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Is It A Big Deal For Designers To Give Product Sources To Social Media Followers?

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

Social media plays a major role in most entrepreneurs' marketing efforts, and even more so for designers, since a lot of what we offer is visual.

Potential clients are usually interested in working with a designer based on the work they have seen on social media, and then confirmed on their website.

Platforms like Pinterest, Houzz and Instagram have made it possible to use social media almost as an extension of our portfolios.

But even more than that, these platforms allow us to interact with our prospects through videos and stories, and that helps the "like, know, trust" factor that will lead to a client hiring one designer over another.

It is a beautiful thing. We get to market our businesses way beyond what we were able to do in the past. We can invite our prospective clients into our worlds by sharing a lot of what happens behind the scenes, the progress that lead to the grand finales, the pitfalls and the victories, and our ability to communicate and problem solve. A lot of us have even shared our personal stories and family life, and that shows us as humans and not just a business entity.

It is a beautiful thing for prospective clients as well, because they get to know us a bit more than just what our websites can offer. They hear our voices, get a sense of our personalities, maybe even our communication styles and how we handle problems, way before they even hire us.

This should be a win win for everyone involved, and it usually is.

But there can be a down-side to this online kumbaya-fest, and this post is meant to provide a bit of understanding of this phenomenon that we as designers see happening on social media platforms lately.

Followers asking for sources for the products they see in our work.......

Before I get into this too far, I want to preface this by saying that my business model is all about adding value to people's lives - whether or not they hire me. I am speaking just for my firm here, but I am a firm believer in generosity, sharing as much as we can, being a resource to others without the expectation of something in return.

Over the last 15 years, I have developed programs, tools, resources in several different forms, to build a community around what I do. The overriding fact is that I know a vast percentage of this community I have sought to build, may never hire me, but I still desire to inspire them to beautify their own environments. That is still the case and always will be.

With that being said, is it a big deal to share resources with social media followers who ask?

Well, yes and no!

Instagram, for example, has made it easy for followers to send us a message or leave a comment asking for exactly what they want. On one hand, it is very flattering that a perfect stranger loves what you do enough to want to replicate in their home, but on the other hand, there is a sense of entitlement, especially recently, that must be addressed.

If you are doing a good enough job as a designer to be active and consistent online, you are most likely very likable, relatable and generous. You have most likely built up a good, loyal following. People may feel even more entitled and have more of a sense of ownership of your influence. Subconsciously they may even think that the fact that they follow your business online, means they have certain rights and access to you. They may never even consider supporting you financially through hiring you for a service, but the time they spend with you is support enough in their minds.

Of course they are not wrong in expecting something in return for their follow, but providing inspiration by sharing your work should be more than enough.

A lot of fellow designers have come forward sharing stories of experiences they've had with social media followers demanding answers about products shown in their stories or in feed. Sometimes they are downright rude. That is very surprising to me.

It may seem like no biggie to just tell a perfect stranger where we sourced the rug or the chandelier from, or what paint color is on the trim or cabinets, but it goes way beyond that. I will explain in a second.

Before I do, let me make a very important point using instagram as an example.............

When it comes to designers sharing their work on Instagram and sharing the sources for all products along with it, there are three things at play:

1) The designer is just a designer sharing their work to gain new clients. It is a part of their marketing strategy, which means they are likely paying for ads, paying a social media management company to manage it for them, or at the very least, spending time to understand the algorithms and posting as needed to where it will be effective and yield results. Results meaning new paying clients. There are payrolls to pay, overhead expenses to pay, continued education to pay get the point :-)

2) The designer is not just designing for clients and using social media for marketing, they are also influencers. This means they do client work (just like in scenario number 1 above), but they also collaborate with brands and are paid to showoff their products in their design work. This is also marketing for them, might I add.

3) The designer does not take on design work for clients at all and they are just full time design influencers. Typically they work on their own homes and collaborate with and get paid by brands to showoff their products.

Having that basic understanding will help you see what is going on with some designers sharing their sources and some not.

So which one am I?

I am number 2. I am a designer who does full service interior design for clients as my main job, but I also am a micro-influencer and collaborate with various brands to showcase their products.

Obviously if a brand pays me or gifts me with a product, it is marketing for them, and I must tag the brand and share them as the source of the product. One key example is my involvement with The One Room Challenge and DesignHounds. I work with several brands that I love and it is very much a partnership to tag and link to them and their products.

But when it comes to my design work for clients. It is a whole other matter. My first obligation is always to my clients, and because my clients pay me well to develop designs and create solutions for their unique needs, it is private and protected information, and the sources of the products are held a bit closer to the chest.

Out of respect for paying clients, we avoid giving away what they have paid for for free to a stranger on social media. This is definitely true for me when the person asking posts it right in the feed where it is public, but even if it is a private message, it is still something to think about, as I take this very seriously.

Even then, I still try to be as generous as possible, so there are certain exceptions when I will share a source to someone who asks nicely and sincerely.

** If a fellow- designer asks privately, I will share the source

** If it happens to be a personal project in my own home or studio, then I am the client and don't mind sharing.

** If the product is from a retail source. This means that the product is available to consumers so no big deal sharing the source.

** If it is a vendor that I am trying to support even if we don't have an official partnership agreement or collaboration.

** If I have had that discussion with the client ahead of time and they don't mind sharing one or two things, then if asked I might

So as much as I am protective of the design I created for my clients, I still try to be a resource as much as I can.

The reality is that a large percentage of the products shown in our work was fully custom or customized for our clients, so it is not even a source we can share. Also, most products are from trade sources and not available to consumers for the most part.

Very often we are have paint mixed using a specific formula to achieve the color. But at the very least, we will inform someone asking that lighting will affect the color, and it may look completely different in their application.

Custom means that we are creating something from scratch, straight from our brains, and it doesn't exist anywhere else.

Customizable means that we took a product that our trade vendors stock or build per order, and added our specific dimensions, color, finish, textile, material to it to make it different for that specific project.

A while ago we decided that we would create a "shop the look" store on our website by curating some of the products we get questions on, and making them available to consumers. That way, when asked, we can direct them to purchasing the item through us. That has helped consumers get access to some of the unique items in our work.

One of the most popular product in our store is the Butterflies For Brains sculpture. We added this because we got several questions on it from a video we did a while back.

The long and short of this post is really to provide some background as to why a designer might tell you "sorry, no, I can't share that source". We are just asking that you respect that boundary and understand it from our point of view.

I am committed to sharing whatever I can, because I love to see a consumer taking an interest in decorating their home beautifully. I am all about supporting them as much as I can. But yes, there is a limit to that. We actually don't have an issue with someone asking privately, we just ask for understanding with the answer you may get, or sometimes due to our schedules being packed with real design work, we may not answer at all.

Head to our online store to see what we have there, or schedule an in-person or virtual design session and let's chat about your project.

Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!


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