Over a year and half ago, I learned about The Potter’s Cast from my sister Jo-Ann Blondin who read about it on an Instagram post. This may sound overly dramatic but it has changed my life. The podcast showcases interviews of ceramic artist all over the world at different stages of their career and offers insights into the business of pottery. The host and interviewer, Paul Blais has a wonderful demeanour and puts his guest at ease right from the get go. At the beginning, I had over 280 back issues to listen to, as well as the in-coming twice weekly episodes to keep me learning and growing. I listened to at least 2 episodes a day while driving to and from work and while working in the studio. Through it, I have been soaking up everything I can about the business and marketing of pottery. I have been their biggest cheerleader, espousing the benefits of listening to this podcast to all my friends - ceramic and otherwise. I have finally caught up to present time and now look forward to meeting new artists every week.
The message that came in loud and clear was that I needed to start showing my work on Instagram. Instagram is a photo and video-sharing social networking service. It allows you to engage with like-minded people. In fact, you are encouraged to engage with people whether by commenting on someone's work or in your own posts by posing questions. To make good on my list of goals for growth, I set up my Instagram handle (https://instagram.com/jacquieblondin). I typed in my bio which is the first thing people will read if they go to your page. It is like a mini-artist statement with basic facts about who you are, what you do and why you do it. You may also notice my black and white circular logo seen in the upper left of the photo below. If you join this network you will need to select one of your own photos for the circle. Some people use a selfie, while others use photos of their pets or kids. Because my aim is business, I decided to keep it formal.
The icons are numerous in social media but you will learn them quickly. The image above shows where they are located on your screen.
The icons in the row above the photo feed refers to how you see your feed: 9 blue dots refer to photos displayed in the grid, the three dots with lines refer to photos viewed larger and in single vertical file, the person in the vertical pointy arrow refers to your posts that you have been tagged in from other users, and the bookmark allows you to save posts and view any you have already saved.
The icons in the bottom row are as follows: the feed of people you follow, search feature, add a post, likes from others about your feed, and your own page. The algorithm is set to gather likes so they build up a bit so that when you see them they come in like a whole lot of hugs. But single likes are nice too. At times you'll feel like an excited Sally Fields, "You like me, you really like me"! The dopamine rush is pleasurable, I will not lie, just don't live for it. The circle headed person is the link back to your personal feed.
These are the icons you will see when exploring other people's photos. You can like them by touching the heart or by double tapping the screen. By tapping the voice bubble you can comment on a post by using text or emojis. If you want an expressive comment use !!! and be judicious using ALL CAPS which can sound like screaming or high pitched like Owen Meany. You can use the paper airplane to send the photo to an Instagram friend with a quick message like, "Thinking of you"! And again you can bookmark or save any posts you like, just be aware that all the saving you do does take up space on your device.
Curating The Grid
I spent a bit of time at the beginning curating the images and pattern that I was going to display in the "grid". The grid refers to the way the photo stream is arranged on most phone screens. Typically it's 3 squares across and 4 to 5 down, depending on your phone size. I looked over my photos and selected the ones I felt best represented my work and cropped some to get the most effective presentation for a square. The grid displays in a square but you can also use oblong frames which will show up that way as people scroll through the posts. I decided right away to not use filters in order to keep the work as close to reality as possible.
That was a new word for me back then, but now I understand their function and ultimately their purpose. When you post on Instagram you should also use hashtags which to anyone over a certain age would recognize as the number sign or # above the 3 on the computer key pad. This feature, like so many smart keys allows for information to be organized and searched easily within social media platforms. In a way, they are like tabs on file folders that let you group related concepts for your posts into many different files that you don't have to physically organize. As time has gone on, I have also learned that they are like meta tags that contains information to improve SEO (Search Engine Optimizations) to help users requesting related information. The hashtags are also helpful for the person who creates them, as you can set up your own special hashtags to file obscure things like #jmbat50 (which would be "me at 50" if I had a series of party photos that I wanted to find at the touch of a few keys). FYI it doesn't exist. Just saying you can do that. If you want.
If you only use 1-3 hashtags you can keep them in the body of your caption but if you use more, don't clutter up your aesthetics by listing them in your post. Be sure to post larger amounts of tags in a comment after you post the image and caption. You are only permitted to list 30 hashtags. That may seem like a lot but you may find that you over-list and then cannot post and will have to remove a few to repost. At first I was panicky about how I would come up with an amazing list of hashtags for my work, but I soon found that by observing other people's hashtags, I was able to tailor a list specific for my work. But do you have to think of new ones every single time you post? Not a chance, the easiest way to use them is to save a list of 20 - 25 hashtags in "Notes" or another easily accessible app. Copy and paste them whenever you post. You'll be able to be spontaneous with the remaining 5 -10 hashtags.
For the most part, I use my iPhone camera and a few handy apps such as Later and Layout to keep me organized. Later is an app that allows you to pre-plan your feed weeks in advance and it sends you notifications to post at the time you previously set. The free version of the app gives you 30 uploads a month with single photo posts in which you can type your captions and copy and paste into Instagram. If you sign into your Later account on a computer you can plan out the grid with a drag and drop feature, just be sure to save your work. Later also provides great data on when to post in order to get maximum exposure based on the time that most people look at their phones. I am sure that if you already use a smart phone with social media you will know that you are checking it between 11am-1pm and during the evenings from 7-9 pm.
Layout is another free app I use to set up interesting photo collages or marketing photographs. It allows you to select the number of photos you want for a collage within a variety of scalable symmetrical and asymmetrical arrangements while also permitting options for cropping and filters.
I have been posting almost daily since February 2017. I am not too caught up in curating the grid anymore, although I do pay attention to the lifestyle photos I post between pots. Every once in a while I join the bandwagon and post like those-in-the-know. This was a way to do it in December 2017 as a way to mark the best nine of the year https://2017/bestnine.com.
I see Instagram as a kind of sketchbook that shows my process in three dimensions. This summer, I plan to figure out how to maximize my efforts and utilize Instagram to market my work. My plan up to now, has been to connect with people who like ceramics in all its possible forms and to build trust and brand awareness.
Taking good quality, consistent photographs is essential. Check out @floriangadsby for great compositions and amazing use of depth of field. As a bonus he is also a wonderful writer. Some artists maintain brand consistency with backdrops that help to create a sense of lifestyle in their still photos: @elizaethbceramics uses a weathered wooden swing and @sarahpikepottery uses an antique wooden box as a prop.
If a photo is worth a thousand words, how many words is a video? Videos shot on your phone using a small tripod or a Boomerang (an app that creates short looped videos) both increase the audience's interest. You can post with sound on or off. It's important to note that people are more likely to watch your video than view your photo.
Developing a rapport with your audience is part of the challenge and charm of Instagram, check out @tortus and @mollysanyourceramics for great examples of how to develop quality engagement. Both post their work, show how-to videos and pepper themselves in their feed in a very likeable and approachable way. Ultimately, they are using Instagram to promote their businesses but you are so entertained your barely notice.
There are even more features in Instagram like 15 second Stories, Instagram Live Video and a ten minute video channel IGTV. Instagram "Stories" allow you to post a small series of photos that glide like a slide show with optional text and emojis and even animated clip overlays. These are different than your feed as they disappear after 24 hours. The Live feed is an algorithmically-curated page of the "best" videos currently airing. I have no clue about IGTV yet. Like with all Social Media, one can never be on top of it all. Once I figure out how to use these new addition I will write another post sharing what I've learnt in order to help you.
So much about ceramics excites me and I am interested in exploring so many directions I feel that I sometimes lose sight of my goal. My intent is to build my ceramic business and develop a cohesive brand of functional and decorative housewares to elevate interior designs while also creating large scale statement sculptures for corporate environments. I intend to explore all the resources I can, to get as much of this figured out in the next two years and I will share my lessons with you in my Blog Guild n' Goals, so stay tuned.