Representing the creative future

Is using Instagram as a tool for self promotion right for you?

With the extreme rise of social media use during lockdown, young creatives feel forced to put their work out there. Is it worth it?

While many of us suggest we’re using sites, such as Instagram, as a means of escapism, an overwhelming number of young creatives, many of whom have been left jobless by the pandemic, are feeling pressured to use the site as a means of promoting their work – and feel left behind if they’re unable to keep up with others.

Shoe designs by Nicole McLaufhlin

As Covid-19 forces everyone into lockdown, an overwhelmingly large (and, somewhat, underrepresented) community of young creatives are finding themselves at a standstill. Booked jobs have been cancelled, roles are no longer being advertised, and the industry, which is usually based on collaboration and partnerships, has never felt so isolated.

“Instagram is so drenched in creatives trying to promote themselves that it can be easy to become lost in it, and so perhaps it loses its significance.”

Without funding, but with a need to showcase their work to potential future employees, many creatives are finding themselves reliant upon Instagram as their only means to promote their work. Constance Blackaller, a freelance pattern cutter (who has been without work since the beginning of the pandemic) agrees that she has spent more time on Instagram during lockdown. “I’m mainly using it as a vehicle for procrastination, and an easy – albeit surface level – way of connecting with people.” The recent Central Saint Martins MA graduate believes that Instagram is unavoidable if you’re looking to promote your work, though is something she sometimes resents. “If used as a tool for inspiration, it can be a really positive thing,” Constance offers. “But Instagram is so drenched in creatives trying to promote themselves that it can be easy to become lost in it, and so perhaps it loses its significance.”

Not only are individuals spending more time scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, but in a survey with 590 creatives, the majority of the respondents agreed with Constance that brands seem to be increasing content output. “Everybody is putting out a lot more content – most of which is rubbish,” explained one anonymous respondent.  Another agreed: “There is too much content, my brain cannot enjoy it anymore.” This oversaturation of online material  can feel draining and leaves many lacking enthusiasm for their own craft.

Fitting by Constance Blackaller

We’ve all fallen in the trap to feeling unworthy after an Instagram scroll, yet young creatives, many of whom are still trying to carve out a career for themselves and don’t have a safe job to return to once lockdown is over, are finding this easier than ever. The creative industries are infamously competitive, but lockdown means young artists are inundated with images of what their peers might be achieving while they are seemingly being left behind. Danika Magdelena, an image maker who has photographed the likes of Héctor Bellerín, Maya Jama and Adwoa Aboah, and has also had no work during lockdown, feels this pressure. “Most of my friends are creatives and we’re all at different stages so it’s hard comparing yourself. If you’ve already got a big platform then there are things you can do to keep relevant. But I think if you’re just starting out everything has been put on hold.”

As an analogue photographer, Danika is finding it harder than most to showcase her work. “It’s been hard knowing when to post because I shoot in film, I have to get my photos developed. So, even if I wanted to shoot during isolation, I wouldn’t want to do it on digital.” However, Danika is quick to point out that she’s been trying to see the positive side to the increased Instagram usage during lockdown. “There are so many people now who are online and watching. People are paying attention, so you’ve just got to take this time to get creative at home and put your work out there.” She notes FaceTime photoshoots and Instagram Live events as great examples of creativity.

Danika Magdalena, self portrait

“It’s been three months now, and I’m a bit hungover from social media and the amount of content we’ve been exposed to.”

Designer Nicole McLaughlin is another creative who has found her way of working slowed down since lockdown. “I rely heavily on second-hand materials to create my pieces, and not having access to thrift stores has been difficult,” she explains. Yet, through shifting her business to a more digitally focused model, she has managed to continue building her brand. Gaining 150k Instagram followers during lockdown speaks for her efforts in utilising social media to promote her work.

Despite the success she is seeing through her digital efforts, Nicole still admits that Instagram can be draining on mental health. “It’s been three months now, and I’m a bit hungover from social media and the amount of content we’ve been exposed to.” She realises that it’s important for her to take breaks away from Instagram. “I’m putting less pressure on myself to participate all the time,” she explains. Taking time out is something Constance also advises. “When I’m not in a good place mentally, social media can exacerbate that. I’ve learnt to take some time out when I notice those feelings and come back when I feel ready.”

 

“I’m now looking for different product designs… I expect [brands] to have a devotion to quality, a commitment to a sustainable production and, in general, a responsible way of doing business”

If young creatives are spending a lot of their free time creating content to showcase their talents, it’s important their efforts are not in vain. Costanza Lombardi, womenswear buyer at Browns is one such individual who uses Instagram as a tool to search for new talent. Thankfully, although it is impossible for her to deny the implications Covid-19 has had on her way of working, she is still actively looking for new designers to stock. “I’m now looking for different product designs… I expect [brands] to have a devotion to quality, a commitment to a sustainable production and, in general, a responsible way of doing business,” she explains. Of critical importance to young creatives: “Browns has taken the decision not to cancel any orders for AW20 and we are continuing to offer pre-payment to new generation talent.”

Costanza, like many people, has used her time in lockdown to learn more about the dangerous and unsustainable practices that have become the norm within creative industries, and hopes to implement them in her own role. “It is time to reassess the validity of these processes and the real philosophies behind then,” she adds. For Costanza, Instagram is one of the most important tools for fashion brands to be utilising, but she’s also open to new and creative ways in which brands might avoid it altogether. “The only way to sustain an image is not by smart use of a medium, but really to live up to it honestly,” she explains.

Constance Blackaller's design development, as part of the
Constance Blackaller

“Designers need to stop thinking about other people who have ‘made it’ and instead focus on finding who they are and their real values and pursuits.”

This honesty is something touched upon by many young creatives. “Social media feels less superficial…the increase in Instagram Live discussions with young creatives helps build genuine connections with their audiences,” Nicole notes. Similarly, Constance believes Instagram during lockdown has given a closer insight into the minutiae of peoples’ lives. “It’s felt more honest and raw,” she adds. As content continues to rise, it appears users are increasingly able to discern insincere messaging from brands. In order to adapt to this, Costanza advises young brands to find their own image, instead of copying others. “Designers need to stop thinking about other people who have ‘made it’ and instead focus on finding who they are and their real values and pursuits.” Only then, suggests the Browns buyer, will they be able to outline their storytelling and discover the best ways to convey that message.

It’s clear that these successful creatives all have one thing in common: they’ve been able to perfect the balance between utilising social media and knowing when to step away from it. “You can’t let [social media] weigh you down because it can impact you and your work. I try not to put too much pressure on myself – stress doesn’t help with ideas,” explains Nicole.  Danika, whose Girls Don’t Cry Project promotes mental health awareness, is also taking this time to slow down and focus on her own happiness. “I’m taking each day as it comes to learn about myself so, once this is over, I can go back to things with a happier mindset.”

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an experiment hahah

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Of course, there are times when knowing when to step away from Instagram is easier said than done, and not being able to find that balance doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for success. We’re currently in a worldwide pandemic, after all, and everyone has different responsibilities and concerns at this time. It is clear, however, that emerging out of this lockdown rested, with a fresh mindset, full of enthusiasm, is far more important than emerging with viral content but no energy to produce work. We shouldn’t write off the influence of Instagram altogether, but learning to accept our limits, and understanding that it’s not the only measure of success at this time, is one way to make your life during (and post-) lockdown far more positive.

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