Community-Building with Integrity: Harnessing the “Social” in Social Media

Read the story behind the vibrant @metalsmithsociety, with insights from Corkie Bolton on building and sustaining an organic community.

Last edited: 1/26/2021

In under 3 years, @metalsmithsociety has grown into an organic 159,000-member community, offering the intimacy and inspiration of a guild. Founder Corkie Bolton is quick to credit her Instagram success to collaboration and commitment to her guiding pillars: Kindness, Community and Education. Read on as she shares her insights into sustaining connection and engagement.

Metalsmith Society Logo
Thousands of followers worldwide wear this logo with pride!

1. What is Metalsmith Society?

We’re an Instagram community that shares information on jewelry-making, from tool reviews to tips on fundamental processes. Our pillars are Kindness, Community and Education. All of the content in our feed—from posts to comments—must serve those pillars.

2. How did you come up with the idea for the Metalsmith Society?

Several factors coincided. I was a stay-at-home mom, slowly starting to return to making jewelry. At the time I was sharing studio space with three other artists. One person did cool things with fiber and rope, one carved rings from stone and the other worked with really cool old castings and brass pieces. Since no one was really doing traditional metal work I didn’t have anyone to talk to for troubleshooting.

I really felt the impact of this while I was working on a custom job—a white gold ring with an opal. The setting snapped during soldering, and I was so stressed out! I really wanted it to be perfect. I found myself emailing a former coworker from an old bench work job that I’d had. She suggested that I cut a piece of potato and place it over the stone during setting, and it worked!

Meanwhile, my activity on social media was starting to feel very empty. I noticed on Instagram that there wasn’t a dedicated space where people were sharing information on jewelry-making. I started to wonder if I could build a community by sharing information. While majoring in jewelry at Pratt, I worked as a studio monitor. I really enjoyed connecting with people and exchanging knowledge.

One night I was sitting in my kitchen talking to my husband and our conversation inspired the name. To be honest, I thought it sounded kind of bad-ass. I hired a graphic artist to create a logo to make it “official.”

In the early days, I’d seek out jewelers on Instagram. If someone was demonstrating a process or offering a technical tip, I’d ask them if I could share their post, with full credit of course. And I try to keep the technique videos innovative but fundamental—I wouldn’t ask someone to share a specialized process that they’d spent years developing.

One day a member asked if they could get a mug with our logo, and that was the start of offering branded merchandise. Doing that has made it feasible for me to focus on running Metalsmith Society.

instagram post showing cross locking tweezers keeping gold hoop earrings in place
This paper clip, third hand tip from @marionwild a tip remains widely popular for how inexpensive and easy to emulate it is.

3. Why do you think the Metalsmith Society is so successful?

No one is as surprised as I am by our growth! I think people show up because we provide them with free, high-quality content.

Approximately 95% of our content comes from other jewelers. When someone shares content with us, they often step up and answer questions, too. The knowledge and generosity of our contributors continues to humble me.

All of our content is in service to our pillars of kindness, community and education. If it’s not about that, I don’t post it. For example, once we had a soldering video and a commenter wrote: “That ring is ugly.” I reached out to them with a direct message, and explained that we don’t do that here.

And I primarily keep it about the jewelry, although occasionally I’ll post content around social causes. It’s a privilege to have the ear of so many.

4. What’s your favorite thing about social media?

The way it’s connected me to people. I’ve made a friend in Australia who generously face-timed me when I wanted to learn flush-setting. One woman told me that she met her fiancé while hiking in one of our t-shirts. The fiancé noticed that she was wearing a t-shirt with a torch on it, and they struck up a conversation.

5. What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to build a community on social media?

Whatever you put in is what you’ll get out. If you’re authentic, you’ll attract authenticity. Being honest is important to me. For example, for every tool that I feature on Tool Talk Tuesday, there’s others that didn’t make the cut because I didn’t think they were a good fit for our community.

On the same note, it’s important to not just take, or not always be selling. Around 98% of my posts are how-to’s or related to jewelry-making. Perhaps 2% mention that I have a Patreon account.

Whenever I post anything, I ask myself whether it serves the group. That means saying no to opportunities sometimes. The only reason I’m doing this is to offer a positive experience and feeling of belonging.

Connect with Metalsmith Society online and on Instagram (@metalsmithsociety). To see Corkie’s jewelry, plant stands and more, check out @corkieboltonjewelry on Instagram.