Top 3 Challenges Creatives Face When Using Social Media

To date, I have discussed some of the tools that you can use to incorporate social media into your personal brand. Now, I’m going to take a few minutes to discuss what I consider to be the top challenges that creatives face when using social media.

The problem: Complicated “Terms of Service” agreements

Let’s start with the biggie—there’s an inherent risk with sharing your work using social media, especially via a third-party platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or similar. Each of these sites requires you to accept a lengthy of “terms of service” agreement. Buried in paragraphs of legalese, they will describe the rights that they have over the content that you post to their site. At best, they will state that they can use your work to promote their platform. At worst, once you share your content, it becomes part of the public space. There can even be a clause that states that they can change the terms of service at any time.

 The solution: Read the terms of service carefully (every time) so you understand how the work you post can be used. Consider sharing your work using an online community dedicated to artists (deviantARTBehance), then sharing the link on other social media sites.

The problem: Other users “appropriating” your work

At best, other users can appropriate, adapt, and change your work as they see fit, then go on to share it as their own. At worst, they may just steal it and claim it as their own (especially if it proves to be viral or popular). It’s also important for creatives to remember that once you post content to the web, it is virtually impossible to track down all the copies of that content and remove them. This has huge repercussions if someone brands your work as their own, then goes on to share it. Even on a site like Tumblr where reblogs are tracked, it is still virtually impossible to make it back to the original source. For a great example, check out this fascinating evolution of a simple viral tweet.

The solution: Include a watermark in a conspicuous place where it cannot be easily removed. Consider adding a note to your profile requesting that users ask for your permission before reposting, and include a hyperlink back to your original. If you’re a visual artist, consider occasionally searching for your image using the Google Images search for similar images.


Image: Andy Warhol, “Campbell’s Soup Cans” (1962). Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, New York, NY (32 canvas series displayed by year of introduction).

The problem: Crowdsourcing

Sites like 99designs host “contests” in which clients post their needs—website design, logos, print packages—and designers compete to fill them. There is often a social component built in so that users can vote on their favorite designs, but usually the client will have the final say on which design wins. Many critics of this business model have joined NO!, an online campaign dedicated to educating the public about the risks of speculative work (defined by NO!SPEC as work where you “invest time and resources with no guarantee of payment,” and which they state is essentially a “huge gamble” when you are competing against thousands of others).

It’s obvious why it may be tempting to do spec work. You might be a little competitive, and you might hope that your design will be the chosen solution leading to future work or help you to land permanent employment. The reality is that you’re basically playing the lottery (remember that MOST designs aren’t picked). Spec work doesn’t often lead to extra work, profit, or even referrals. You end up with a lot of creatives working for free, significantly devaluing the work that we do while simultaneously creating a demand for creatives to take on spec work. Unfortunately, it’s also important to note that in order to participate, designers must often sign a contract unwittingly waiving their valuable creative rights and ownership of their work. As a result, the client can (and likely will) employ other designers willing to change and/or resell the creative work as their own.

The solution: Read up on spec work so you understand what it is. Then ask yourself…doing the work in the hopes of maybe getting paid for it? Who does that? No one outside of the creative community, that’s for sure! Just say no to spec work. Spend those hours building up your portfolio with personal design challenges, or doing work that will be used and that you actually will be paid for.


Image |

Final thoughts

Social media can be a valuable way to self promote, however there are some major risks that are unique to creatives. If you use social media, take steps to protect your intellectual property and the value of the work that you do.

What do you think readers? Have you ever shied away from posting something to the web for fear of copyright issues?  Have you ever considered spec work, or taken on spec job? Let me know in the comments.


3 thoughts on “Top 3 Challenges Creatives Face When Using Social Media

  1. Howdy! I do not like the idea people “cheapening” what I do (photography) just because of crowdsourcing. I charge the prices I do due to the cost it takes for me to produce my work. If people just barter down in order to get the job, then it devalues my work. And I don’t really want people taking my photos and posting them everywhere without credit given to my business. Otherwise, I lose the advertising I am hoping for.

    Thanks for your post

  2. Hi Ashley, great post! You seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject. In my own industry (engineering), i have found that this issue comes up in a similar fashion when we want to share interesting projects or technical information. Issues with client confidentiality can limit our ability to share stories and photos that would make for great social content. Similarly, highly trained technical staff need to be cautious about publishing information about how they do their work. These people are often “sold” to clients on their education and experience, but we can not publish resume information on the web. Even making brochures available for download on a company website becomes questionable, with competitors having access just the same as client. Everyone needs to be cautious these days, not just with our personal information!

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