Instagram at NCECA: Friend or Foe?

By Joshua Speers
Apr 7, 2016

NCECA Instagram Etiquette Post  Instagram at the NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conference is like hosing a wild fire with a steady stream of lighter fluid: how can you keep up with a brimming conference schedule of events happening right in front of you, and stay on top of a whole separate cyberspace conference?

I spoke with Amanda Barr, Director of Social Media for NCECA 2016, about her role and her thoughts on how prevalent social media outlets, specifically the photo-sharing app, Instagram, have become at the conference.

Barr started managing social media for NCECA at the Milwaukee conference after the council put out a call for volunteers. She remembers, “It was the board saying ‘lets see how this works,’ but by the end of the conference we had about 3000 followers and they were active followers. Lots of people were commenting and sharing posts.”

Things spread quickly from there. Barr managed social media for the conference in Providence and kept the Instagram page active throughout the year, building a larger audience than the council ever imagined. By the conference in Kansas City, the official NCECA Instagram page had 11,000 followers and social media outlets had become the main point of contact for conference attendees.

“This was a dramatic change in only three conferences,” says Barr. “No one is emailing questions anymore, and it’s not just young people getting in touch. Vendors are commenting on posts and asking about the layout of the conference center.”

This engagement is easy to see as most of the @NCECA posts from the conference (there were 160) have over 200 likes and multiple comments. Similarly, #nceca2016 was used 10,259 times. “I was on my phone for 90 percent of the conference,” laughs Barr with both a tinge of regret and exhaustion. But even if it is not your job to stay on top of all those posts, saying there is a lot to keep up with is an absurd understatement.

In addition to the official conference page, prominent individuals in the field like Dan Anderson (@louieseven.0), Sunshine Cobb (@shinygbird), Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) and Barr herself (@amandambarr) shared their NCECA experience in dozens of posts throughout the week. Pages like @hidenseeka and @nceca_rib_hunt create a flurry of excitement and can keep people glued to their feeds, hoping to track down a Chris Gustin bowl or Peter Pincus vase hidden somewhere within walking (sprinting?) distance of the conference center.

With so many posts on and giveaways via Instagram (SP did one for its new logo apron), is this app an asset or a hindrance to the conference experience? In Barr’s opinion, “It’s a double-edged sword.” The possibilities for engagement from both people at the conference and those unable to attend are fantastic, but Barr admits to being frustrated by “the over stimulus of modern times.” She continues that, “so many people are out there chasing things and we noticed lower attendance at some lectures. Or people were on their phones during lectures.” It’s hard to know if Instagram is the culprit here, but those of us who use it know how effective it is as a distraction.

However, there is something to be said for at least trying to keep up with a fraction of the posts because Instagram is, in a way, the public history of the conference. The accessibility to prominent artists in our field that Instagram offers deepens the richness and vibrancy of the community that the council seeks to promote. Might Instagram be the best platform for NCECA as a “member-driven organization” for the same reasons that it is almost impossible to keep up with? Widely considered the grande dame of clay artists on Instagram, Ayumi Horie echoes this by calling the app a “meritocracy” in her blog post “A Guide to Using Instagram for Studio Artists.” As Barr says, “this is how you see NCECA through the eyes of the attendees. This is a view of the conference by the people.”

Despite this endorsement, Barr still feels there are major shortcomings that Instagram will never be able to overcome. “You can only get so much from a photo, and we are visual artists working in a three dimensional medium so we want to be there,” she says. “Half of the conference is being there to experience those people.”

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