expand your network and meet cyber-contacts who can eventually turn into offline work associates.

As an example of this, I’ve joined a number of groups relevant to my writing work and have both approached group members directly with questions or interview requests, and posted questions or requests directly to the question/answer sections of the groups to which I belong. I’ve been able to make several key connections for articles this way, and feel like I’m able to keep up a little better on some of the fields I’m covering in my writing.

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Twitter

I’ve written quite a bit about the usefulness of Twitter as a tool to improve one’s writing ability on my Write Livelihood blog (here and here). Microblogging services like Twitter, which force you to compress your thoughts to a mere 140 characters or less, can also be a great way to share and link ideas with people you find interesting, without making the time investment that blogging or spending time on other social networks seems to require.

When the Lateral Action folks put the question “So what use is Twitter for creative people?” to their followers, responses ranged from “access to part of the cutting edge … building up a circle of people you can be inspired by” to “a distraction to improve tangential thinking” to “I read it over breakfast instead of a newspaper.” (Perhaps newspapers should take note of this last one!)

Mark McGuinness, author of the post, had this to say about the results:

“As you can see, Twitter is not always a place for great profundities. It’s about bite-sized chitchat, throwaway remarks and sharing a few moments with friends in a crowd. In short, it’s a bit like life.”

Exactly.

In our next installment in this 3-part series, we take a look at art-centric social networks.

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Responses

  1. […] the most recent installment of this series, we examined how artists and innovators were using the mainstream social networking […]


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