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, but 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:
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.
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 she 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
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 – 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.
My own desire to engage with facebook fell off dramatically when I began to observe how few people interacted with my posts when: A) I didn’t spend much time engaging (ie. actively liking and commenting on the posts of the people I follow) on the platform. I understand fb wants people to engage, but the equation of more time on fb resulting in more eyes on my work just doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to spend more time on the platform in order to… have to keep spending more time on the platform. And B) I saw how quickly engagement dropped or never even happened for posts that included a link to a website outside of facebook. After some cursory research via google, it seems apparent that fb pushes down posts that may take people off of fb, and if I want to direct people to my website or my online shop, fb is simply not an effective way to do this. I have mixed feelings about instagram. I haven’t given up on it, but I am also pretty wary of it knowing it is run by fb. Social media these days feels a lot like the popularity contests of high school.
Although I have been posting my art on Instagram and Facebook for over a year, I think it’s the WAY I’ve been posting it that has been useless. I always just put “work in progress” or “my latest painting” or something similar. Nowhere on there did I say – THIS IS FOR SALE. A friend of mine did that, and she is having great success!
No, its not the way you’ve been posting it (though it wasn’t a very good idea to post “in progress” because everyone then thinks the work isn’t ready – so who would try to buy it????) – but it wasn’t really that that has been useless – its the platform – see my comment below – but I think the platform is useless
As for your friend that had great success – if their work is very commercial (flowers, animals, “cute stuff”,, pretty sunsets, etc) and NOT expensive – perhaps you can sell a bunch of it cheaply – but I don’t think you can sell “real” art at any decent price through FB – dont know about IG, but I suspect you can get a lot of followers there but still not sell anything – your followers will be other artists – they are not art buyers!!
I purchased (several thousand dollars)a website/marketing platform to sell my work that primarily focuses on social media. Though I’m happy with the strategy they provide, I find it difficult to keep up with the marketing and still find time to do what I really love to do, create art. I haven’t sold anything from my website. One piece I sold via IG to a friend. It’s not instant success, at least not for me, and that’s gets discouraging. I have sold several pieces in person. I know a presence on social media is necessary, but at the same time most artists are not great marketers. It’s a struggle to do it all.
Chiming in here. I have discovered that if you have paid for any boosted posts or advertising, Facebook’s algorithm appears to prioritize your posts. This became an evident pattern in my own interaction with the platform. From a business perspective, I suppose that makes sense on their part — otherwise, you are in fact getting something for free (if you think about it). They provide you with a platform, framework and other tools — but it’s our data is their currency; another topic.
While I believe social media is a valid tool, I view it as nothing more than that. The increase in controversy, narcissism and other bad behavior has made these platforms increasingly dysfunctional.
That being said, as others mentioned above, it’s how you approach utilize the medium. There are people who specialize in exploiting these platforms, but that can be costly to hire. I personally find it all very frustrating.
Then, you have people who post “How to promote your work and sell more!” [sic] eBooks — when in fact, it’s information you can obtain anywhere for free, most of these people are copying each other’s work and attempting to pander it to us for $.
As such 🙂
I very reluctantly joined FB because I finally realized the artists I collect were posting on FB/IG before, or instead of, updating their websites. I really hate what both FB and IG are turning into. I can barely find work by artists I follow. Now I search on IG and FB for the artists I deeply collect and leave the sites quickly. I believe both FB and IG are doomed platforms for discovering new artists. However, I am enthusiastic about the potential of Musero. No algorithms, I can quickly see work posted in order and have discovered some new artists to add to my collection.
Hi Tony, I’ve enjoyed seeing your posts on Musero.
I was reluctant to share my work on Facebook when I started painting again after a long pause for a teaching career. A local painting group I went out with encouraged me and when I did I was surprised and thrilled by multiple requests to purchase. This was most encouraging and I sold paintings every month for about a year and a half. Then suddenly all sales stopped. Wondering if some algorithm changed or perhaps I have sold something to any potential buyers among my extended contacts and probably need to buy ads or boost in some way. Haven’t done that yet…Curious if others have had a similar experience.
I started my Facebook Art page in 2018. It is a time investment to be sure. When I first started the page I invested in “boosts” of my posts. This helped me to gain followers to my page. I have about 2,000 followers currently. However, I don’t think “boosting” has really helped me in generating sales, so it’s a couple of years since I have boosted a post.
Every sale I have made since 2018 has come, one way or another, through my Facebook art page. I do actively engage with every single person who bothers to comment on my page. And, I have developed some good relationships in doing this. And I have gone on to meet some of those people in person at various exhibitions. I also have cultivated several collectors this way. But what I have found is that out of those 2,000 or so followers, it is the same 200 or so who routinely engage (comment) and it’s the same 20 or so who typically buy my work.
In the 4 years I have had the page I have generated more than $20,000 in sales. (I am an emerging artist, so that won’t sound like a lot to many artists.) And, my price points up to a couple of months ago were quite low, with my highest price around $750. I’ve raised my prices since I started this course, with my median price point now more around the $1400 range. And though that made me apprehensive, I have continued to generate sales through my Facebook page at the higher price points. I do not currently have gallery representation, though that is a goal I have set for 2023. (Fingers crossed.)
Facebook has helped me to become somewhat established, but I haven’t cracked the code on how to take it to the next level. That is what I would like to figure out.
I’m excited about his series Jason and am looking forward to our posts. It’s hard to hit a moving target and social media is one. I’ve seen that artists who sell instructional courses and materials do very well with advertising on social media. There’s certainly a large audience for that and by building a following on YouTube or instagram for free, their audience is ready for their products after a year or even less.
I’m not as sure about direct art sales though. There is an artist: Taylor Lynde, who has sold unframed oils for years via facebook posts and selling from EBay. Another artist, TJ Cunningham stopped selling through galleries curving covid when they were closed and then started selling directly after pulling out of his galleries, but he had an established collector base from being nationally known before selling on his own.
Sorry about the typos
I find FB totally useless for selling art – 1st – unless you are the kind of person that has/can generate 1000’s of followers, very very few people will see your posts, especially because FB now pretty much limits your posts to automatically go to only 25 of your friends (and they choose which ones) (theres a way around this but its complicated – and I believe temporary) (your other friends can see your posts, but they have to go to your page to see them – and nobody does that actively) 2nd – you can boost posts cheaply, but though a lot of people see you boosted post, most of them are not remotely interested in buying art – who will see your boosted art posts are lots and lots of other artists (which are really the only people on the site who indicate they are interested in art, the criteria FB will use in “targeting” who sees your posts – they act like they will deliver a very specific audience, but its really a very random audience, almost completely devoid of REAL ART ENTHUSIASTS, AND PROBABLY CONTAINING ABSOLUTELY NO ART COLLECTORS- its like trying to find art buyers from a list of people whose qualification as art collectors is that they answered yes to the question “have you ever been to a museum?” – I’ve done about 8-10 art post boosts – they generated about 12-18 thousand views (so FB reported) total – but of this total number of supposed people interested in art, only about 100 total out of the 18 thousand actually then visited the site where my art was – and certainly none bought!! I consider FB marketing a total waste of time and money – I’m not saying that no art collector will find you this way – its just very very unlikely, and certainly not worth spending $ on, or perhaps even time on,
I sell an average of 2-4 originals and 10-20 large prints through exposure on social media each month.
It’s all about identifying your ideal customer, knowing where they hang out and connecting with them as if they are a special friend. (My art buyers live on Facebook versus my art students who live on Instagram).
I don’t push sales and never state that something is ‘for sale’ – rather I offer my niche audience uplifting slices of life that they can relate to and include a photo of my artwork. It often sells within an hour.
(I avoid ‘trigger’ words like ‘buy’, ‘for sale’; avoid any links in the message – these things would automatically push my post down in the FB algorithm; and have never once ‘boosted’ a post or paid for advertising through FB or IG)
A question, if I may ask- at what prices do you sell your originals? and at what prices for your prints /and what size (you say large – is that 18×24 or 30×40?)? As one who seems to sell from FB, I’m very curious what the market will bear price-wise (and even size-wise)
Hi Ken – the originals that sell frequently from FB posts are between $500-$1200 (most of my sales are $750 and $1100 and are 24×24 or 30×24). Smaller prints are 8×10 and 11×14. Larger gallery-wrapped prints are 30×24.
Regarding ‘what the market will bear’, it truly depends on finding your ideal customer and speaking her (or his) language. Many folks who buy originals tell me they have loved my work for a while, always wanted to buy and finally took the plunge (in some cases they purchased prints first). Sometimes it takes a while… but is always after they feel connected to me and my work – not just my work (hope that makes sense). My style is definitely a small niche – not for everyone. But because I’ve found my audience, they feel connected and inspired… and will pay what I’m asking.
Hope this helps…
All my best to you!
Personally I find social media useful but not as a platform to sell work as such. I have people following me that buy in person or they will mention a work they saw online. I have sold a few though social media only but I think I use it more to make people aware of what I am up to. I have to add that I find it tedious to post and keep up with social media. It is a chore and I would rather just create. If I put my effort into it I will add things like dimensions and that it is for sale and all that but I mostly just pop it on there and let it be. I don’t have a website just because I find all of this online promoting draining, it is on my list of things to do in the new year. The other issue is posting work, that is another thing that makes me shudder so I haven’t been first in line to get a website.
Easy and simple. I have been in the business of making paintings for 22 years. Done it all…FB and IG will not boost sales of original art above $300.00. Geclee’ Prints: Mabe… Watch out for spam on IG asking you to upload art on their websites especially if they don’t have a direct contact to discuss contracts. Or if there really is no website…Even when a person has 1Mil likes on IG, your name gets out there but generally no sales. I believe anything below $350 works to sell on social media unless you have a major gallery working the matrix for you. Spend your time and $ on your website and getting into the galleries that fit your style and price range. Just my thoughts.
I have never sold a painting directly through social media but about 10% of the visits to my website have been from Facebook or Instagram. Sales to people I don’t already know are mostly from people who found me on social media and bought from my website. I regard SM as a way to keep people engaged and I only promote posts when I have a big event. I’m experimenting with Musero and while it looks nice, I’m not getting much reaction except a few other artists.
I use Facebook cross posted from Instagram and participate in some groups but I don’t post every day. I have two accounts on both media, one personal and one for Art only.
I get higher exposure from reels but don’t make them often. I may be under optimal in my use of SM but I have retirement income so I’m not desperate to sell except that I have a ridiculous amount of inventory in storage.
I’ve advertised on FB in the past. About three months ago some person or persons attempted to gain access to my page. They sent an email to FB, using my email, and requested to change the password. Meta contacted me saying the request came from a city about 900 miles from my home, and wanted to know if I’d sent the request. I didn’t. So, I still have the page up but I deleted the credit card I had used to pay for advertising. Another downside of social media is watching out for the crooks.
I have struggled with building a following on social media. Haven’t sold anything through social media yet.
I’m looking forward to this series as I think i probably post more towards other artists instead of my typical buyer.
I’ve tried boosting posts with no results.
My website views are very low, but
I’m determined to be successful and I really appreciate all that I’ve learned from you Jason.
Thank you for delving into this topic!
Social Media for ART SALES does work, but it takes lots of WORK and TIME. So far, I havent bought ad’s. You need to post daily, you need to do individual post, while being entertaining and precise with your posts discriptions. Plus you need to do “stories and reels”. I have struggled with reels because I don’t want to take the time to make them or deal with the cost of good ones. I post on FB, IG, Twitter and LinkedIn. I sell from all except Twitter, I would skip Twitter but when I post on LinkedIn it posts there at the same time.
If you are wondering, my work is made up of many styles and my average price point is $1500 to $2000. The last 3 years my sales have been really strong. I do have an open studio policy but set appointments. If I can get people into my studio, there is a much better chance of selling work. Even creating art is about marketing and sales! My poor website needs so much work, and it’s not updated, currently…another project that I don’t want to do!
As a collector I recommend artists use FASO for their websites, there are so many benefits to engage collectors.
I just finished reading this blog and the comments above. Nowhere did I see mentioned the worst of my many fears of establishing a major social media presence for my art. I know that intellectual theft and plagiarism is rampant in our current arts landscape. I’m terrified that someone will steal my ideas, especially what I consider my big Idea. My fear is that someone with better connections and more resources for PR and lawyers, etc, and a more aggressive personality, which I unfortunately lack, will steal my style. Are strategies like “watermarking” images enough? Is it sufficient to state that work is copyrighted? I see so much work that looks like it could have been “copied” from others’ work. Maybe I’ve seen too much derivative art (?)
Yup – that’s a problem. I’ve had my images copied and sold. And I’ve had images downloaded and used as advertising without my permission, or licensing contract. All of them with my signature on them, and some (before I decided it wasn’t worth the effort) with watermarks on them.
That’s the downside. The upside is social media is an incredibly powerful way to connect with buyers you never would have been exposed to from all over the world, and leads to sales, licensing contracts, etc.For every time I’ve had to deal with copyright infringement, I’ve made many, many more sales by virtue of being active on social media.
And here’s the thing – YOU are the creative one, coming up with new ideas all of the time. Your copycats will always be a few steps behind you!
I have Facebook and Instagram as social media accounts. I have not sold anything through these sites. I do post and get enough of a following, but not hard offers. Lots of scammers out there wanting to pay with NFT’s, which I have since made it my business to learn and understand. I find the social media scene quite disheartening even though I do push ahead and still have hope of a qualified buyer. I have sold many paintings through galleries, shows, word of mouth and my own perseverance to not give up.