A few weeks ago, Amanda Barr shared a sneak peek of “The Social (Media) Experiment”.   Today, we are treated to a more insight into the topics that will be covered in this much-anticipated panel.  Enjoy a glimpse of what’s to come with this transcript of a conversation between Justin Rothshank & Craig Hartenberger (reposted here, with permission, from Craig’s blog).  Let us hear YOUR thoughts on social media here in the comments!

 Utilizing social media allows an unprecedented level of exposure and connection for today’s ceramic artist, however, with this access many questions are raised. How can social media become overreaching? What does successful use of social media actually look like? What do we gain from using social media? These are questions which I believe all people – especially ceramic artists – should ask themselves as they construct their own social media experiences. The level of involvement, the type of sharing, and the purpose and continuity of output varies widely between users, but these decisions define our experience with social media.
Since dealing with the passing of my father in 2013, I have largely chosen to exclude myself from social media, though I keep a blog to promote my ceramic work. I recently discussed the use of social media with a friend of mine, studio potter Justin Rothshank, (who is an avid user of social media) and we shared our thoughts on our differing relationships with social media. What follows is an excerpt of our conversation. Justin’s answers, marked by JR, come first, followed by my own which are marked CH. I hope that our exchange can be part of an evolving discussion on how today’s ceramic artist can fully utilize social media, while maintaining necessary personal space.

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What is a basic overview of your social media presence?

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JR    I set up my business Facebook page in 2009 and this continues to be the collection point for much of my social media presence. However, as a person motivated by images, colors, and easy technology, Instagram is the social media platform I spend the most effort on. Though perhaps not quite considered a social media outlet, I use Etsy every day. I find it operates in a similar way to other social media platforms and boosts my online presence significantly; Etsy links to my social media pages and allows an easy transition for sales of my work. I try to curate my social media presence in a way that lets others see my process, my mistakes, my studio practice, and some of my personal story. This makes them more knowledgeable about the products I am selling and the techniques I am using.
CH    I have a very limited social media presence and have consciously chosen to keep it that way. In 2013, my father passed away, and throughout the course of his illness I felt any use of social media – either professional or personal- to be far too close and far too invasive. Putting some space between myself and social media has been a priority in the last year. That being said, I am aware of the benefits of using social media to expand the audience for my ceramic work and I wanted to find a way to connect with people online, however, I knew that I had to find an outlet which kept in mind my desire to turn down the noise. The outlet which seemed to fit best was a blog. This balance between privacy and exposure is one which I routinely re-evaluate. Maybe in the future I will expand my use of social media, but for now, this feels right.

How much time do you spend maintaining your social media presence?

JR    It is integrated into my daily routine, however, if I find I am spending more than a few minutes at a time on a post, I often move on to other things. I try to be deliberate about my social media output; when I make a post, I pay close attention to what the content is, and how many times I am posting per day. I look at the statistics of a given platform to try and learn what type of posts people respond to so that I can continue to have an impact with the information I am putting out.

CH    Obviously, by choosing to limit my use of social media, I have also drastically reduced the amount of time I spend maintaining an online presence. I want my blog posts to show finished and in process work, but I do not feel the need to share much of my personal life. There are times when I will post every few weeks, and periods when I will only post every few months. One thing I have noticed is that a blog requires much more dedicated attention than Facebook or Instagram; I must edit and prepare images in Photoshop, work with layout, embed links, and prepare a text to accompany images. While I post less often, the posts are more time consuming than simply attaching a photo and adding a few tags.

What benefits have you seen in your career that are a result of your social media usage?

JR    One of the biggest benefits of social media is the broad impact on information sharing; I can use social media to discover what others are doing. I learn about kilns, glazes, the development of new forms or clay bodies, and countless other things happening in our field. Social media makes accessible to me today, for free, what would have cost me countless dollars and hours ten years ago. Another benefit is the opportunity to make myself known to a wider audience; it gives me my own platform to tell my own stories. Social media is free to use, has a world-wide network, and is instantaneous. There has never been an easier way to show your work to the world and gain feedback.

CH    I have benefited from the ability to maintain an archive of finished work as well as to spread news about exhibitions, publications, or any other relevant information. It continues to be important to have a place which I can refer people to who are interested in my work. Obviously there is much less of a social component than if I were using Facebook or any other social media platform, and there is less of an ability to follow what others are doing. In this way I do see the limitations of how I have chosen to maintain an online presence, but at least for now, the exclusion of social media from my life still feels correct.

What similarities and differences do you see between face-to-face and social media interactions?

JR    As a whole, I think both types of interactions are successful for many of the same reasons: kindness, regular contact, honesty, willingness to learn and understand, and genuine feedback. I think the difference lies most notably in the loss of nuance. Comments can easily be misinterpreted when there is no personal connection or accompanying facial expression. Things such as “like” and “friends” mean different things to different people.

CH    In my view, there is a wide difference between these two types of interactions. I tend to view social media contact as shallow, though it is not always so; there can be genuine contact through social media but I believe the majority to be insubstantial. Social media allows for many weak connections which can feel stronger than they really are, though professional success can come from these weak connections. On a personal level, being involved in someone’s life and being their “friend” are far different things. There is still much to be said for a face-to-face conversation, a hand-written letter, or a phone call in this time of omnipresent digital connection. I feel that these deeper forms of communication are often unfairly leveled with a “like” or a “share”. I have been surprised to see people who I believed were close friends fall out of contact once I removed myself from social media.

How do you draw the line between personal and professional use of social media? Do you ever feel that social media becomes too invasive into your personal life or consumes too much of your time?

JR    I use social media to promote my work as a clay artist; I rarely make posts on my personal Facebook page, and I try to keep Instagram full of images related to studio work. With rare exception, I do not post social, political, or religious topics. I do post occasional images of my family but I try to keep these to a minimum; I do not want photos of my family released without due consideration of content and purpose, but also because I want my feed to stay focused on clay and studio work. I do not feel that social media invades my personal life, however, I do feel that media usage as a whole can be invasive. We all have a myriad of opportunities to be continually connected – I am sure that I have used my phone when I should have been concentrating on something else. Perhaps social media is the culprit for this, or perhaps it is an expression of my own interest (addiction!) in staying connected. I think boundaries for usage can be helpful and at times even necessary. Certainly there are privacy issues with social media that I am aware of, just as with other online services which I use.

CH    Social media is inherently personal and becomes even more so in our profession. The line between personal and professional often lacks clear definition; our colleagues are friends, and our friends, colleagues. I feel it is possible, though difficult, to use social media in a totally professional context – the line can become very blurry and for me was often nonexistent. Maybe this lack of separation between personal and professional was one of the problems that I had with using social media; I stepped away precisely because I felt it was too invasive into my personal life. Dealing with my father’s illness took an understandably large toll on me, and social media became something that was too loud, too constant, and too close. Additionally, with so many connected devices I felt the strain from being constantly connected – I was spending too much time on something that I did not feel was adding quality to my life.

Some would say that social media is merely another passing fad, do you feel that social media has staying power?

JR    Even though no one predicted the success or even the existence of social media twenty years ago, I do feel that it has staying power. Social media platforms are recording history by the second, in both good and bad ways, but knowing our history is important and social media will always play a role in that, though surely it will continue to evolve and change. The staying power of digital technology is already being proven as society continues to use social media as a source of first person accounts.

CH    Social media use is ubiquitous and will likely continue to be. However, I do feel there is a saturation point – this is obviously different for each person and some may never reach a time when they decide they have had enough. We are a people very driven by the use of image and social media is very adept at addressing this fascination, but it must continue to evolve with our tastes and needs. Social media is very good at connecting people and maintaining contact with a geographically and culturally diverse network and in this way it has been very successful. We will see what the future holds.

Craig Hartenberger
 is an American ceramic artist who is currently living and working in Mexico. Recently, Craig has chosen to limit his social media exposure though you can follow his work at www.craighartenbergerceramics.blogspot.com.

Justin Rothshank is a studio potter living with his wife, Brooke, and two sons in Goshen, Indiana. Justin has chosen to opt in on many social media outlets and you can find links to his social media accounts and information about his work at www.rothshank.com.

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