The increasing prevalence of social media is no less permanent than the Internet was a couple decades ago. While popularity between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn fluctuates, the overall desire and seemingly apparent necessity to put our lives online only increases in popularity. With this new social model comes conversations about the importance of being actively engaged, of social media’s place in people’s lives and careers and the stresses involved with putting your life or business online (FOMO = fear of missing out).
Regardless of whether you’re an independent artist, artistic director of a company, head of a training institution or manager of a performance venue, the constant hum of social media banter continues to get louder. But don’t fret, because there are a variety of levels to engage with social media, if you want, and you don’t have to do everything all the time.
Learn how to share, connect, create and, most importantly, have fun in the Internet abyss. Welcome to the free marketing and communication tool that is social media.
“It has become almost mandatory for culture organizations and for artists to have a social media presence.” – Sonia Reboul, communications and marketing director at Montréal dance presenter Tangente Danse
The World Wide Web can seem like a place of safety and support or a nasty network of trolls or, more likely, somewhere in between. Decide whether you would rather have a public or private online presence – it’s common that people keep their private profiles and create new ones for a dance brand that can be public. Be aware that in more public profiles you want to be concerned with copyright of music and images, as well as permissions of using photos of children – not every parent is comfortable with their child being online.
“My students inspire me every day and I often attempt to record them. Moments that capture success, hard work, persistence, determination, motivation and risk-taking are what I generally gravitate towards sharing. Student privacy is very important to me. I don’t post any photos of my students on Facebook. Although I do post photos on Instagram, my Instagram account is private, and I know all of my Instagram followers personally. Also, I try to avoid photos in which the students can be identified. Before posting any photos in which a child is identifiable, I obtain both the child’s permission and that of their parent.” – Rachel Cooper, Winnipeg-based dance educator at Maples Collegiate, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, School of Contemporary Dancers, Shelley Shearer School of Dance and Evolution Dance Company
Finding Your Voice
What’s fun about building a social media presence is sharing your unique perspective. Posting your thoughts, values and the things you find beautiful or inspiring with your followers can be a gratifying experience that connects you with other like-minded individuals. Building your distinct brand becomes a form of networking, linking you with other artists or possible future colleagues that might live in distant communities.
“New dance projects take a lot of time and planning before they happen, so sometimes there is pressure to stay relevant and remind people that you have something on the go. Social media is a great way to do that. We have had dancers from British Columbia, Manitoba and Québec attend our summer workshops simply from seeing our online presence, without ever seeing the company perform live.” – Riley Sims, artistic director of Toronto-based dance company Social Growl Dance
“Self-promotion is such an important aspect of being an independent artist. It’s something I was shy of for a long time, but learning to be okay with sharing my work has actually helped with my confidence overall.” – Heather Stewart, independent Canadian dance artist based in Boston
“It connects me with people, companies and clients all over the world that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and allows me to share my work with a wider audience. I’ve also met some great friends and collaborators through social media.” – Karolina Kuras, Toronto-based dance photographer who snaps for The National Ballet of Canada
Be Aware of Your Audience
Most people following you, or one of your accounts, are there because they love dance (or it’s your mom), so give the people what they want! If you are a dance photographer, post your amazing images; if you are a creator, post teaser videos of finished works or snap photos during the creative process, bringing your audience behind the scenes; if you’re a performance venue, post upcoming shows and events that will make people want to check out what you’re next presenting because you’re up to cool things.
Think of your online presence as a resumé: highlight the features and skills that set you apart, and stay with a uniform aesthetic. Before you post, remember who your audience is on any one platform (more on this below).
“I think the voice of the people is becoming more and more important: posting information about your programming only is not enough anymore. You need to go beyond, to give to your public and the artists the ability to express themselves. – Sonia Reboul, communications and marketing director at Montréal dance presenter Tangente Danse
“Post daily and be consistent. Stick with what’s relevant to your followers and your feed.” – Kuras
“Probably the most obvious positive aspect [of social media] is that it allows me to reach an audience outside of the theatre.” – Stewart
Quality over Quantity
As tempting as it can be to post multiple times a day, updating each time a new thought bubbles, or five photos or videos of roughly the same thing, could be considered unnecessary and, in the long run, takes away from the impact of your posts. It’s perfectly okay to wait for your next genius observation or stunning photo – eyes become numb to repetitive posts.
“If you can wait for the right professional shot from a good quality camera before posting, you should. I’ve also noticed other emerging choreographers posting about their work with a ton of spelling and grammatical errors. That can take away from your legitimacy pretty quickly. Asking someone to look over your writing before you post is a good idea.” – Sims
Video vs. Photo vs. Tweet
Knowing which platform to use when posting is key to likes and shares, if you’re into that sort of thing. Use Twitter for witty observations and news, like show updates; Instagram for stunning photos and short captivating video; and Facebook for hyping event pages, showing longer videos and dishing out thoughts which require a higher word count.
“I use Instagram the most. I take a lot of videos and screenshots when I am in the studio, and so my phone has become a weird little piece of my creative process. Instagram is the best platform to share these images on, and as you can see there is a whole world of dance artists out there doing the same thing that I am. I love seeing what dance artists are doing in the studio – it’s where all of the work happens!” - Stewart
“This year we’ve been posting a lot of animated GIFs and short embedded videos. We also tried to start a Snapchat account. I found it very interesting to test those new trends, but of course it is not suitable for all organizations. It worked well for ours as we have a ‘young and audacious’ identity that allows us to publish more fun or original content. It is in our culture to test new things, so it makes sense to embrace those new trends.” – Reboul
Be aware that most people scrolling through their respective feeds are doing it a little mindlessly – hashtags depicting what’s in a photo and related themes can be a good way to gain followers and drop your posts into searchable categories. Creating a hashtag for your next show or any campaign you’ve got going as well as geotagging the location of your studio, rehearsal space or theatre can mark your online territory in a really useful way.
Currently, Facebook uses an algorithm to decide what you and your friends see on the news feed. Tip: This algorithm favours videos and photos uploaded directly to Facebook, and the chances your community will see your post depends on how much people are liking, sharing and commenting on your post. Tagging people is a good way to get this going. Just don’t ask them to like, share or comment on your post; Facebook does not favour requests for engagement.
Points of Inspiration
Not only is social media an excellent tool for connecting colleagues and collaborators from across the globe, it can also be an excellent source for discovering individuals who inspire and motivate. Observing how people or companies that you respect and admire curate their online presence will aid in your own social media growth, or at least will leave you smiling on the bus.
Stay Positive, or At Least Professional
It’s normal to rant, rave and have bad days, but think twice before posting anything nasty. Even if you later delete a post, people can’t unread what they’ve already seen. Adding humour or reflection is one way to start a conversation or receive support.
“I try to post in a way that provokes people to become curious or intrigued about our work while maintaining a strict focus on the art and integrity of the work I present. This is not a vanity project or a ‘who has the most likes’ competition. In the end it’s about creating dance and supporting the artists I work with.” – Sims
Most Importantly, Have Fun
Don’t take yourself, the amount of followers you have or the number of likes on a post too seriously. It’s just the Internet, after all.
“For me, I just had to get started and get over the idea that it was cliché and narcissistic. It is and can be both of those things, but it’s also an opportunity for your audience to see your work on a regular basis.” – Heather Stewart, independent Canadian dance artist based in Boston
Social media is a great way to make friends, build community, share interests and open your mind to other individuals’ thoughts, styles and ideas. It can be a great way to engage audiences by giving them a peek behind the curtain, a glance at how hard dancers train and how a full-length production grows from scribbles in a notebook to a well-lit work of art. Social media is a free access point for people researching schools and institutions or just looking for a show to see on the weekend.
Observations from The Dance Current:
GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, etc. There’s a lot out there but once you’ve figured out where your audience is and where you want to focus your energy, you can go ahead doing that well.
Searching for some inspiration? Jillian Groening recommends these accounts:
@aszurebarton – Not only is the jet-setting Canadian choreographer one of the most revered and critically acclaimed talents of today, but her Instagram profile is top notch. Give it a visit for elegant, black and white behind-the-scenes snapshots as well as sigh-inducing rehearsal videos. Oh, and don’t forget charming selfies.
@proartedanza – If you’re a fan of dynamic photography, you will love ProArteDanza’s Instagram account. The Toronto-based contemporary ballet company, under the direction of Roberto Campanella, post awe-inspiring photos from the rehearsal studio to the stage.
@anastasiashhh – This young contemporary dancer has an account that could double as a travel blog. Working and performing in Germany before returning to Toronto, Anastasia Shivrina balances out photos of beautiful European architecture with videos of her solo choreography that’ll leave you viewing on loop.
@shaaqdaddy – Shaqueel Lawrence is a hip hop dynamo. Possessing a feed bursting with high energy videos, this Winnipeg-based dancer seems to never stop busting a move. Except maybe to snap a mouth-watering photos of his morning fuel.
@karolinakuras – Get your daily intake of pointe shoes and tulle with photographer Karolina Kuras’ sumptuous feed. Capturing flawless arabesques and weightless jumps, Kuras gives her followers a glimpse of the athleticism and skill behind a pretty picture. Instagram was made for accounts like this.
@socialgrowldance – Writhing bodies, gaping mouths and tense hands, Social Growl Dance has no shortage of emotion on their Instagram feed. Based in Toronto and led by Artistic Director Riley Sims, the contemporary dance company has a vibrant profile that perfectly represents their raw, gripping performances.
@tangentedanse – You never know what you are going to find when you creep Tangente’s social media profile and it is a serious treat. Posting artistic mini films (gleaming, mirror claws anyone?), installation work, paintings, and loads of dance content from videos to photographs and even archival imagery, Tangente is one to follow.
@hjanestewart – Posting poignant performance photos as well as simple videos and creative process etchings, Heather Stewart is an independent dance artist who has a knack for mixing the professional with the personable.
@BalletBC – The contemporary ballet company, led by Artistic Director Emily Molnar, has it’s Twitter game on lockdown. Updating their audience with informative articles from the Ballet BC blog, media features and sneak peeks of their upcoming shows, their feed is speckled with photos and videos to keep you scrolling.
@artsumbrella – The not-for-profit children’s arts organization has a delightfully eclectic account, which might not come as a surprise. The usual suspects of event information, media links and performance photographs are muddled with arts education factoids, arts advocacy, Maya Angelou quotes and Hokusai prints to deliver a mixed bag of arts greatness.
@nationalballet – Combining breathtaking photos (ahem, thank you to Karolina Kuras), links to media features, reviews, videos about the creative process as well as comments and praises from their many fans, the National Ballet of Canada is the premier dance company of social media savvy.
@BboyLazylegz – Hosting one of the most positive Twitter accounts on the internet, Bboy Lazylegz (aka Luca Patuelli) is a national treasure. In between posting updates on his worldly adventures and international television appearances, Montréal-based Patuelli finds time to take photos with fans and retweet followers.