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
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.