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Keeping it Professionally Personal: Using Social Media as an Artist

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During the pandemic, my partner and I fell down a TikTok rabbit hole and have, unfortunately, stayed there. Part of me is hoping that stating publicly that at least one evening a week ends with the two of us sitting side by side in our bed sharing videos of corgis will shame me into giving up the habit. But it probably won’t. Corgis are really cute.

It’s no revelation that social media is obviously addictive and probably evil. I’ve felt this way since I joined Facebook in 2007 and proceeded to spend way too many hours of my life posting such fill-in-the-prompt bon mots as “Suzy is hungry” and “Suzy wonders how we put a man on the moon fifty+ years ago and can’t get consistent Wi-Fi on Amtrak.” In the years since I first posted these tidbits of wisdom for people I went to high school with (and have not talked to since), social media has grown. There are new, specialized platforms on which to be yourself—or a distant-from-everyday-life version of yourself. Social media can be an escape or entertainment, but for many it’s also a place to conduct business. Social media strategy is now an important pillar of most businesses’ everyday operations, including art businesses.

In December 2021, as part of my personal project to revamp all aspects of my art business, and with the financial assistance of a professional development grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, I sat down with Hannah Westfall of Westfall Digital Strategies to do a social media audit, a service that the Washington, DC-based consultant offers for small businesses of all kinds. I selected Westfall from the digital marketing consultants I contacted in the DMV area because of her experience working with visual artists. In her estimation, the social media marketing needs of artists are distinct from those of other businesses. “Artwork is its own industry; the client base is different,” she says. “Artwork is thought of as a luxury for most people. So it’s important to build up an audience that cares about you.”

Talking with Westfall, I came to understand that she and I agree that to succeed on social media as an artist, you must sell yourself as well as whatever you’re making. Every artist I follow on social media with a solid audience of engaged followers posts a hybrid of the personal and the professional, showcasing curated elements of their lives alongside their studio work. Westfall explains that regardless of the custom blend you come up with for yourself, “the key thing is consistency. If you can find a way to be consistent with your quality and your timing, that is going to help you so much more than forcing yourself to post.”

 

 

If you use social media to promote your art business, chances are you could be using it more effectively. Here are Westfall’s best tips for growing your audience engagement:

 

1. You Probably Need to be Posting More

Westfall recommends 2-3 posts a week on platforms like Facebook, five times a week on Instagram or video platforms like TikTok, and sending quarterly newsletter emails to capture people who aren’t on social media. You can create and schedule content ahead of time for your social channels or you can devote a small chunk of time each day to creating the content. And no, you cannot just put the same thing up everywhere—whatever you post needs to be somewhat different and optimized for each platform.

 

2. Specifically, Post More Videos

Currently, in 2022, social channels are in a war for our eyeballs, and our eyeballs want short, usually kind of dumb, videos. (Remember the aforementioned corgis.) Experiment with posting more videos for a few months and see if your audience cares about them.

 

3. Incremental Growth is the Goal

If you’re just starting out, and 50 people see your post, and 5-10 people take some action—signing up for your newsletter, entering a contest you’re promoting, buying an item—then that is a successful social media post. As you grow your presence and following, these numbers will hopefully increase.

 

4. Keep It 100

Authenticity is key on social media. Share who you are as a maker but also as a person. Every couple of posts, share something about your actual life, be it renovation updates, pet photos, or images of yourself at work. Many of your followers know you (and like you!) in the real world, so reminding them of everything you have in common as humans is never a bad idea.

 

5. Use All the Platform’s Features

Make sure you are using hashtags (no more than five on Facebook, up to 10 on Instagram), tagging locations, and also tagging other accounts and people who might reshare your content. People are likely to pay it forward if they’re a collaborator of yours, and even if they’re not, tagging them ensures they see your post. Just make sure it’s an actual match for them and you’re not repeatedly spamming someone you don’t know.

 

6. Vary Your Content, But Stick to a Custom Script

Decide what your brand is and then stick to it with the types of posts you make. Are you sharing images of your space, educating your audience about art history, or discussing your process? Do you want people to ask you questions or vote on what you should do next with your painting? Is your style of post conversational, authoritative, or information heavy?

 

7. Review Your Stats

If you have a business account on your social platforms, they make some of the data available to you. Look at your reports and see what your engagement is over time—is it staying the same or is it dropping? You can compare yourself to the average for people in your field with services like Mailchimp.

 

8. Do Your Market Research

Ask friends and previous clients how they find art that they want to purchase. Millennials and older generations are going to Google art queries first, while Gen Z is more likely to go to a social channel first and try to find art. Knowing your audience and where they spend their time should dictate where you spend your time. If your audience isn’t on social, try focusing on your email list.

 

9. Be Part of the Community

Engagement is important, especially on Instagram. Spend 15 minutes a day liking and leaving comments on other people’s content a few days a week. This helps the algorithm to connect people that are engaging and spending more time on their platforms. It’s important to remember that social media platforms are businesses, and their goal is to grow their profits by convincing users to spend money. People that spend more time on the channel will spend more money and influence others to do the same, so these algorithms are more likely to promote you if you’re engaging with your community.

 

10. Stalking is Okay in Small Doses

If you really want someone to buy your artwork, go to their profile every couple of days and like and comment on whatever they are doing. This will connect you through the algorithm search results and remind them that you exist. Find a couple of different accounts that you want to intentionally engage with either by comments and likes or by hashtags. This would also work for brands you want to work with or receive freebies from. Don’t do it so much that you’re just giving them free publicity, but try to make your content match other accounts they sponsor.

 

 

Research for this article was supported in part by the Maryland State Arts Council (msac.org).

All images by Suzy Kopf

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