If you are a producer of content such as an artist or writer then you don’t need a website anymore – you’ll never have to know how to build one, or pay for a website designer or host or worry particularly about terms such as “SEO”.
Paying for a website is more than perhaps wasting money – it can actually hurt your exposure to your potential audience. Even if you got a professional looking flash based website for free then you would still need to set that aside and start over to accomplish your marketing goals in today’s web.
Many arts and culture professionals I have met have a false expectation of what a website is, how it is supposed to work and especially how it is supposed to look. This leads to paying for a design monstrosity that employs many a boutique design agency but leaves little in the way of functionality and search engine optimization. Too many artists and organizations I have met are left with a dead, abandoned website that they cannot update themselves, Google can’t find it and it looks unreadable in some browsers but it looks good as a screen shot in a web designer’s portfolio somewhere.
The good news is that for content producers such as writers, artists and performers then all you need to do is pay for a domain name – and having a domain name is actually optional. I’m talking of course about establishing your footprint on social media platforms in lieu of building a website.
If utilizing the Internet is like discovering fire for talent toiling away in the dark, then social media is like inventing the wheel. You see, it used to be that content and design were one and the same – you want an “about page” so you build an html page for the text. Then along came web 2.0, and content and design were separated – for example, a designer builds a template for a website instead of an entire website, and the content is “poured” into the template from the database via the content management system being used, such as the text and pictures for an “about page”. A little more complicated but great for websites that interact with visitors and other applications.
Now with Social Media, marketing and content are the same thing . A site even comes built for you – it’s called Google and it finds the “about page” by looking in social networking websites such as Tumblr, WordPress, Typepad, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, etc. I suggest Tumblr as a great platform for very easily putting up a portfolio of work and having it function very smoothly and reliably. Flickr is a powerful and popular plat)form for galleries as well. Twitter is simply the easiest and most lightweight marketing tool to any gallery, organization or talent out there and can drive traffic to that gallery of work you just put up on Flickr. You have a Facebook page, you have a profile on LinkedIn, you have a network of cool and legitimate people linking to you – viola! Your exposure soars not because you have a website, but because you have really interesting work and *the way* you are posting it up on the web is optimal to be searched, found and shared.
Each piece needs to be able to be bite-sized, played with, poured with a space for notes and thumbprints on the back. Your work makes sense as a whole but each individual work sort of acts as a ambassador for the rest. That is how people will find you – not by knowing your name, spelling it correctly and then “googling” it but by seeing your work and following it to learn more about you. This is the most important part – you have to expect your postings of images and/or text to be imported and viewed in a million different sizes, resolutions and contexts. It is now like any other information flying around out there and your painting will be projected on wall in one place, while somebody is looking at it on their mobile device three thousand kilometers away. This is good – because they want to see your work and learn about you and it does not matter if you have a traditional HTML website or if your painting is in a small, unprintable graphic format posted on somebody’s Facebook wall. The medium is not the message in this case but the vehicle.
If you are keeping your work within a “walled garden” so to speak (on your own website) then you may be preventing people from finding your work where they are spending the most time. You might be thinking at this point “sure I will connect my website to youtube” but that’s still expecting to draw people to you when you should be thinking more about what going to them. It could be said that a website is no longer measured by hits and visitors, but by the content being syndicated from it.
The content is the design – it’s what people came to see or are subscribing to see. For example, I don’t care about the building a gallery is in more than I care about the work that is inside of it. Why do I care if you have a background image that is 100% and lots of warm brown textures? If the only thing I notice on a website are your photographs, and they are the only thing I remember from them, and they are easily socially bookmarked so others can find it, then that is the best design of all. The white cube still rules – basic HTML text and links and images and movies. Flash based sites and complicated designs actually do not get read well by search engines or social media apps so steer clear. As well, don’t protect your images with anything more than a watermark. But I will save that argument for another post.
Final advice – go get a free WordPress or tumblr account and start posting your images and words and movies. A domain name can be added on at anytime for free or for about $10 I think with WordPress. Keep it as simple as possible – simple, simple, simple and spend your time doing what you love and then posting it. Leave the rest us, as they say. And yes, Twitter is the real thing so go book your name on it.
I advocate going light and free for artists especially, but obviously am not talking about business sites, organizations, design specific, special projects, etc etc. Also, getting clients set up properly with a design direction, branding, analytics and posting best-practices is the new role of being a web designer in 2010 and this is what I do now. Everybody should have a plan, a CSS in hand and a developed persona brand … man.