What Artists Can Teach Business about Social Media

In my LinkedIn article, Five Social Media Lessons from the Dark Side, I highlighted five social media lessons from the band Ego Likeness and their longtime friend and photographer, Kyle Cassidy. There wasn't room for our entire discussion - which had many other insights about social media - so I'm posting it here:

BK: As background, 99% of the time I use Flickr to find Creative Commons images to accompany my articles, but Google just updated their engine to allow people to search for such images; the problem is that Google doesn't always provide proper attribution, whereas every Flickr image was posted by an actual person. I LOVED the Ego Likeness "apple" photo so much that I included it and "settled" for the Wikipedia attribution; in retrospect, that was a mistake. Since I'm a contributor to Forbes, not a paid staffer, no editor was involved.

KYLE: The Wiki Common’s doesn’t always make it obvious what you need to do unless you’re familiar with it. Especially with the CC licenses that require the user to do stuff (like include a CC license on the image if they modify it or provide attribution.

BK: If you don't mind, I'd like to ask a few questions via email, because a.) That way I can quote you accurately, and b.) because I see online that you write well. On Twitter you wrote... Holy Carp! @Forbes uses my photo of @egolikeness in a really odd way (& doesn't mention my name) (+ I'm in Forbes?)... What were you thinking at the time?

KYLE: It was odd and a bit fun that a major magazine had used a photo I took of an industrial band in a seemingly really random manner. Having good images is key to getting eyes in the online world and we certainly put that photo out there so if some rock journalist was covering a festival and trying to find graphics to use with it they’d pick Ego Likeness to feature because there was a great photo they could use for free. But when the article was about something completely different my first thought was “Forbes is auto-generating content based on keywords” which is one of those moments where you jump up and point ‘look! I can see behind the curtain!’ Facebook slaps the lead wikipedia photo for a subject in it’s auto-generated pages for that subject, so for a long time the Facebook image for “running” was a photo I took of NPR’s Peter Sagal running in Chicago that we’d given to the Creative Commons on a lark, and that was always fun to see that one of your friends like “running” and there’s your photo on their page. So there’s computer-generated or computer-suggested chance, which is sometimes fun (it was fun in this case, because hey, Forbes!) and then there’s also a pernicious, willful misrepresentation happening too. As companies fight to collect eyeballs there are a lot of shady practices going on — look at any trending hash tag on Twitter and there are countless twitterbots posting url’s to random things they want to collect clicks for so you’ll see a tweet with the hashtag #SuicideSucks and then a link to dishwashing detergent. People on Youtube are doing that too, an album comes out, they make a fake videos for all the songs on it that are just ads for something else with a well-placed keyframe. On the scale of useful to annoying I find that kind of stuff “evil” because it’s actually polluting the sphere of information.

BK: You seem extremely active in social media. On balance, is your world (as a photographer) better or worse thanks to social media? Some photographers haven't been able to adapt to the Shutterstock/Flickr world.

KYLE: My world as an artist is much better because of social media. Sometime in the 1990’s there was this transitional phase for me where I was still spending a thousand dollars framing prints and hanging them in galleries and on opening night maybe 800 or a thousand people would go through and at the same time, I was writing a blog that twenty thousand people were reading every day and this slow light was flashing in my head that this old model just wasn’t going to hold water any longer. The thing then becomes trying to figure out what to do to keep those 20 or 30 or 100 thousand people entertained between the times that you want them to look at your Important Stuff. One of the things is to invite people to the party; in this case it means having an open conversation with Ego Likeness across social media and when you pull back that curtain and show what it’s like behind the scenes people are engaged, they participate — this isn’t something that could happen with the old “my photos are hanging on a wall” model. I don’t know who took my favorite Black Sabbath album covers, I doubt they know, things used to be so impersonal and now with social media I can say “I I’m in the studio with Ego Likeness! Here’s what’s going on” and people are a part of the process, they can actually influence events and when the record comes out they care because they saw it happening.

BK: Anything else you want to say about the right and wrong ways to use social media?

KYLE: I think there’s a level of honesty that’s required. You want the people on your social media to be your friends, not your patsys, you want them to do things because they like you and the feel that they’re part of the adventure.  One of the most disturbing trends that I find now is the use of underhanded means to engage and acquire followers. So an organization will post to their Facbook page:  “Name a movie title without the letter L in the title? Only 5% of people can!!!” and of course everybody on Earth can think of a movie title that doesn’t have the letter L in it, so in droves people respond in the comments as quickly as they can type, gleefully thinking that they’re part of the illuminati but this organization knew that, they posted an absurdly easy question on purpose not to find the smartest people on earth but to collect replies, shares and likes so that their page shows up on more of their followers feeds. Part of this blame goes to Facebook which for some unfathomable reason refuses to just show everybody all their friends posts in order. I think there are better ways to monazite the Facebook experience rather than holding people’s interactions hostage.  

Engage your followers, be kind to them, entertain them, ask them questions you care about the answers to, listen to their replies, don’t steal content and post the occasional cat photo.

BK: How do you want me to identify you? I'd be happy to include a link of your choice.

KYLE: Kyle Cassidy is an artist from Philadelphia. You can find him at www.kylecassidy.com and on Twitter at @kylecassidy

BK: Can I use the original Ego Likeness image, with credit this time?

KYLE: Absolutely!


BK: I'm sitting here listening to Sirens and Satellites - which I really like - because I got hooked on Kyle's photo of you and Steven... no other image I could find so illustrated to me the blinding power of ego... So, because of social media, we're having this conversation. Nothing happened in a straight line, but since you and Steven and Kyle put something out in public, random things happened. Here's my question: What's it like to be an artist today? Has social media made it tougher, or easier?

DONNA (of Ego Likeness): That randomness you mentioned is truly one of the biggest keys. Steven and I have independently been in the arts since childhood, and as a team for the past 17 years. We have learned that making a life and career in the arts certainly takes talent and skill, and insane amounts of time and sacrifice. It takes the ability to talk and network, and to learn to take criticism -of both the constructive variety and the completely useless). It takes learning how to market, learning business skills that you never thought you'd need because you chose a life off the beaten professional path. But even after you figure all of that out, there are two things that you have zero control over. And they are the two things that make the difference between keeping food on the table or not (literally, at times):

1. How the audience feels about you, and

2. Random encounters and opportunities. 

If you don't have the audience and you don't put yourself out there, ready to walk through any door that cracks open, none of those other things matter (from a career standpoint).

Being an artist, not just today, but always, means putting that art above most other things in your life. I'm fortunate to do this with my partner, because if we didn't, we'd never see each other. We opted not to start a family so we could focus on this path. We've gone without a lot of things at various points in order to make sure we were available for those doors, when they opened.

That said, I'd rather deal with all of those things than spend life doing something I don't care about.

As for social media, of course it's an amazing tool. When we started out there was no Myspace or Facebook or Linked In. You had to pass out flyers to shows and openings by hand. That I can now make a post about a show, or a release that hundreds or thousands of people see, and have to ability to share with even more people is remarkable. Steven can put paintings up on Facebook and Etsy and in front of a huge audience. Those are his buyers. I wouldn't want to go back to the analog way for anything.

But social media, it turns out -at least for us- tacks on a lot more work. We cultivate our fan base daily, picking up a handful people as we go. It's a slow process that takes a lot of attention, but it's worth it. We *know* so many of our supporters, because we spend time talking via social media. It isn't a sea of nameless faces that buy our stuff. It's people who do incredible things and let us into their lives. And we try to do the same. Sometimes I feel like the artist-equivalent of a Ma and Pa General Store. It hasn't shot us into the upper stratosphere of fame and fortune, but it's allowed us to make this our life, and not just a hobby.

DONNA: Oh, as an aside the randomness thing: many, many years ago, if it weren't for the fact that we stuck around -despite me really wanting to pack up and leave after the promoter never even showed up- and played a terrible, "ego" crushing show for three people in a really bad neighborhood in a town in NJ, we wouldn't be having this conversation. One of those three people was Kyle. 

BK: Please tell me more about Kyle being one of three people who showed up, and what happened next. That could complete the circle I need to tell a great story.

DONNA: I think it was in 2003, maybe. Kyle was at that show with his friend- the other performer for the night, a very talented singer/ songwriter named Nicki Jaine. It was one of those shows where it was basically the bands playing for each other. They were both so friendly and positive in a less than ideal situation. We found out that they were from Philly. We were living in Baltimore, and really from there, a friendship just formed over time. We found that we had a lot of friends in common -Patrick Rodgers, who initially contacted you and whose label we were eventually signed to for several years- being one of them.Kyle began shooting us at shows in Philly, and eventually we came to work with him almost exclusively. He was willing to put up with my neuroses and persnickety-ness during shoots, and has consistently given us photos that were better than we ever could've imagined or hoped for. Usually within the first few takes, because he's that good and there is an intuition - these unspoken understandings- with him that you can sometimes find with other artists...if you're really lucky. 

Since around 2007, he has shot 4 EP covers for Ego Likeness (The Compass EPs), the cover for our 2010 full-length "Breedless", and numerous promotional photos. This is a video that he shot with us in 2012, for the single for our upcoming album. The song is called 'Treacherous Thing'. 


Ego Likeness is best and most simply described as dark, electronic rock.

All of our music projects: Ego Likeness, Stoneburner, Hopeful Machines, and The Trinity Project, as well as links to Steven's art on Etsy, and our books through Raw Dog Screaming Press (I write horror/ dark fiction and poetry, and Steven has written and illustrated a children's book, and several other illustrated collaborations) can be found at www.egolikeness.com

Thanks again!

Image by Kyle Cassidy.