For the vast majority of people, social networks aren't business tools - at least, not in the conventional sense. People use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and share what's going on in their lives, while Twitter's arguably at its best when used as an informal conversational tool, tapping into a powerful global network of thoughts, opinions and collective knowledge.
Treating either of these networks as a platform to broadcast promo-speak propaganda won't win you many fans, and might even get you branded as a spammer, and nobody wants that. Accordingly, self-promotion through these platforms takes an added sprinkle of ingenuity.
LinkedIn is, granted, a bit more corporate - it's a business tool first and foremost, but using it effectively can still take practice. And at the more creative end of the scale, the burgeoning Behance Network is like a super-charged portfolio that taps you into a global community of peers, bubbling great work to the surface.
As the creatives we've spoken to attest, all four of these social networks can prove hugely valuable if you approach them in the right ways. In some cases, simply getting your personality across, and building a strong relationship with fans, can do wonders for your personal brand. Inviting feedback on work in progress can build lively discussion around your creations, rather than just pushing them in people's faces.
"Updates about my work are useful, but it's meat and potatoes and not that interesting. My curiosity lies in the casual nature of interaction. People say that they follow me because I'm funny, it's interesting to know what I'm up to, and for my photos of salad. Offer a window into your world, and see if anyone climbs in."
"It's about finding a nice balance between building respect and showing off or selling something. Show too much work and you're opening yourself up to ripoffs; promote something too heavily, and your fans will get annoyed. Most followers are interested in what makes you, well, you - I love that humanistic aspect."
"Sharing is key to success," says NYC-based designer Nicholas Patten, who's built up almost 50,000 followers. "I share links to tutorials and bits of inspiration. Some might only enjoy the links, others like the tutorials - instead of consuming news, they teach themselves how to do something they didn't know before."
The best way to win new clients using Twitter, says Grace Smith of Postscript5, is to set up searches for keywords related to your expertise; for example: 'need web designer' or 'logo designer'. She explains: "You can then send an @reply - without spamming - and offer your assistance along with a link to your portfolio."
Ben the Illustrator
"Twitter has helped us to make a lot more contacts," enthuses Cornwall-based Ben the Illustrator. "We recently organised something called the Renmen Project, raising funds for Unicef's Haiti Appeal by selling art donated from various people. If it wasn't for Twitter, we'd never have had such success."
"Self-promotion is part of the game, but shouldn't be your primary goal," says web designer Chris Spooner. "Brands and companies that set up Twitter accounts purely for marketing purposes often don't get far. It's everyday communication that gives an insight into your personality, which is what attracts potential clients."
"We use Facebook to inform people of our latest work, from an exclusive sale of a new Bandit-1$M collection to our most recent graffiti piece. It makes us accessible to the people who have been supporting us for years: we can answer them personally, and share exclusive content. Klor's already reached the authorised limit of 5,000 friends - there are surely great people in there."
"I reduce what I do into simple visual soundbites, and if the viewer is interested, they can discover my work further in their own time. Simple, graphic icons cut through the noise, and hopefully connect with people. That intimate connection is everything, and you have about 0.1 seconds to do it. I have about 7,000 friends on both my Facebook pages, and visit them daily."
For Brighton-based illustrator HelloMarine, it was important to create some effective traffic to her Facebook page as soon as possible. "The first thing I did was to invite all my personal Facebook friends. Some of them didn't even know I was an illustrator," she reveals. As a direct result, HelloMarine has already sold a large number of prints via her page.
"Facebook gives your fans a place that's already integrated with their regular online social habits to find out about you and your work, and interact with you," says illustrator Jared Nickerson. "You in turn have access to your fans' friends through notifications every time they comment on your work. It's great for promoting upcoming shows or releases."
"When I started my Facebook page, I wanted to keep it professional, not personal. I treat it like a newsletter: I post any news that I consider relevant, including new works, interviews, future lectures and exhibitions. I try to post at least once a week, read what people write back, and answer them personally. There's a person behind the page, and I want people to know that."
"Facebook is a promo tool to show my work and make some connections," states designer Niark1. "I try to post work-in-progress to get feedback, plus news, interests and inspirations. I use it like a blog: there'll always be someone online to look at my posts. There's more traffic on my Facebook page than on my blog - I've found plenty of cool contacts."
"LinkedIn is great for keeping in contact with people that you've worked with when they move to a new company," says designer Elliott Grubb, whose client roster includes Nike, 55DSL, Levi's and White Stuff. "It makes it extremely easy to get in touch with them, and is easier than having to cold call and try and get past the girl on reception."
Nick Clement has been approached for contract roles and freelance projects through LinkedIn, but points out that it's primarily a business network. "It bugs me to see my feed clammed up with banal tweets," he gripes. "Use the #in tag [which filters selected tweets into your LinkedIn feed] to your advantage. Let me know what you're up to - give me inspiring content."
To Steve Scott, the beauty of LinkedIn is that it's a professional site where prospective clients go if they're serious about looking for someone, so it's important to maintain a strong presence there, even if you spend more time on Facebook or Twitter. "You can very quickly reach a lot of people, with relatively minimal effort all told," he adds.
Rachel Toy of Spirit Creative argues that it's important to work actively with your LinkedIn network. "Be helpful and positive. Don't miss the opportunity to get in front of decision-makers. Also, make sure you include a link to your blog so you can update your profile regularly. And don't wait for people to come to you: offer to do something first."
Chad Engle runs graphic design blog Fuel Your Creativity. He believes that successful social networking is all about striking a balance. "If you're engaging with others, share things you like - they don't have to benefit you directly - and slide in some self-promotion. It isn't difficult to keep the balance, but it takes work. It's entirely worth it though."
"Balance self-promotion with useful links from other websites, and always express your opinion on them rather than just forwarding them. That way you'll build an audience of followers, that will potentially include clients," says Brazilian designer Fabio Sasso. "I've won loads of business through LinkedIn, and been invited to speak at conferences."
"I was recently contacted to create a design for a French T-shirt brand after my portfolio was featured on Behance's front page," says illustrator Liza Corbett. "Every time my work's featured there, I notice a marked increase in traffic to my website, and a flurry of opportunities for projects and collaborations."
Adam Jarvis recently launched his own online community, Vectorvault.com: "I used Behance to seek out a specific assembly of digital illustrators. Slowly, my site's registration has climbed to over 20,000 members, my store sales are up and my daily traffic has exploded."
"I publish one high-quality project to Behance every six months or so," says illustrator Andy Council. "I've been featured several times: it really boosts my profile and gets people in the right places looking. I tried the same tactic on deviantART recently, and got featured there too - so I must be doing something right."
Behance plays a big part in getting international exposure for John Beckers' work. "Projects I upload to the site get picked up faster by blogs, and I get more requests to submit to design books. My Lief Festival project got featured on the front page, and that boosted views on all my other work too."
"Since joining Behance, I've been invited to participate in various group showings, and contribute to several publications," Tamiesie tells us. "Behance is unique because it allows an enormous creative community to react to each others' work. Quality feedback in large quantities makes Behance invaluable."
Glenn Jones mostly uses Behance to showcase his T-shirt illustrations: "It's also a database of my work to use as a quick reference, and show potential commissioners. My work often filters through various networks without having to promote it myself, and that exposure's led to all sorts of jobs."