The Benefits and Challenges of Marketing Your Art Through Social Media

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, and within a few years, a revolution had taken place online.  Within a decade, nearly the entire planet had joined Facebook and other services that sprang up around the concept of connecting people through online social networks.

Very quickly, social media was adopted as a great way to share experiences and communicate with friends and family. It soon also became the best way to share images, and it wasn’t long before artists and galleries realized that artwork could be effectively shared through social media.

As with the early days of the internet, there was a lot of excitement about the possibilities for generating art sales. Here was a new way to reach out to potential clients for free, and not only could you reach your friends and followers, if they shared your post, you could reach all of their friends as well. Here was a way to achieve exposure without spending thousands on advertising or gallery commissions.

As with most revolutions, however, the reality ended up being less utopian than many imagined. Gaining social media exposure takes a lot of time and effort, and many artists have found that the sales don’t come quite as easily as was hoped. Facebook soon began charging for boosting posts, meaning that wide dissemination of artwork was no longer going to be free.

I’ve had pretty extensive personal experience marketing through Facebook. We’ve spent many thousands of dollars posting Xanadu Gallery artwork on social media. We’ve certainly generated sales, but, while Facebook can generate sales, it’s not our most effective advertising.

I’ve long wanted to explore social media marketing in more depth in blog posts, but I’ve always felt like I was just scratching the surface of everything there is to know about it. I haven’t felt like I could write an authoritative post that would provide step by step guidance on how to use social media marketing to generate art sales. I’ve now decided, however, that if I’m waiting until I feel like a social media marketing expert to write about the ins and outs of social media marketing, I’ll be waiting forever. Not only are there a vast number of factors at play at any given time, the social media landscape is also constantly changing.

This post, and a series of posts to follow, are therefore going to be a little different. Rather than try to offer definitive advice about marketing your art through social media, I would like to share what I’ve learned through experience and also through numerous interviews I’ve conducted with artists via email over the last couple of weeks. My hope is that this post can serve as a conversation starter and a place to share experience and wisdom. Please add to the conversation by sharing your thoughts and experience in the comments below the posts.

What is Social Media Marketing?

To begin the conversation, we first need to define social media marketing. Because social media has developed so quickly, and because, in many ways, it overlaps other online realms, it can be a little bit difficult to pin down exactly what we mean by social media marketing. We all know that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are social media, but what about Medium and WordPress? What about your own website or blog?

A quick Google search for the definition of social media results in the following:

so·cial me·di·a
noun
 websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
  .

For this discussion, we’re going to keep things simple and limit our discussion to sites that allow you to contribute content and communicate with other users, but which are not owned, operated, or controlled by users. Though you may have social interactions and create followers on your blog or website, we’ll limit our discussion to sites, like Facebook, that create a platform on which you can share your content, but that create a level playing field where all users can share their content equally.

It’s also important to talk about what we mean by “marketing.” In the realm of social media, marketing is much more fluid than what we might think of as marketing in the pre-social media days.

Prior to Facebook, I would have defined marketing, art marketing especially, as paid efforts to create exposure for an artist’s work, or for a gallery, and paid efforts to build brand awareness and sales for the artist or gallery.

While you can certainly still pay for advertising and marketing on social media, I’ve discovered that many artists and galleries are using a much more organic approach to creating awareness and sales for their artwork. Social media creates a platform where the dissemination of artwork imagery as well as narratives about the artwork can be shared and spread in a viral manner.

The Benefits of Social Media Marketing

This ability to amplify your reach is one of the primary benefits of social media. With social media, you have the ability to proactively reach out to potential art buyers on a platform where they are already spending their time.

The pre-social media internet gave every artist the ability to create a gallery of their work which would be accessible by anyone with an internet connection. This was exciting, but almost as soon as the internet was born and the first artists began sharing their artwork online, the hurdles to creating online sales and success became apparent. First, it was hard work creating a website and keeping it up to date. Second, and far more daunting, it was extremely difficult to get prospective buyers to visit your website.

Social media addressed both of these issues. With Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other social sites, you didn’t have to do anything to set up the site, all you had to do was create an account and begin sharing your images and comments.

More importantly, it wasn’t daunting to get people to see your images and posts. People naturally flooded onto the social sites. Not only were people willing to visit social media sites, they were actively engaging on them in ways that the Web 1.0 never achieved. Because the content they were seeing was coming from their family and friends, as well as from celebrities, public figures and media sites that they cared about, users were visiting social media sites multiple times every day.

As an artist, or a gallery, you could inject an image into the social media stream and see almost instantaneous engagement with the post. People were liking, and sharing and buying artwork right out of their newsfeeds!

Even more astonishing, it didn’t cost you anything to register or use most of the social media sites. You could publish and share your art for free. A new age had arrived.

The Challenges of Social Media Marketing

Like most things that seem too good to be true, for many artists, the promise of social media soon began to fade.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_bialasiewicz'>bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>While social media sites didn’t require any monetary input to spread an artist’s images, saying that they are “free” isn’t exactly right. Many artists found that in order to see results from their social media marketing efforts they were dedicating a tremendous amount of time and creative energy to their social media efforts. Some RedDot readers have reported to me that they felt like social media was taking over their lives.

Many also found that their networks of contacts weren’t broad enough to reach a good number of qualified potential buyers.

It also wasn’t long before social networks, like Facebook, realized that they could begin charging users advertising fees to “boost” their posts and spread them more broadly.

As I reached out to readers, I discovered that many had dipped their feet into the social media waters, but most had eventually given up because they just weren’t seeing the results they needed to see to justify the effort and time they were putting into social media marketing.

The most common question I heard from RedDot readers was “Is anyone actually selling work through social media?”

Kelly Knox, and artist out of Bullhead City, Arizona asked “I am curious if there really are very many sales of works by emerging artists (at a good price) that take place? If there are, I would like to know who these artists are and who is buying their work?”

Julie Trail has created a social media presence for Gallery 10 in Sutter Creek, California by setting up profiles and posting to Facebook and Instagram, and has spent time expanding the gallery’s followers, but says, “The connections are exponential, the possibilities endless. The big Question is, of course, will all this connectivity increase sales????”

It is exactly these kinds of question that we’ll be exploring in this series of posts in the coming days. Many artists sense that there’s a big opportunity available through social media, but they are leary of the effort that might be required to exploit the opportunity. In these posts we’ll be exploring:

  • Social media marketing strategies
  • How to find qualified buyers and get them to follow you on social media
  • Social media sales experiences
  • The dos and don’ts of social media for art marketing
  • Business profiles vs. personal pages

and more

Your comments and questions will help direct the conversation of our posts.

At this point, you might be asking, “why bother?” It might seem like the challenges of social media marketing far outweigh the benefits. The majority of artists I reached out to seemed to express some variation of this opinion. There were several exceptions, however.

Robert MacGinnis wrote to tell me his story of marketing art on Facebook. After explaining that he was reluctant to begin posting his work to social media, he shared that “it turns out after 2 1/2 years that I have been a huge success on Facebook and I am literally making a living here. I have sold almost every painting that I have posted and have received well over two dozen larger commissions.”

There were others who are experiencing tremendous success selling through social media as well. I’ll be sharing more of their stories later in this series, but these hints of success have convinced me that it would be wise for every artist and gallery to explore the possibilities of social media marketing.

Social media marketing isn’t going to work for everyone, but my hope is that I can share insights that will help those of you who want to better understand what it takes to succeed. I also hope that those of you who are succeeding with your social media marketing efforts will share your insights.

So, stay tuned! If you haven’t joined our mailing list, be sure and sign up here, so that you don’t miss any of our posts on social media marketing for artists.

 

Other Posts in This Series

The Benefits and Challenges of Marketing Your Art Through Social Media

Podcast | Finding Success Selling Art on Facebook &#8211; An Interview with Robert MacGinnis

 

What do you perceive to be the benefits and challenges of social media marketing?

Have you tried marketing your art through social media? Have you successfully sold your art on a social network? What do you feel are the key benefits and greatest challenges of marketing through social media? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments below.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

21 Comments

  1. Facebook is essential to my marketing and business. I frequently sell work through it – even large and expensive pieces – and right now am running a weekly auction of small works to benefit our local food bank. (It’s called the F***COVID auction). I only recently joined Instagram and am building up a presence there. No sales from IG yet, but have a new and prestigious gallery representing me because they saw my work there, and people have messaged me privately to inquire about pieces. I approach both platforms organically, and really enjoy engaging with my audience via the comments, particularly in FB.

  2. I have been using Facebook,Instagram and Twitter for years as part of my layered marketing approach for my work and it has worked great.I sell work every month from one or more of those venues.We also do email blasts and direct mail ,print advertising and constantly update our website…for my work,supporting my gallery and my fundraising for animal rescue,approaching sales on many levels yields the most results.We are still selling online during the pandemic because my collectors are accustomed to doing it that way!

  3. I have been using FB for almost 3 years. I have a business page, personal page and another business page for the cooperative gallery I belong to. In all that time I have sold one painting. I get lots of likes and followers but no sales. I find it time consuming and frustrating. I am careful not to cross post between business and personal as I know from other people’s experience that FB will close you down. I would love to know how to make this work.

  4. I use Facebook and Instagram – have sold a few pieces this way. And one gallery I’m with sells a lot of work via social media. I’d like to have more success though – I also raise funds for animal rescue through my art sales. I especially wonder about Instagram as I’ve heard many people say they sell art there, but I haven’t sold anything there so far (and I’ve been on for 4 years). I’ve used stories, hashtags, commented on other people’s posts – in short, everything I’ve read about to help generate engagement and I am just flat there. Any solid advice would be very welcome! Thanks for addressing this subject.

  5. I have sold a fair number of works through FB, but none through IG yet. For me, the most difficult thing is building a following of qualified buyers–collectors and art lovers with the means and the desire to own original art. Increasing the following, then actually reaching them when the algorithms seem to have other priorities are the challenges I am grappling with. It seems that sharing posts would be a great way to increase followers, but very few of my followers do that. I’d love to see some tactics for overcoming these hurdles.

  6. I started to paint in 2011. By 2014, thanks largely to social media, mainly my Facebook personal profile, NOT a business page, I was able to leave my job to focus on art full time. I mostly gained followers by sharing my art in groups related to the subjects I paint. I painted Mandalas, so, spiritually related groups, NOT art groups, were where a lot of my action came from. I’ve sold over 350 pieces to people in 27 different countries so far. 15 of them were $1000+, however the majority of them were smaller pieces under $500. But then in 2016, algorithms became almost impossible to deal with, and my exposure and sales from social media started to drop drastically. In 2019, I decided to get a job again. Now, it’s hard to find the time to do social media “properly”, but since I don’t rely on it for income, it’s much less stressful and the sales that do happen are a bonus. One thing I feel I should mention is the newer platform Minds.com. Over the last 2-3 years, aprox 15% of my sales have come from there. Their algorithms are more friendly, and it’s growing fast right now. Check it out.

  7. I have tried “boosting” on Facebook a few times and generated nothing. I see very few people posting prices on a personal FB page and I can’t seem to get my business FB page to generate more followers. I’m thinking of creating an ecommerce website and always posting that link with anything I post online or wherever I can. The trouble is the time it takes to create and the monitoring to delete sold items when you are just one person! As for Instagram, which I recently started using, my postings have generated some followers but no sales so far, even with hashtags. I’m thinking my “missing link” is using a link to a site that makes it quick and easy to buy. With that said, I haven’t tried it yet, so who knows? I’m anxious to hear thoughts from others, especially right now when gallery traffic is very low.

  8. I have posted my paintings and greeting cards on FB, paid for FB post boosts very occasionally, paid to advertise the greeting cards on FB off and on for a year. I found FB advertising to be very difficult and expensive and gave no results. I tried the Big Cartel platform, and Amazon Handmade for my greeting cards; both of those platforms take a lot of time to set up and resulted in next to nothing in sales. I have a good website on the http://www.artistrunwebsite.com platform that is easy to use and maintain and not too expensive. It is my favorite social media method. Still my few sales come from personal selling. I do not know if it is because my paintings are not trendy or my contacts are not young, or I am not posting enough. Clearly, social media selling is not working for me. I am astounded that people actually sell paintings from FB and Instagram posts!

    1. @Michelle Marcotte. The heck with FB. 🙂 If I were you I’d be marketing those lively food paintings to local restaurants as far as you can drive! (Really, I too am surprised to hear anyone’s actually selling from FB! I can’t imagine the effort that must take, but am inspired to read some of the comments above.)

  9. I market my art on Instagram and Facebook, using these platforms for business only, to create a brand. By this, I mean I write stories about my paintings, what I’m doing (studio or plein air shots), why I paint what I paint, videos, work in progress pics, things that have sold, etc. I’m not looking for direct sales from each of these posts, instead, I look to interact with potential buyers. They become “invested” in me, my art, and my message. Eventually, this could lead to sales. A link to my website is on every platform. My website then has a pop-up to gather emails for newsletter enrollment. So in this way, I gather names and emails of people who like my work and who become increasingly interested in purchasing a piece. Each of the social media posts engage more folks, and we all know that this is a percentage game, right? I try to post most days, assembling the post the night before, and then publishing it the next morning (so that it takes less time away from painting). While it is time-consuming, I consider the social media posts to be a necessary part of constant interaction with art-lovers and just part of the job.

  10. Well I am in the same boat as many of these artists making comments. I have a personal and a business FB page, never post anything but my art on the art business page. I also have IG, one personal, one only art (with plenty of hashtags)although many of my art posts go to all of these. Just no personal on the art only. I have sold a few small paintings, mostly to fellow artist friends. None from IG. I have a FASO website. I do a newsletter and keep the site updated. Not one sale in over 3 years. I did an Etsy shop and never sold anything. I also have art on Redbubble and occasionally sold a greeting card. Hardly worth the effort to keep updated. I have held auctions on FB, no sales. I have paid to boost on FB. No sales. So I begin to conclude my art is not what people want. Or I am not ready for “Prime time”, or I am doing something wrong, or some of all of the above. I am aware that to use email I need a good active list, but I have never been able to get enough quality emails.
    I am very curious to see if there is a way to sell online. I know artists who do but they also are represented by galleries. I am not represented by galleries.
    I get lots of “likes” on FB and IG, but there it ends.
    I will be watching this series closely!

  11. I am struggling with everything related ton social media and the internet just now.
    I need some nuts and bolts .
    I have a personal facebook page which has become toxic to may art work. How does one establish a business page? If there is a clear and precise information page/video, I have not found it.
    Instagram is the next challenge.
    LinkedIn seems to work for communication but I have sporadic results with posting art things.
    It isn’t that I don’t see the importance, it is that I can’t seem to grasp it and manage the time it demands.

    I’m hoping and struggling for a way through this. I’d like to see a sale or two at some point and be a le to report it.

  12. I started out drawing tourist portrait’s on the sidewalk of my city some 15 yrs ago. I made enough money to buy a festival tent with walls and started doing weekend, art festivals about once a month. I would set up the tent then install my art and zip it up at night and come back the next day to open again. I did this 3 days in a row, once a month for several years all year around and in all types of weather until it just became too much work setting up and taking everything down. Since then I have created a rather large, at least i think so, portfolio. I have a personal FB page and a business FB page with nothing but my art on it for a couple years now. I recently started an Instagram page with nothing but my art on it. I have a few likes and followers with very few sales on either platform. Sometimes I’ll get an inquiry on prices or sizes available. I’ve been in a local Co-op gallery for about 3yrs where i work one day a week in the gallery selling everyone’s art including mine. I just expanded my wall space at the gallery because I am usually at least breaking even every month. Some months are better than others and I am probably one of the better selling artists in the gallery before the pandemic hit. I am the only artist in the gallery renting a full wall. All the other artsists are renting half-walls. Last year I was invited by a different group of artists to do one day shows in 2 different hotel lobby’s 2 or 3 days a month. This has turned out to be more manageable and profitable than doing weekend, outdoor festivals with a tent. The hotels are climate controlled so i dont have to deal with the weather and bugs which is very nice in south Georgia. In the hotel lobby shows i set up 6 easel’s with canvases on them and 3 print racks full of small, medium and large prints. I’ve noticed that most successful artists have a website so now I’m exploring my options on getting one and trying to figure out how to maximize my visibility on line.

  13. I have been posting on FB and IG for many years, I have had some sales but no consistent results. I did waste $1000 on David Emmons class to teach me how to use the alogorythum of FB to get sales. It did not work. I spent allot of money boosting posts, running ads, creating videos, even did give-always. Nothing. Fb would say the ad “reached “ 4000 people, but I go no sales, likes or comments. The class is a scam, the only one making money is this David, $1000 per artist.
    I mostly sell at art fairs and have won many awards. My paintings are encaustic so seeing them in person is vital. I would love to be able to sell on line from my website..everyone is trying to market to artist to pay them money to learn how to use social media.. very frustrating! I will be reading your posts with interest..thanks Eileen http://www.goldenbergdesigns.com

  14. I have a FaceBook Business page and I’m quite upset with them. I have 1,040 followers and I am lucky if a post will reach 90 of those people! I have boosted multiple times and the reach does get much, much better, but I have had literally no return on those boosts. A few dead end inquiries and that’s about it.
    So I am most interested in reading Jason’s future posts about social marketing. Maybe I will learn something to help me do better with social marketing … maybe I will learn to just move on and try something else! Seems the business of art is trial and error!

  15. Jason, thank you for delving into the topic of “Social Media Marketing”; I’d like to market my artwork and my husband’s books this way; however, so far, I feel it takes too much time and is rather confusing as I open accounts with the different platforms. So, I’ll be looking for your ReddDotBlogs on this subject. Thank you.

  16. I am in the same boat as Lee Pierce states in her comment. My husband is a painter, a writer, and a musician and I do the marketing and promotion. We are currently starting to dip our toes into Facebook and Instagram as part of a multi-pronged approach. I look forward to your take on things. Thank you for doing this, Jason.

  17. I feel and understand the frustration many of you are experiencing. I used to work as content marketing director for a software company. One thing I can tell you is this: Never, ever, ever, buy a Facebook post boost with the intention of selling something. It’s a waste of money. I don’t have the time to give you all the reasons why, but seasoned Facebook marketers will tell you they never boost posts.

    About 99% of our sales were online, so digital marketing was our entire focus. That said, we never, ever spent money on social media advertising. We posted, and had a presence on all the major platforms, but never spent a dime on social media ads. Why? Because all of our research told us that people go to social media to interact and engage with others, but very, very few go there to shop. When they look for something to buy, most will Google it. (Think about what you do when you’re looking for something to buy.) Getting noticed in Google searches is a whole other topic and we spent a ton of time, effort, and money on Google search ranking, both organically and by spending money on targeted AdWords campaigns.

    Social media is best thought of as a “top of the funnel” marketing platform. This is where people get an introduction to you and your work. Think of it as a gallery opening with wine and cheese and lots of people, maybe a buyer or two in the crowd, but even they won’t buy today. Hopefully they will follow you and become fans of your art. Most will probably never buy from you, but if they like your work (and you) they might share it with someone who will.

    The most likely place to make sales online is on your website. If you use social media to drive traffic to your website, you can then capture email addresses from people who visit. You can then email them regularly, keep growing your list, and keep emailing. This process moves the most likely buyers through the funnel and it will ultimately lead to sales.

    That being said, I find selling artwork is completely different from selling software (which prospects can instantly download and try for free). My art sales have typically been with people that I’ve nurtured a relationship with, usually face-to-face but occasionally online.

    Sales are the result of a successful marketing process. It’s not likely you’ll sell to someone the first time they come into contact with your work on social media, so don’t be discouraged that your FB or IG followers aren’t buying your work. That’s just the preliminary step in the process. The ones who will buy from you are still at the top of the funnel. It will just take some time and nurturing to get them through it.

  18. I am a painter and share a studio in an old car factory with my photographer husband. About 70 other artists work in my building and we have had a vibrant 25 year old association that seeks out opportunities and organizes shows. We are going to have lots of changes going forward on how we do business.

    For a number of years, I have collected names and email addresses at any of our in-person events, both in and out of the building, and we have worked to build relationships with so many of those people. At the time of signing up, people are assured that their names and emails will be used for our events and our art sharing only. I have also used your notecard method, Jason, to keep notes on conversations. I am happy to have these names and emails right now as it looks like it will be a while before any personal events will take place.

    I use a direct mail service to do email blasts to those people on the list for upcoming events, newsworthy items and themed campaigns. I can track number of openings, clicks, geographical locations, etc. on this email program. With my marketing plan, I send something out – event, newsworthy information, new work themed campaign, blog post – about every two weeks. I included an unsubscribe button. I get very few unsubscribe actions. I average about a 43% opening rate and the emails generate some personal notes back.

    I have a traditional facebook account curated to not include people who seem to be casting about for
    “friends,” and an instagram account that is mostly art related postings.

    Typically, I will send my email blast and about a week later, I will post the same information on my social media accounts. I don’t have a lot of crossover on these platforms.

    My website, which is updated to reflect the latest postings from the above media platforms is not a commercial site. I am not affiliated with any gallery, but am starting to reach out to galleries.

    I believe that my sales are almost all as a result of personal relationships I have cultivated and most sales occur during the art shows. That is great, but I can only do so much and know I need to reach a wider group of people.

    Do I really need the ecommerce element on my website? Is google analytics good to have? Any thoughts here?

  19. I’ve been on facebook for years. I’ve had my own website even longer. No matter what you do, you have to reach the right audience. Fb, IG, Pinterest, etc. At the moment I Fb is my focus with some ocasional pinning on Pinterest. I have an IG account which has been dormant for about a decade. Recently I’ve started thinking about using it.

    None of these will work if we just throw out images/stories/etc out there and hope for the best. The most important piece of the puzzle is the audience. For me, that has been the biggest sticking point and any sales have been accidental.

    About six months ago I started doing Print on Demand products at Zazzle. I made fewer sales than the minimum to get paid. Then I joined a Fb group for women studying the Talmud, Daf Yomi. A page a day of the Talmud. It takes 7.5 years and this is the 14th cycle. One day we encountered a phrase and someone said. “I’d love a mug with that on it.” I said “I can do that.” I designed a mug with the phrase and my art and it sold.

    Then I designed more things and started to have more sales. I finally made to minimum to get paid and gained a group of women following my work. Is it an income I can rely on and live off? Not yet. But I broke the seal.

    As well, I have made connections with another woman local to me whom I see at political rallies and on Fb. She bought a pen and ink on watercolor. It’s a start. And it’s really all about connections. Unless an artist is already a collectible name (for whatever reason), it is the connections we make that in the end will help us sell our work.

    The hard part remains making the connections with people who not only want our work but are also willing to buy it in support of our making it.

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