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How do diverse makers use social media?

Blog by Dr Karen Patel, Birmingham City University

Dr Karen Patel is working on a research project with the Crafts Council looking at how digital technology, particularly social media, could support diversity in craft practice.

July 2018

On Friday June 8 I held the first workshop of the project. I was pleased to have 14 attendees, with many finding the event through the listing on the Crafts Council website, and five were interviewees I had already spoken to. The workshop was designed to be relatively informal, mostly consisting of group discussion. I drew on my own experience as a social media practitioner and the research from my PhD to devise the workshop. The first task for attendees was to come up with a hashtag for them to keep in touch with each other, and also to begin an online community. The hashtag was #BAMECraftUK and is accessible on Twitter and Instagram. The attendees welcomed the creation of this hashtag, which they hope to use as a relatively safe and supportive online space to share work and help each other.

Image courtesy of Karen Patel

The purpose of the workshop was for me to get a sense of the social media skill levels in the room, which varied. We had some discussion of platforms, which ones were most popular, what people used them for, and so on. Instagram and Facebook were the most popular. A few also said that LinkedIn was particularly useful for them, because they are able to ‘advertise’ their services and join relevant craft groups and communities to share knowledge. I was surprised by the popularity of LinkedIn among the makers, as it is primarily associated with business and corporates, a more ‘formal’ platform than the more ‘creative’ platforms such as Instagram. However, when starting a business, it is essential for makers to try and raise their online visibility as much as possible. The issue of visibility, and the online ‘voice’ of makers from ethnic minority backgrounds was a topic of importance in the group. In particular, how the makers feel their voices are obscured in the online space. Some felt that a collective approach, for example through the establishment of an online community for women makers of colour, could address these problems. Hopefully the hashtag is a start. In other research I have done I found that for women creatives in particular, community support and collaboration can be a helpful aspect of social media use.

Also a hot topic was the issue of Intellectual Property and copyright. Some makers felt that if they reveal too much about the work, particularly their creative process, they risk having their work copied by others. One of the good practice case studies I presented was an artist who liked to share step-by-step images of her work in progress on social media. Attendees felt that it was fine for artists to do that, but for makers they do not want to risk their techniques and expertise being copied by others. After all, their craft expertise is what makes their work unique and valuable. Large fashion companies were mentioned as problematic in this respect too, with some attendees feeling that such companies can culturally appropriate designs, a particular concern for women whose cultural background and heritage informs their practice. 

Image courtesy of Karen Patel

The second part of the workshop was a group activity and discussion, where small groups discussed particular challenges with social media. I wrote the ‘top’ challenges on a flipchart, and as a group we discussed potential solutions for each problem, drawing on the wealth of expertise in the room. We ran out of time so we couldn’t get through all of them, but attendees felt they had learned a lot about social media. Feedback overall was very positive, with all of the makers saying that the workshop either met or exceeded expectations.

I have learned a lot from this first workshop, and the makers have made me rethink my assumptions about how craft expertise can be effectively communicated, or signalled, on social media. My learning from this first workshop will be used to inform the second workshop, which will be held on Friday 5th October at STEAMHouse in Birmingham. More details to follow.

March 2018

I am now almost three months into this AHRC-supported Creative Economy Engagement Fund project in collaboration with the Crafts Council. For this project we are looking at how digital technology, mainly social media, could support diversity in craft practice. As stated in my previous blog post, I am looking for women makers from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to participate in an interview and a free social media workshop ran by myself. I am still recruiting participants, so if you are interested, or know anyone who is, do get in touch at the email address below.
So far I have carried out eight interviews with makers from London and Birmingham, and already some interesting themes have emerged about the role of social media in craft practice and the specific experiences of BAME women.

Below the main themes emerging from the research so far:

  • For the women makers of Asian origin in particular, family and cultural expectations have sometimes made it difficult for them to make a career out of craft initially, because it is expected they would go into a more ‘secure’ or prestigious job. This raises questions about how craft practice, particularly by women, is valued in some cultures.
  • Many of the participants are wary of appearing too ‘sales-like’ or ‘pushy’ on social media. Also, some do not feel confident with revealing aspects of their practice or personal lives online, and prefer to keep their social media presence ‘strictly professional’. Such sentiments are also evident in my PhD, my paper with Annette Naudin (Naudin and Patel, 2017) and in accounts of women’s self-promotion by Genz (2014) and Scharff (2015). The lack of confidence with self-promotion may be even more apparent among BAME women, which I am looking to explore further.
  • Some participants discussed the tensions between using social media and the nature of their craft practice. Some makers become immersed in the slow pace and detail of making, and for them this is at odds with the fast pace and brevity of social media. This is an interesting theme emerging which raises questions about the role of social media use in craft practice.
  • The next steps are to continue recruiting participants for interviews and the workshop, and then arrange and devise the London workshop which will take place in June. I will also be holding a workshop in Birmingham in the autumn. The workshops will involve me sharing some social media skills and tips from my own professional experience working in social media. I also want to work with makers to tailor social media guidance for them, with a view to creating some useful resources.

For more details about this project and if you are interested in participating please contact me at karen.patel@mail.bcu.ac.uk.

January 2018

I am very pleased to be working on a research project with the Crafts Council looking at how digital technology, particularly social media, could support diversity in craft practice. It is funded by the AHRC’s Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship which supports projects which are broadly aligned with the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy.

The project arises from some themes which emerged from my PhD research, which looked at how creative workers signal expertise on social media. I focused on 19 UK creative workers from a variety of fields such as craft, fine art, literature and composition, interviewing them about their careers and social media use. I also analysed samples of their social media posts using a signalling expertise framework I developed. Some of my method and initial findings are featured in a chapter I published last year in a collection on collaboration in the creative industries.

During the research gender emerged as a significant theme; I noticed that the women participants behaved differently online compared to the men. Whereas the men shared a lot of their own work, the women tended to share the work of others, and engage in conversation with each other, rather than only pushing their own work. The women seemed to be wanting to help each other, even if they were in potential competition for customers. Using social media seemed to reap clear benefits for some of my participants – one woman used social media marketing to become a relatively successful portrait artist, whereas others who live in rural areas valued the online communities and support. Such online communities seem important for a collective raising of visibility of women’s art and craft. However in my general scoping of online hashtags such as #handmadeuk, it seemed that the most visible online communities were quite homogenous.

In this project I want to investigate this further, in the specific case of women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and in the area of craft. A significant part of the Craft Council’s mission is to encourage diversity in craft, and while there has been a 5% increase in BAME participation in craft since 2014, the participation rate is still estimated to be at 15.3%. Furthermore, my previous research suggests that online spaces for creatives and craft workers are even less diverse. I am looking to explore this in greater depth, and work with makers to come up with solutions for BAME women to develop social media skills, think through critical issues about social media and diversity, and hopefully develop some useful resources and outputs.

The project began on 1st January 2018 and will run for 10 months. I will post updates as the project progresses! For more information please contact me at karen.patel@mail.bcu.ac.uk.  

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