Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Our relationships with social media; also what does “pro” mean nowadays?

For the last few months I’ve been thinking quite a bit about two terms we hear and read a lot in this our small Hobby world. They are linked in a sense, the first is the term “pro’-painter”, and the second is that of “advertising”. The reasons these have been of particular interest to me are due in no small part to the fact that I am on the brink of opening a business proper within this world.

I will start with the notion of advertising, because the reflections on the term “pro-painter” are in fact a set of arguments and points to be made in the course of dealing with “advertising”.

First of all what is advertising?
According to the “Economic Times” website: “Advertising is a means of communication with the users of a product or service. Advertisements are messages paid for by those who send them and are intended to inform or influence people who receive them, as defined by the Advertising Association of the UK”. Doubtless this definition is broadly applicable to countries outside of the UK also.
Let us commit to memory the fact that advertising is PAID for.

The reason we need to define what advertising actually is must be directly related to the wide web’s biggest social media and those people running two types of pages: community pages designed to promote one or several brands or aspects of the Hobby on the one hand, and those running “professional” pages offering either Hobby related services, products, or simply as an extra gallery with their name on it for all to see. Between these two groups of users there seems to be a severe cleavage: how many Hobby promotion groups stipulate in their group rules “no advertising” (or words to that effect)? More than I care to count. All claim that there are numerous groups dedicated to selling or trading, and “professionals” are asked to peddle their wares elsewhere. Fine. I haven’t seen any “professional” write a post with words to the effect of: “hey let me take your money to paint your little dudes!” in a long time, but I can understand that people who just want to talk Hobby don’t want every post to be potentially sniped and spammed by anyone who thinks they can make an easy buck, and so groups dedicated to Hobby community should regulate accordingly.
Next comes “hot linking” where most community pages won’t let a “pro’” post a link to his blog, or website, or even his Facebook page. Now I can understand the ban on website links because these could be simply full of buyable products and would turn the post they were linked in into an indirect spam. I can only marginally understand the ban on blogs; admittedly blogs can be used solely to peddle services. However there is one service that most “pro” blogs carry for free: tutorials! What do the majority of hobbyists want?: tips and tricks and ideas and sources of inspiration, and those are abundantly provided by most hobby related blogs. There also seems to be a bias: certain blogs and forums are left free to post in groups where the administrators come down upon any ‘”non approved” blogger with the infamous banhammer all too liberally. I’m not going to name names, which would be petty and completely pointless. The question remains though: why should a select portion of blogs be allowed regardless of affirmed rules, and others that offer more or less the same type of content are summarily banned? Think on that if you will…
Finally I cannot fathom the reason for banning hot linking to another Facebook page. Any page whatever it promotes is just another part of exactly the same platform as that used by any of these sanctimonious groups, so if the linked page in question is relevant to the subject(s) of the group it is posted to then why the hell ban it? I’m not going to even attempt to read all of Facebooks terms and conditions but I’m pretty sure that enforcing rules that contravene the freedom of use of the platform as a whole must constitute some form of breach of user terms on the part of certain groups...

Is all this hassle generated solely by a few administrators who need to feel an ersatz form of power by banning budding artists? I think not entirely. We have all come across “pro-painter” pages where we have seen models that we know for a fact that a colour blind clumsy ape would have done a better job in his sleep. The mere fact that such individuals term themselves “pro” is both insulting and detrimental to those who might be able to hypothetically claim such a title. It seems that nowadays as soon as a person paints a model for someone else he or she suddenly miraculously becomes a “pro”. So what is a professional (without the inverted commas, the real deal, full package, no joke kind)?

A profession is practised by a person or group of persons with a view to provide services or goods for such a profit as enables the members of said profession to at least live of their labours and remains reasonable to the customer. Moreover each profession will have a governing body tasked with regulating the practices it allows, the prices it permits its members to quote, and the proficiency required to be admitted a member of the profession.

The previous paragraph is my own paraphrasing of late medieval statutes of cities regarding trade guilds in general. This generic definition can be found in nearly all the major cities of medieval western Europe and are still the backbone of every Chamber of Commerce, every Trade Guild, other professions ( termed “liberal” professions such as law or medical related professions) quickly adopted a similar system and adapted it to the particular aspects of their trades. How is this relevant? There is no “guild of mini painters”, no “order of midnight sculptors” or any form of governing body able to regulate the individual painter. So the painter has to regulate himself along a similar line of conduct without a governing body supervising him! He or she (I hate political correctness…) has to adopt an attitude and business sense that encompasses without being limited to: fair pricing, reliable information on products/services, open communication with all clients, and – here is the hardest – a humility brought on by the fact that he or she must realise that everything is not within their scope and they must tell a potential client that they are not capable to provide what the client is asking for if this be the case. If you find someone who has that kind of attitude then you are probably on to someone who you can safely do business with. Finally when it comes to “requirements”, again there is no group who says that you are entitled to call yourself a professional, however there is peer recognition. Look at who your hypothetical professional works with and for, what sort of projects he deals in, and most importantly find out what his customers say of him: does he stick to deadlines, does he keep his clients updated on progress, is he friendly in his communication (I know that can be misleading but do you want to give your money to someone who mouths off at you or others in a supposedly professional context?...), will he take time to really understand what you want, and probably the most important: is he capable of telling you that your money would be better spent elsewhere if he can’t provide what you are desiring? If that last question gets a negative answer then run: that kind of person is not a professional in any way and will sooner or later provide poor work – or none - and disappear with your hard earned money!

So we can sum up: a professional painter/sculptor:

- will have a good, even if small, reputation and will work to increase and improve it
- will take pride in showing his best pieces without hesitating to show his less inspiring works
- will take time to understand his customers wishes
- will offer a fair pricing if he is capable of providing the customers desire, and will politely decline the commission if he knows himself incapable (if he can he will possibly suggest a peer who might be better able to help his now non customer)
- will stick to his quote even if he underestimated the work involved because he knows that the customer cannot be blamed for his own, and supposedly professional, mistakes
- will keep his clients regularly updated on the progress of their orders
- will keep to deadlines as much as possible
- practices his chosen trade as his single or primary activity

Everyone has an opinion equal to those of others, but I reckon that any one claiming to be a proper professional should meet the above points in full. Most of them are based on attitude rather than actual “talent”, you can’t regulate something that is based upon the personal tastes of individuals, but you can gauge people by their attitude towards their job so I think that there lays the only viable “guide to being a professional painter”.

I can’t see the above being particularly draconian nor being unrealistic. I’d be curious to hear what customers truly expect of a commission painter, I have only my own clients to go by and they all seem happy for the moment.

With that in mind back to advertising: how can it be community beneficial to ban decent professionals from posting under their proper business name? I don’t have the answer; it must come from the community at large. I will say that groups that will go so far as banning watermarked photos are basically shooting themselves in the foot! Intellectual Property needs to be protected and everyone has a right to have his work recognised under his name or chosen alias; and a business name is nothing more than an alias with a legal and fiscal right to existence! Also: a photo gallery, from a pro page that is simply a gallery of photos with nothing leading to think that the piece was a commission, is not advertising as it offers no information on products (see definition offered at beginning of article), they are not advertising: they are just happy to show the world what they have recently sweated over JUST LIKE ANY OTHER HOBBYIST! Equally: so far all the other professionals I have discussed this matter with have been unanimous in saying that they get their business from recommendations of happy customers, and hardly at all if any through Facebook, whether posting with their “pro” age or personal one.

This is getting too long and you have been very patient, so here it is in a nutshell:

Group administrators, while you have the arduous task of keeping your groups user friendly, remember that a lot of what your users want (tutorials etc…) are provided by professional painters and sculptors who, without necessarily advertising (they don’t pay to join your group or post in it do they?!) have every right to have their name OR ALIAS associated with the content provided, as well as right to protect their Intellectual Property linked to the content they provide. You are of course totally free to ban any form of professional content, should you do this I would urge you to practice this impartially (no News blog links, admins posting brand pages etc..) lest you be simply seen as some kind of internautical tyrant in your own little kingdom, and always bearing in mind that users will go to where the content they want is: if you won’t provide it someone else will and you and your group(s) will ultimately become obsolete as your ex-members flock to more colourful and pretty and open groups.

“Pro’ painters”: adopt a respectable professional attitude or do us all a favour and drop the “pro” prefix: if you call yourself a pro but can’t promote a proper attitude then people will quickly shun you (and rightfully), but they will then transpose a stigma to the word “pro-painter” and that tars those who are respectable with the same despicable brush as the one that basecoats you in ignominy.

I hasten to add that I have had no rude or abusive messages from admins. I merely offer what appears to have been a massive rant as food for thought in the hope that it might generate more discerning administrators, better informed customers, and encourage a proper professional attitude in those who hope and aspire to make even a small living in this our world of tiny people.