Is Social Media Really The Key to Selling Art Online?

by guest blogger Chris Davies

A conversation

 

With the online art market growing by 20% each year, it’s no surprise many creatives find selling art online so lucrative. And with sites such as Artfinder, Artsy, Etsy and even Shopify steadily replacing galleries as the go-to space to buy original work, the internet shopping revolution seems unstoppable.

But what about promoting your work via social media? Can this really help boost your sales…or are you just wasting your time chasing all those ‘Likes’, ‘Retweets’ and ‘Repins’? Sometimes, it seems there’s an endless amount of ‘gurus’ telling artists how to sell their work on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and it seems like an opportunity too good to miss out on.

However, all too often, the reality for artists can be somewhat different. Sure, you may be picking up lots of new followers and fans, but are any of them actually buying – or even thinking about buying – the pieces you’ve spent hours working on? It can be frustrating and perplexing at the same time. In fact, this quote from web analytics specialist, Avinash Kaushik, pretty much sums it up:

 

Social media is like teen sex

 

“We’ve found our website to be more successful than social media, but we’re still giving it a go,” explains Richard Warner, a sculptor based in Welshpool, UK. Together with fellow artist, Victoria Govan, he’s produced work for a wide range of clients and picked up awards at prestigious events such as the Chelsea Flower Show in London.

 

Metal Outdoor Garden Sculpture

An example of the metal outdoor garden sculptures produced by Richard Warner and Victoria Govan

 

For him, social media is more about keeping potential customers interested in your working process rather than directly marketing to them. He says: “There are many variables, obviously, but I think social media is mainly about getting your work in front of people so it can fire their imagination and make them want to invest in your work. The difficult part is providing something of genuine value for people to engage with – otherwise, it’s all just contrived sales chatter!”

So, how can you as an artist walk the fine line between keeping your customers engaged and coming across as too ‘salesy’? How can you find time in your already busy schedule for social media? And, more importantly, how can you do it right? Here are some tips you may find useful:

 

Who are Your Customers?

Consider your audience when setting up your social media channels… who are your customers?

 1. Consider Your Audience First

With any social media channel, it’s worth taking some time out to consider your audience first. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc. all attract different audiences, so you’ll need to consider this when posting content. Hootsuite and Buffer are both great tools for doing this. You can schedule when you want your posts to appear, and on which social media channel. You don’t need to worry about finding the best time to post content – either of these handy tools will work out the best time for you based on your audience activity. You can also post content from any sites which you find interesting. This way, your audience will get a better idea of what inspires you to make art.

Another great resource is Overgraph – a user-friendly way of reaching your audience at the right time and responding to any messages. It also converts all that perplexing user data into a handy easy-to-read report which you can use to your advantage. All these tools have free plans which give you a lot to work with, but you can also upgrade to a paid plan to unlock even more features if you need to. The first rule when posting content? Don’t post the same updates across all your channels and try and tailor each update to appeal to your audience.

2. Choose Good Quality Images and Re-size Them to Suit

As an artist, you’ll already know the importance of using high quality images to publicize your work. However, it’s also worth considering how these will look when they appear in the timelines of your followers on different social media channels. For example, what looks great on Facebook might not look so good elsewhere, so be sure to crop each image to the right dimensions for each channel. This handy cheat sheet from Peta Pixel should give you everything you need to know. Don’t have Photoshop? No problem – there’s a wide range of easy-to-use alternatives out there, as this blog post from Buffer shows.

 

Six G's of social media marketing

The six G’s of social media marketing, according to Nonprofit Marketing Guide

 

3. To Hashtag or Not to Hashtag?

Love them or loathe them, there’s no doubt hashtags can help get your work seen online. However, it’s worth exercising some caution here, because using too many can actually harm engagement with your audience.

For me, it’s a little like going into a store to make a purchase. Do you buy from the pushy salesperson who bombards you as soon as you walk through the door? Or, are you more likely to part with your money if they have a more subtle, yet helpful, approach? It’s the same with hashtags. Generally speaking, try and keep these to around two per post and make sure the words are actually worth using a hashtag. If you’re unsure of which hashtags are most (or least) effective, the free 30-day trial version of Ritetag should set you on the right path.

As sculptor Richard Warner says: “All promotion’s intrinsically cynical and manipulative, so it’s important not to alienate people by insulting their intelligence!” I think he’s got a very good point. The above infographic from Nonprofit Marketing Guide is also a great reference point.

 

Selling on Pinterest

Pinterest has become an incredibly popular visual search engine for arts and crafts

 

4. Why Pinterest is More Than Just Another Social Media Network

Rather than look at Pinterest as yet another social network, treat it as what it really is – an intuitive visual search engine that can also become a great showcase for your work. Why? Because rather than someone trawling through Google searching for images, they can often get to the stuff they really want a whole lot more quickly on Pinterest. It’s not that one visual search engine is better than the other, it’s just that they’re different – as this post from Buzzfeed hilariously shows.

Getting started with Pinterest is easy. You can post pics of your own work and anything else that inspires you. Just be sure to select the appropriate category for the boards you create and use relevant hashtags in your Pin descriptions to help people find you. This post on Oh So Pinterest has plenty of useful info to get you started.

Currently, it’s not possible to schedule Pins using Hootsuite or Buffer, but all is not lost if you want to experiment with Pinning at different times. Viralwoot gives you a whole range of options, from scheduling to detailed analytics.

And Pinterest isn’t just about static images, either. Did you know you can also Pin videos from YouTube? Just share your clips using the share function and away you go. If you like to make videos of your work in progress, this can be a great way to stand out from the crowd. While we’re on the subject of video, you can also share a link from YouTube in your Twitter feed and it should automatically show as a preview (rather than just a link) in the timeline of your followers.

 

Lix Hewitt

Graphic designer and photographer Lix Hewitt uses social media to get her blog out there

 

5. Use Social Media to Drive Traffic to Your Blog

Perhaps the most effective use of social media is to stop thinking about selling art online via these channels altogether. Instead, use it to drive traffic to your website or blog by letting your audience get to know you as a real person rather than just as a brand.

Lix Hewitt, a graphic designer and photographer from London, says: “I like social media as a companion tool for marketing. Etsy has been good for selling my design services, but my blog is my main thing. Obviously, I have to get the blog out there, and social media helps do this.”

So, next time you update your blog, why not post a link to it on social media? Using a tracking link tool such as Bitly will help you see just how many people have visited your site as a result of doing this.

Could You Get Your Big Break Via Social Media?

As its name suggests, social media is about people and how they interact with each other. By using these channels to meet other artists, share ideas and give people an insight into your creative process, you’ll be promoting who you are and what you do to millions of prospective customers. This may not seem like marketing in the traditional sense, and you may not see any results instantly. However, your reputation will grow over time and, as we all know, you just never know where your big break will come from.

My favorite recent example of this is Scott Weston, a digital agency employee from Stourbridge, UK. Having always loved doodling, he came up with the simple idea of sketching the often hilarious or bizarre things people tweet about on a daily basis.

After setting up his Twitter account as @DrawnYourTweet and searching this popular social media channel for terms such as ‘tomato’, Scott purposefully chose users who didn’t have thousands of followers and created a doodle based on anything they’d tweeted that he found particularly interesting or amusing. He then tweeted them with their finished doodle.

 

Scott Weston doodles

One of Scott’s doodles based on the observations of fellow tweeters

 

Before too long, he steadily began to build a fan base. However, it wasn’t until he decided to take a break from tradition and draw a tweet from New Statesman journalist Helen Lewis, that things suddenly got really interesting. She retweeted it to her 40,000 followers and word spread rapidly. In the space of one cold Sunday in February, his follower numbers went from 100 to 8,000.

Since then, Scott has drawn the tweets of celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Carrie Fisher and will.i.am. He’s now got more than 30K followers, went to New York to draw live on The Today Show, and one of his doodles, based on a tweet by TV presenter, Phillip Schofield, is now on display at Twitter HQ in California.

Not bad for a spot of doodling on social media, eh?

What are your experiences of selling art online? Has social media helped you do this? I’d love to hear from more artists on this subject, so get in touch below and let’s keep the conversation going!

 

Chris DaviesGuest blogger, Chris Davies, is a member of the team at Pencil Kings – a Vancouver-based online art tutorials and community resource that aims to make learning accessible and affordable to all. With a background in fine art and journalism, Chris likes to combine his passion for all things visual with writing about topics he hopes others will find useful and interesting. You can follow him on Twitter @Christoff3000.

 

 

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Comments

  1. I haven’ sold a bean online or offline yet even though offline i put on three solo exhibitions with a lot of foot fall and one christmas market where i sold a few xmas cards.

    I find artists follow and unfollow me everyday they retweet or and mention me which has been going on for over a year. I wrote off the possibility of ever getting online sales until recently. An artist follows me on twitter and visited my website and downloaded the history behind some of my work. I emailed them as i have been guided to build potential customer relations which didn’t work. So i sent direct messages to them asking about themselves because i am actually interested and I am building a customer relationship that way. I think social media can be the key to selling online with some people better than others. I also think it is a good idea to have a good balance of offline customers and get them online and vice versa.

    • Hi Joanne and thanks for your feedback – I really appreciate it! As you’ve experienced, selling your work via social media can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. But, if you keep going, you’re sure to make a breakthrough eventually – and often when you least expect it. While we’re on the subject of following artists and others on Twitter, I think it’s important to follow people irrespective of how many followers they’ve got. I know this may not make sense in pure marketing terms, but I think art/artists should be approached slightly differently. You’ll have noticed the guy behind @DrawnYourTweet specifically went for people with very few followers at the beginning. When it comes to selling art, I believe this shows a much more appealing and human quality than simply choosing to follow/unfollow people based on their popularity. Good luck and keep going!

  2. I’ve done very well with selling my art through my Facebook business page. I have a small but growing fan base that is very interested in my art. I am very active on it, which I think is key. I post 1-2 times every day with progress shots of my work, contests, photographs of places I’ve been, our foster kittens etc. I answer all questions and comments about my work and I’ve gotten not a huge amount of sales but quite a few from it. I really enjoy posting on FB and connecting with people, so it is totally genuine, which I think is another key. Altho I think if I could find a gimmick like the artist you mentioned, @Drawnyourtweet, I would do much better, but I haven’t found it of yet!! 🙂

    • Hi Kathryn and thanks for your feedback. It’s great to know you’re having success selling your work via your Facebook page! As you say, being active on your chosen social media channels is incredibly important – prospective customers love to make that all-important connection with you and see the processes behind your work. I don’t feel you necessarily need a gimmick, but it’s always good to get involved with anything that interests you online. A great recent example was #inktober, where lots of artists took to Twitter to showcase their work. It sounds like you’re involved with animal rescue centres – why not try producing cat-related paintings to sell and give some of the profits to your chosen charity? Good luck!

  3. Chris, this is the best and most comprehensive article I have read on the subject. I will eagerly share it in social media and with artists who are in my coaching program. Thank you for delivering a wealth of valuable and practical information.

    • Hi Renee and thanks so much for your feedback! For me, the whole point of writing an article is to provide people with something useful and actionable. If I’ve managed to achieve that, then I’m more than happy! I’d love to hear what the artists in your coaching program get from it, so feel free to keep in touch with updates!
      Bye for now 🙂

  4. It definitely works, and it’s great to see others spreading the word. Great article.

  5. I am a retired engineer whom has found a passion for carving trout. I have tried to market my work via social networking with no luck. I have entered shows and have done well, winning ribbons. Ribbons don’t necessarily equate to sales. I am looking to try a new approach. I am going to pursue your ideas. I found your article to be invaluable.

    • Hi Randy and thanks for your feedback. I’m sorry you’ve had no luck on social media as yet, but I’d urge you to keep going and experiment with different approaches. It’s often the slightest tweaks that can make a big difference, such as: always adding an image to your tweets, posting updates at the times of day when most of your followers are active online, engaging with your audience, and keeping them regularly updated. You might also want to try targeting people who are likely to love your work, such as angling associations, restaurants, natural history societies etc. Good luck and feel free to keep me updated – I’d love to hear how you’re getting on 🙂

  6. I have been asking these questions for a long time. Thanks for this set of answers. I too enjoy connecting with friends on social media and consequently will continue. Perhaps this article will spur me to get active on Pinterest which I’ve been meaning to do.

    Thank for the info!

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Patricia. I hope my article has spurred you on to keep going with social media and I’d love to hear how you get on with Pinterest! All the best 🙂

  7. If what you share on social media functions as an ad for your work, it can help. That means the images need to have your identity in the image itself, (name especially, website when appropriate). Images quickly get shared without attribution, and unidentifiable images are not promotion. I know most of us don’t like to mar the image at all, but it’s better than finding it used to promote a business or cause, one you may actually dislike, not to mention that you didn’t get asked or paid for. Marked (identifiable) images seem less likely to fall prey to these kinds of problems. Plus, with ‘orphan works’ laws passing in Europe and potentially in the US before long, people will interpret that wrongly to mean that unidentified images are ok to use. That’s not what orphan works law says, but that’s the effect people are already talking about. They already wrongly believe Google is the ‘public domain,’ like a giant clip art site! It will become more and more important that your online images are identifiable.

    I use Facebook because my area’s art community is mostly all on it, so it’s a great networking spot. The groups, event pages, and gallery’s business pages, are all valuable resources there. If it were only about personal stuff I probably would not be on a social media site anymore, as they can be great time sucks. However, if a person can restrain themselves to a limited amount of time, I’d say find out where your art community is hanging out online and sign up there. Might be Twitter or something else in your case.

    Though I don’t use social media specifically to sell, I have made sales as a result of postings there. One thing most artists have found is that FB’s filtering of posts from your business page has made it a lot harder to rely much on a business page. Most who’ve paid to promote posts said it was not worth it. I would not pay. After all, it is social media, where we are the product, so why would anyone pay for that? I would only pay for a site if it was free of ads, and vetted for spammers, scammers, and the like, for starters.

  8. nomediaartist says:

    I got ten thousand views a day and a FB group of thousands over about two years but when it came time for people to buy something the audience shrugged.

    If you attract a group of people by giving things away you’ve attracted a group of people who expect everything free. Likes and Pins and Shares don’t put food on the table, no matter how many you get.

    I left FB because it created work and gave nothing in return. Only Facebook benefited. I drew people in and FB showed them ads. That makes me a sucker and FB rich.

    The clients I meet via word of mouth know what money is and I get more business through them than I can hope to finish. They email me. Sometimes we use web conference software. That works out fine.

    You don’t have to be on social media to succeed. I tried it over three years and found it to be a complete bust.

    Some people on social media do succeed because of it but it’s not required. You just have to try different things and see what happens and what works for you.

    • I would definitely agree with you on that. I tried it for quite a while thinking why not put it to use if it could be a tool? In the end it was mostly an avenue for folks to enjoy my art for free, while absorbing a great deal of time for me. Like clicks and even feedback, while enjoyable for their own sake, were just that and nothing else. In the end I found it kind of fickle. I still use it as a service for people, but do not expect anything business wise.

  9. OK, i sell my art online, mostly with etsy & ebay & i do sell often,the last month I invested a lot of time & thought into what i`d call advanced social media understanding, has it helped? hmm not yet! I did have a few people on instagram interestead in buying paintings off me, they asked what the price & size were…but I didnt get a sale in the end….I suppose i`ll give up on pinterest,instagram and tumbler when i have 10,000 followers on each,and if i cant sell anything through them then, well i`ll know it was a waste of time lol…… oh a note about twitter that definatly didnt help me……personally i think instagram is best for artists , a lot of people on there like art…..

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