Marketing and psychology go hand in hand. What does this mean when you are marketing yourself? As independent makers, we are often faced with daily decisions about social media and where to draw the line between our brand identity and our personal life. We are at once controlling our behavior and controlling how others perceive us, which can be challenging.

When I started my blog in 2007, I wrote about things that I made with and for my kids. Family life was a natural part of the blogging experience. For years, I shared Halloween costumes, school auction projects, crafts with the kids, and even recipes. Blogging was a visual diary of my crafty family life, with a supportive online community that helped me feel connected when I was home with two small children.

When my blog grew into a business with books and fabric, and my kids grew older, I felt the need to pull the line a little further back to protect my privacy. These days, family life is hard, and I have a tendency to share the sun more often than the clouds. Sometimes I feel that what I present on social media is a falsehood.


When you build a brand around your own identity and present yourself as perfect, are you lying or just making a smart business decision?
I think people need to see that creativity can be hard work. I try to add small doses of reality to my social media posts, and sometimes I just pull back to get a break. It’s hard to know when someone asks, “How are you?” if they really want to know the answer. But if you know me in real life, you’ll know that I have no filter. I’m willing to talk about my struggles as a parent, my achy joints, or why I haven’t had a drink in eight years. (I’m a barrel of laughs.) Even when I’ve had a bad day, I might post a photo of pretty fabric on Instagram. This contradiction bothers me, but sometimes our personal lives eclipse work for a while. As professional people, we have to continue promoting our work even when we don’t feel much like the brand we are presenting to the world. Social media is part of the job.

For those of us who may be overly analytical, our identity gets all mixed up, even when we try to separate our business life from our personal life. This struggle for identity seems particularly challenging for women. I watch my daughters try to define themselves at 10 and 12, while I am still struggling to do the same at 42. In business, we look to success to define us; in creativity, we look for recognition; and as women, we often seek comparison. This becomes difficult when what we see all around us is a brand being portrayed, and not a person. It’s important to remember that everyone has drawn a line about how much reality they are showing the world — and behind that line there is probably all kinds of messy stuff.

I’m skeptical of life coaches and marketing experts who tell you how to “sell yourself” because this seems artificial. However, it’s important to consider how you want to convey your personality through your brand and decide how personal you need to get. I have a Facebook page where I share photos of my kids, links to articles that interest me, and where I interact with friends. This is not my business persona. I use another Facebook page for that. On Instagram, I do a little of both, but I find that most of my followers would rather see photos of fabric than kids. On Twitter I share more than just my fabric interests, because like everyone, I am a multi-faceted person. But I make up the rules as I go along.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to come up with guidelines for social media so you won’t do what I frequently do — post a tweet, then delete it realizing you’ve gone too far and possibly offended a sweet quilting grandmother in Wisconsin. Since my business has evolved from a personal blog and new social media platforms keep popping up, I haven’t taken the time to sit down and decide what I want people to know about me. We are always changing and evolving, so it’s important to build a brand and social media plan that allows you to change course as you delve into new areas of interest. Maybe you started as a “Mommy Blogger,” but now you’re an independent clothing designer. Allow yourself the freedom to grow. As a freelance designer and writer, I’m always changing my mind about what I want to be, and as I tell my kids all the time — it’s not what you are that defines you, but who you are. I still need to hear this myself.

We live in the affirmation age. Studies have shown that we get a physical boost from likes or comments to our social media posts. Hearts, pins, thumbs up, retweets — all of it affirms that someone sees and connects with us. This instant gratification is addictive and compels us to seek it more frequently. When we are marketer and maker, our brains have trouble making the distinction between positive feedback that can increase sales and reassurance that others accept us. Although advertising seeps into every aspect of our online world, and Millennials may not know the meaning of the term “sell-out,” I think we all struggle with these conflicting identities. We can use social media as a promotional tool, but we can’t allow it to measure our self-worth.

No matter what kind of creative business you are in, I encourage you to pull back the curtain occasionally and let people see backstage. As creative people, we need to share the struggle; as women, we need to remember that it’s hard work. Sell out with integrity and build a brand that truly reflects who you are as a person — often flawed, occasionally struggling, and always human.

Ellen Baker is a fabric designer for the Japanese company Kokka, a blogger at The Long Thread, and author of 1,2,3 Sew and 1,2,3 Quilt from Chronicle Books. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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