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.
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.
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.