Social media strategy

This has been written for DJCAD students on the Design Enterprise module. Updated March 2015.

Social media

So, what is social media? According to Wikipedia (itself a powerful social medium) “Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks… A group of Internet-based applications… that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.”

The key elements of this definition are these:

  • Interactions among people
  • virtual communities and networks
  • user-generated content

Whether we’re looking at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instragram or any of the other social media platforms, these are tool which enable interactions between people in virtual networks through the posting and exchange of user-generated content. And of course there are far more than these four tools, as this graphic shows. Another key issue about social media is that it is a very recent development. As this brief history of social media explains, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and most of the other platforms are less than a decade old. We are in the stone age of social media and still very much finding our way.

So, with this in mind we need to seek out advice of people who have made use of it successfully, be aware of developments in social media, and apply responsible creative enthusiasm to finding out how it can benefit us by trying it out.

In October 2013 I asked people on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn “what has social media ever done for you?” and “what are your top tips for students?” This elicited many responses, which I have drawn together in a summary listing below:

  • Social media helps you to make connections, know your craft and stay up to date
  • It can help you to get a job
  • Blog, then focus on one other platform and get good at it
  • Have a strategy
  • Think about how you present yourself to the workd
  • Keep Facebook for private stuff – and use privacy settings
  • Evaluate how effective it is
  • Work out what different platforms do
  • Understand social media – don’t just consume it
  • Have conversations – don’t just broadcast
  • Remember that nothing beats face-to-face
  • Keep it clean
  • Check your spelling
  • Remember you are branding yourself

Studio unbound

We should look at social media in the context of the ideas of Studio Unbound – an initiative launched by Lauren Currie and Sarah Drummond at Snook in Glasgow. More information is available here – and here! As they have argued:

In highlighting creative people all over the world using social networking to their advantage, Studio Unbound discuss the dynamic, conversational value of new communication technologies and illustrate how ideas of teaching and learning need to move away from the confines of the classroom or studio towards other, often ad-hoc and virtual venues.

Focusing on the ever growing possibilities and opportunities that the digital world presents, Studio Unbound demonstrate that during a time of mass communication change, design courses must change with it if they are to stay relevant.

First steps

To begin with take a look at how other creative professionals use social media.


Clicking on the image above will take you to DigiTech Creative: “If you are running your own creative business or planning to in the future, this is the place for you to explore a range of digital technologies and see how they can help your creative business. We have collected interesting stories from different creative startups, such as graphic designers, jewellery studios, product designers etc. who have shared their experiences on using digital tools to improve their business and networks.” DigiTech Creative goes beyond social media, but contains some very useful stories and tips that you should find helpful. It is put together by DJCAD, Dundee and Coventry University, and is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

One of the stories features is of DJCAD textiles alumnus Johanna Basford. Elsewhere she provides excellent advice in her incisive post 50 things I wish I’d known in art school. Tips 16 to 19 are:

  • Register your domain name asap. If you can, bag your name as your domain now. Get .com and or equivalent. If your name is already taken, try get something which still links into your practice, etc.
  • Same as above, for twitter. A username which ties in with your domain is preferable.
  • Get a decent email address. By decent, I mean professional looking, is great, is cool too. I once got an email from a student who’s email address was something along the lines of – not so great…
  • Facebook privacy settings: use them! We’ve all read the horror stories. Photo tagging has a lot to answer for. Don’t let an boozy happy snapper jeopardize your career.

To this I would add: remember Twitter is a broadcast medium NOT a messaging medium. Everything you post can be accessed by any other Twitter user. If you want to message friends use Facebook and you MUST check your privacy settings. The Guardian ran a recent piece aimed at students Could your Facebook page ruin your job prospects? I strongly suggest you read it.

The CV is such a 20th Century thing

Spending time on doing your CV? Well frankly, why bother? Michael Margolis is the Dean of Story University and host of the Reinvention Summit says this:

“If you’re a designer, entrepreneur, or creative – you probably haven’t been asked for your resume in a long time. Instead, people Google you – and quickly assess your talents based on your website, portfolio, and social media profiles. Do they resonate with what you’re sharing? Do they identify with your story? Are you even giving them a story to wrap their head around?”

The fundamental starting point for your online profile is the creation of a compelling and engaging bio. Marlolis argues that your bio should address the following five questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. How can I help you?
  3. How did I get here (i.e. know what I know)?
  4. Why can you trust me?
  5. What do we share in common?

Read this overview written by Michael Margolis, then check out this 7-step process that shows you how to tell your story in a compelling and memorable way.

Your story comes right at the start. That informs everything else, especially all of which follows below. It also informs the odd CV that you’ll have to write for those who still inhabit the 20th Century – like University HR Departments, for example.

Consider the options

So, got your domain name sorted, and various social media accounts set up? Got all your friends and idle chat over on Facebook behind strict privacy settings. Got your story sorted? Right, let’s begin.

First, while Facebook is an ideal place to network with friends, it also has a vital role to play in professional marketing as Little Riot has demonstrated well. Joanna Montgomery – a DJCAD graduate has 30,000 likes for her Facebook page! Like her, have both personal and professional identities on Facebook (and other media as well). Many people have multiple Facebook accounts each of which has a very different job to do. Consider carefully what photo you will use for your profile.

Next, sign up for LinkedIn. This is a seriously useful professional social networking site. Take time to put your profile together and look carefully for relevant groups to join.

For a website or blog your best starting point is WordPress. There are alternatives, including sorting out your own hosting service, buying a domain name and developing the site from scratch yourself.

So, you’ve a blog, website, twitter, linkedin, Facebook (personal and professional) and online portfolio. Now stitch them all together, design it well and have engaging content. Want to see how it’s done well? A good example is Maria Maclennan, JMD and MDes graduate, and current PhD student at DJCAD. She has very effectively separated out her PhD project, professional networking and jewellery showcase. Integrated with this is her pinterest site. Pinterest is used increasingly as an effective visual networking medium. One DJCAD graduate, now working as a UX designer in Helsinki, is Mira Kirvesmaki and she uses Pinterest very effectively as an online CV.

Another tool that some people use to pull together their various social media is

It’s all about audiences

Your objective is to be noticed and engaged with by the people who matter – who matter to you. So you need to be clear about your objectives. What are you trying to achieve and who can help you achieve those aims? Different social networks connect you with different types of people. For example, LinkedIn is about connecting with people in your profession. Want to spread your name in the animation or film industries? Well, LinkedIn will help you do that. Want to increase your chances of getting freelance work? Again, LinkedIn will help here. If you see Maria’s profile, you can see recommendations given for her. This is vital in pitching for work. So, you tailor your content to the audience.

LinkedIn is less useful in selling a product. That’s where Facebook comes in, and all kinds of individuals and companies use it to connect with customers. The critical thing to do is see how other people use social networking and figure out yourself what to learn.

It’s all about content

People will engage with you if you have something interesting to say or have something interesting to show them. If not, they won’t be interested. So you need to think visually about how you and your work is presented. Great visuals work. Little Riot, Maria Maclennan, Johanna Basford, VanillaInk, Snook and all the other examples we’ve cited in these lectures have very powerful visuals. And of course, backed up with effective writing.

My tips on writing are these:

  • Spelling and grammar are important. I’ve no time to read stuff that is not carefully considered and corrected before it’s published on the web. So ensure that you have run your content through a spell checker before posting. This applies especially to blogs.
  • Write about what you know. You may have a strong opinion about some event in the world, but that does not mean you are in a position to write about it. If you have some insight or research that gives your opinion particular weight, then go ahead. Otherwise, don’t bother. Far better to focus your content on some specific themes and issues that you want to be known for.
  • Look out for writing style. Keep an eye out for people who blog or tweet who capture your attention and make you think. Consider the style they are writing in, and note down aspects of their writing that you like.
  • Not too much, not too little. Read this analysis comparing the use of Facebook by the Labour and Conservative Parties. Labour is posting far more than the Tories, but are having a lower engagement rate. More posts does not mean more engagement, and the other issue that comes out of this analysis is the importance of the richness and diversity of what you are posting.
  • Use analytical tools to assess your content. Blogging services like WordPress provide free site stats so you can see which posts get the most attention, how people are finding it and which part of the world they are from. Use these tools, but do not become obsessive about them. Perhaps have a quick check once a week to see how your content is being accessed.

If you want advice on how to write great headlines for your blog, or for other social media, then read this.

Targeting your content and figuring out what that content should be is vital, and there is no end of advice out there on how to do it. So I have pulled together various bits of advice from a variety of sources (mainly US-based) that would appear to be useful.

It’s all about objectives

Setting objectives of what you want to achieve with social media is important. Without clear objectives then – frankly – you’re just noodling about. Julie Mitchell-Mehta has set out her top ten tips on how to use Twitter:

  1. Decide what you want out of it – set some objectives
  2. Commit and use it regularly
  3. Be yourself – twitter users can sniff out a fake!
  4. Don’t sell or shout
  5. Engage – have conversations
  6. Add value – provide useful information
  7. Mind your manners – always say thank you
  8. Help people
  9. Add some personality
  10. Measure the results – are you meeting your objectives?

Objectives top and tail your Twitter strategy. Two other issues that are vital is that Twitter is about engagement – conversing with people not just telling them stuff – and it’s about being yourself.

Show Them the “Real You”

The name of the game today is authenticity. In fact if you have time read the business book linked back there. It explains why we look for authenticity. According Ed Gandia, founding partner, International Freelancers Academy  “Use Facebook to show prospects, clients and customers the “real you.” Sure, provide the occasional business tip. Or link to your new blog post. But that’s what everyone else is doing. So why not show them you’re a real person by posting updates about things you’re passionate about?” He includes cooking tips.

I would say it’s about balance. Keep professional and focussed, but ensure that enough of your backstory is visible to give evidence of the real human being behind all that achievement and professionalism. People don’t really want to know about what gets you stressed or frustrated – they get enough of that from colleagues at work – but evidence of your other passions and interests usefully fills out the picture they have of you.

Use video

According to Michael Crosson “Creating a custom channel on YouTube is very easy. Creating a series of short instructional videos around your product or service and using testimonials from happy clients/customers are great ways to add credibility to your company and dramatically increase the chances of a viewer going to your website.” Video is also a compelling form of ‘fake evidence’ which can generate interest in your offer, as Little Riot has demonstrated.

A good example I came across very recently is that of Lynne Bruning, a US-based creative in wearable art, eTextiles and adaptive technologies. She has a great website which gives good insight into her work. This links to her YouTube channel providing an extremely useful series of videos on e-textiles. This adds a whole other dimension to understanding her practice, and demonstrates her expertise in sharing her knowledge with others. That’s another essential tip. Give your expertise away for free – that way people are more likely to want to pay for it!

Monitor Your Clients and Prospects

As you begin to focus more on your future direction this this becomes more important. Marketing consultant John Jantsch recommends that you “Create alerts for all of your important clients, add their blogs to your RSS reader, create a Twitter List and add it to a tool like TweetDeck. Explore whether your CRM tool allows you to add the social connections for your clients (BatchBookHighrise or ACT!all have this function and the Rapporative plugin for Gmail can do this as well)”.

Look for funding tools

Social media also provide unique opportunities for raising funds to develop your business idea. Crowdfunding is now a mainstream route to financing enterprises. Just one month ago, a New York brand engagement consultant wrote the following: Kickstarter: Before entrepreneurs can think about boosting sales, they need to get over the fundraising hurdle. Kickstarter makes this key first step social, allowing entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists to crowdsource capital—faster and in greater quantities than through traditional avenues. Just this month, an iPhone dock project and a video game design group soared well over $1 million.”

Social media doesn’t equal self-promotion

Nellie Akalp is CEO of and has formed more than 100,000 corporations across the U.S. Her advice is very useful:

“I’ll be honest; my first experiment in social media wasn’t too successful. I spent all my time posting and tweeting about my company, our news, and services. And the process became incredibly frustrating since I saw little results for my efforts. It wasn’t until I began working with some very smart people that I realized two things:

  • I needed to show the person behind the company, and
  • I needed to focus on my customers, and not my company.

I began searching across the web for people looking for help and began offering advice and information. That was my “ah-ha” moment, and when social media began clicking for me.”

Engage with creative crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing has become an increasingly common way for companies to source creative talent for projects such as branding, illustration and graphics. Don’t know what it is? Well read this. The design industry doesn’t like it at all. Now, in part this is because it is taking away an increasingly large chunk of their business, but there are also other problems which are tied in with the undervaluing of design. A good case against can be read here. However, crowdsourcing is here to stay and so you need to research into it and figure out how to make use of it.


The challenge with social media is to control it, and not be controlled by it. This short film by Marc Maron sets out the issues:

Laurie Penny is one of the most accomplished journalists of her generation. She has blurred the dividing line between activism and journalism, and as such has given a powerful voice for the radical left and for the feminist movement. Because of this she has been subjected to the most vile and unacceptable online comments via twitter. This reflects an unfortunate pattern of mysogonistic abuse against women online.  She argues that the internet is both the problem and the solution, and she has pursued this in her short e-book Cybersexism. In this talk she explores these same arguments. I strongly recommend that you watch it.

Social media provides us with powerful tools that can support us in our creative practices. We need to be mindful of how it works, and be cautious about some aspects of us. We must also be aware of the politics of social media, an issue that can only be touched upon here.

There is considerable advice and guidance available on the use of social media, and in particular I recommend The Design Trust as a particularly insightful and helpful source of such advice. Also, Frances Brown who is behind DigiTech Creative also provides some very pertinent guidance.

11 thoughts on “Social media strategy

  1. Hey Mike:

    Excellent advice.

    Thanks for including my work on crowdsourcing. 😉

    I hope all is well across the pond!

    – Kristi

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