Social media tips from professional designers could be just what you need to advance your career. The way you use social media can have a huge impact on getting your work out there, but if you're not taking advantage you're not alone. For every designer or illustrator who gets their big break thanks to a post or tweet, there's a dozen with nothing but sore thumbs and a tension headache. So what's the secret to making social media work for you?
To start with, in 2020 it's impossible to make good use of all the different social media platforms (see our social media platforms post for an in-depth rundown). There just aren't enough hours in the day, and it's much better for your productivity (and sanity) to focus on just one or two.
But which ones? Well, while everyone's different, our research suggests there are four platforms that most designers will find useful at this present time. In this article we'll look at each in turn, explain what they have to offer, and how to make best use of them.
Need something more specific? Check out the pro tips on how to boost your instagram engagement and our guide to how to change the font on your Instagram bio, or how to edit a video on TikTok. Still not got an invite to Clubhouse? See our guide, what is Clubhouse?
Design work that features a strong graphical element is probably best suited to appearing on Instagram. The most visually focused of all the social platforms, it's the go-to place to see work by artists, illustrators, animators and 3D artists. On the downside, you'll have to work around the default square image format, and you won't be able to add links to posts unless you sign up to the new Instagram Checkout service for selling goods.
Number of users: Over 100 million
Good for: Artists, illustrators, animators, 3D artists
Biggest benefit: Visual focus
Biggest restrictions: Square image format. Unable to share URLs in posts
Illustrator Haley Tippman (opens in new tab) has been using Instagram to share her work since 2017, and around 95 per cent of her assignments originate from art directors finding it and contacting her – either through DMs (direct messages) or via the website (opens in new tab) she links to in her bio. Note, though, that this doesn't always happen instantly.
"Usually, the client has been following me for a while, and then contacts me when there's an assignment my illustrations would work well for," she explains. Her account has 74.5K followers, but she doesn't think it's important for everyone to have such a high number. "If anything, I feel that working illustrators with fewer followers are like ‘little gems' and feel exclusive," she says.
Indeed, while illustrator Peter Clayton (opens in new tab) has a more modest number of followers (1,343 at time of writing), he still receives a lot of work through his Instagram feed. "Most of my success has been through marketeers, studios and startups finding me because I've posted work on a regular basis, and hash-tagged the shit out of it," he explains. "I've even had clients find work from 2014 and want to use it! Beyond that, being sociable and commenting has helped massively: likes are good, but actual interaction through comments are better."
But what if you're doing these things, and still coming up empty? Then perhaps you need to take a more proactive approach, by seeking out callouts and challenges. To take one example, conceptual illustrator Ollie Hirst (opens in new tab) recently responded to a callout from @GlowingGone, a global climate campaign. "They reposted the artwork on their account, then a few weeks later, I got a DM to say WeTransfer wanted my illustration for a campaign they were doing with Adobe," he explains. "It was then made into a WeTransfer wallpaper, promoting coral reef preservation across the US and Europe. All that from one Instagram post!"
If you're not receiving much attention for your Instagram feed, Hirst encourages you to get out there and respond to similar challenges."I'm a big believer in doing speculative work that's rooted in real-world briefs," he says, "because it proves to art directors that if given a bespoke brief, you're the person for the job."
Lately, Twitter has started to offer a new level of flexibility when it comes to images: so for example, you can now add multiple images to tweets (up to four) and add images to retweets, too. But in general, it's clearly a less-visual medium than either Instagram or Behance, so you might think that creative professionals would find it less useful. In fact, though, many designers and illustrators today are harnessing the 280-character service to drive their careers forward.
Artist Emmeline Pidgen (opens in new tab) tends to post finished illustrations on Twitter, as well as sharing news of new books and projects. "At times, I've had about 70 per cent of my work come through the platform," she says. "Many commissions come through getting to know people there, or them spotting my work after it's been retweeted, commented on, or recommended by someone else."
Number of users: Over 330 million
Good for: Networking
Biggest benefit: Sociable atmosphere. Can include links in posts
Biggest restrictions: Limited image features. Can be a massive time-sink
But it's not just about sitting back and waiting, Pidgen stresses. Twitter is fundamentally about conversation, so the key is to get stuck in and network. She offers the example of The Lavender Tree, a picture book she worked on with Aidan Moffat. "That project came about because I saw a tweet from him seeking illustrators for a children's project," she recalls. "Replying and suggesting myself felt really cringey, but I put those feelings aside and introduced myself, adding a link to my portfolio. Aidan emailed me a few days later saying he loved my work, and got me on board."
Another way of getting attention on Twitter is to take part in threads such as #artshare, #HourlyComicDay and #Inktober. This approach has helped illustrator and designer Nicola Robson (opens in new tab), gain a significant amount of work over the past six months. "Without actively looking or promoting myself other than via artshare threads, I've won a lot of great design commissions, including a tabletop board game, a book cover, and icons for a Twitch profile," she reports.
Odd fonts, strange colours, random graphics & lens flares. @London_Lions you deserve better #design! Call me - I can help. #basketball #BBL pic.twitter.com/2tHbIvy34hJune 15, 2017
And if you really want to be proactive, there's no limits to how far you can go to grab people's attention. Graphic designer Greg Bunbury (opens in new tab) offers a somewhat outlandish example (see it above). "Having signed up for emails from my local basketball team, The London Lions, I received an email newsletter from the club in Comic Sans... so I took to Twitter to flame them," he recalls. He took a picture of the email, and posted it with the words: "Odd fonts, strange colours, random graphics & lens flares. London_Lions you deserve better #design! Call me – I can help. #basketball #BBL". "An hour later, I got a call from the club director, and was hired to create new brand guidelines for its identity, and to write and build a new website."
Cluttered, text-heavy and, well, ugly, LinkedIn doesn't look like it would be fertile ground for creative professionals. Yet in 2020, many designers and illustrators are making good use of it to develop client and business relationships. This is most marked at the agency level. For example, Simon Dixon, co-founder of DixonBaxi (opens in new tab), uses LinkedIn to find not just new clients, but the right clients. "We view how we look for clients as a kind of curation; finding the right ambitious people driving significant brand change at interesting companies," Dixon explains. "LinkedIn is excellent for understanding this."
And you don't have to be a studio head to take advantage of LinkedIn's level of detail, he adds: "Anyone looking to develop broader prospective client and collaborator reach could benefit." Freelance illustrator Tahgasa Bertram (opens in new tab) is one of them. "I use LinkedIn to find people in specific roles, who work at companies I'd like to work with," he explains. "That sort of information is much more difficult to find on other social networks. Once I've found the right person, I send them examples of my work and a message explaining why I'd like to work with them. Most people don't message back when you send messages through LinkedIn, so I use the email address on their profile, if it's there."
Number of users: Over 645 million
Good for: UI/UX designers, entrepreneurs, freelancers
Biggest benefit: Professional audience. Can add links to posts
Biggest restrictions: Not great for showcasing work. Lots of spam
Even if you're not that pro-active, though, simply being on LinkedIn can be beneficial. "I've found it a great platform for finding work," says brand and UI designer Emily Jones (opens in new tab). "I just keep my profile up to date, and interact with my feed every now and then. The only downside is that you get a lot of spam messages for random jobs." That said, LinkedIn's detection processes are improving, and in its November report it claimed to have removed 99.8 per cent of known spam automatically, with teams manually removing the rest.
While Instagram may get your work in front of a lot of eyeballs, most of those eyeballs won't be people working in the creative industries. In contrast, Behance is tailor-made for promoting yourself directly to agencies, clients and collaborators. "During the past eight years, I've lost count of the enquiries for freelance projects or interviews I've got through Behance," says Davide Baratta (opens in new tab), design director at Impero. "It's enabled me to connect with the design community and collaborate with other designers all over the world."
Number of users: Over 10 million
Good for: Graphic designers, art directors, creative directors
Biggest benefit Targeted at creatives. Allows you to show your process
Biggest restrictions: Social interaction more limited than other platforms
At first, Baratta just used it for inspiration, and was so intimidated by the quality of others' work, he was "genuinely scared" to post. But once he took the plunge, he realised the power of the platform. "It gives you way more exposure than just having a website," he says, "and its curatorial team and galleries system set it apart from the competition."
Unlike Instagram, Behance posts aren't centred on one 'killer image', but make it possible for you show more of your process. "So it's very good for long- form case studies," notes Baratta. "My advice is to try to tell the story behind the project, rather than just upload a bunch of good-looking assets." That said, it's still important to take time to craft your cover image. "There are loads of cool projects out there that don't get the attention they deserve because the thumbnail isn't right," he notes.
AJ Dimarucot (opens in new tab), a graphic designer whose clients include Nike, Jordan and Adidas, adds that Behance isn't just about the work you've done, but the work you'd like to do. Early in his career, for instance, he posted a piece of fan art for NBA basketball player Keith Garnett. "That led Nike to get in touch, and commission me to design some T-shirts," he recalls. Another project he posted was an experiment on Persian- style calligraphy. "That got me a book cover for Penguin Random House, even though I'd never done a book cover before," he says. "It even won an award in an AIGA book covers competition!"
This content originally appeared in Computer Arts magazine.