Social Media for Artists
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and others are now among the most effective ways for artists to get the word out about their art. As with any form of communication though, you have to know how to use it in order to reach the people you want to reach and get to where you want to go with your work. Social media is no panacea and just because you're active doesn't automatically mean your art world profile is destined for success. The following list of do's, don'ts, recommendations, and suggestions is designed to help you reach your art-related goals with maximum benefits to you and minimum inconvenience and irritation to others...
* Treat other people as you would in real life. Just because you can't see them and they can't see you is no reason to conduct yourself other than how you would if you were speaking to them in person.
* Update regularly. Show that you're active and engaged. Very few people will return to a page that's updated once a month or less. If they return at all, guess how often they'll return? About as often as you update... if that.
* Decide why you're on social media and focus on that. What do you want people to know about you and your art? How do you intend to get your message across? What are your goals and expectations? The better you understand and maintain focus on your motivations and intentions, the better others will understand them as well. On the flip side, the more disjointed, confusing, and unrelated your posts are, the fewer people will follow or friend you. Nobody follows anything they can't understand.
* Decide how public or private you want to be. If you are on social media to advance the cause of your art, then make your profile and postings as public as you feel comfortable doing, preferably ALL public. The more private you make yourself and the less accessible you are, the more difficulty people will have finding and learning about you, trying to communicate with you, getting to know you, and most importantly, keeping tabs on your art life. The more you make private, the more you give the impression that you're not really that interested in communicating with anyone outside of your circle. Going public gives everyone a chance, including total strangers who may well go on to become some of your best friends or biggest fans.
* For easy cross-posting and cross-referencing, make sure your name and username are identical on all social media platforms you use. The best name to use is the one you sign your art with, the one people know you by. If you use aliases, nicknames, or pseudonyms that are not general knowledge, you make yourself harder (and sometimes even impossible) to find.
* Be consistent in the content of your postings. Unified posts on similar topics or with similar purposes make it easier for people to follow what you're up to, understand who you are, what you're like, what your artistic perspective is, and where you're going with your work.
* Make your posts interesting. Focus on narratives or story lines or themes or plot lines or questions or opinions or whatever aspects of your art life are the most significant or meaningful to you (and hopefully others as well). Update regularly-- at least several times per week-- and make people want to return to your page again and again for every new and exciting episode. Instagram and Facebook in particular are basically realtime blogs-- and interactive at that. The potential to actively involve others with your art and artist life are limitless.
* Write posts that encourage people to visit (and revisit) your page. Offer something they want to hear about-- tangible or intangible, it makes no difference-- as long as it's something. For example, talk candidly about your art or your day-to-day life as an artist-- your challenges, triumphs, inspirations, perspectives, latest body of work, etc. Make it more than simply about you. Make it something that others can identify with, be part of, learn from, reflect on, gain insight from, relate to, share related experiences about or participate in, comment on, or respond to. Posts that engage, encourage or invite dialogue are also the most likely to be noticed and shared by others.
* If you want people to like, see, share, or comment on your art, give them good reasons. A good reason has to be more than "look at my art" or "my latest art" or "my art in process" or "what do you think about my art?" A good reason includes the viewer and possibly even benefits them in some way to respond or participate in your thread. Post about your time in the studio, sourcing ideas, your progress on particular works, your process, your goals, the purpose of your art, your broader mission as an artist, and so on. The more people who can identify in some way with what you're doing or what you're going through, the more involved they're willing to get.
* No matter what you're posting about, present it in ways that encourage others to add their thoughts, feelings or experiences-- to comment, like, and especially share. When people act on your posts, friends who follow their activity will be able to see your page. In other words, people who don't know you find out about you, and if they like what they see, they might check out your page, comment themselves, follow you, make friend requests, DM you, or make contact in other ways. This is the "ripple effect" of social media, the ability to expand your circles of friends and contacts exponentially in some cases.
* If you want to contact or engage particular gallery owners, dealers or anyone else in the art community who you admire or respect, start slowly. Follow them, like their posts, read their posts, comment if appropriate. Your actions may catch their attention. They might visit your page and check out your art, your website, or more.
* If your goal is to make contact, thoroughly research them first. Make sure they show art that's similar to yours, and represent or assist artists whose credentials or career accomplishments are comparable to yours. The fact that you're an artist and they're a gallery is NOT a reason to make contact. And if or when you do make contact, give things a chance to develop before making requests. You never want to give the impression right from the get-go that the only reason you're contacting or communicating with someone is to make personal requests or ask for favors.
* Participate in other people's posts and threads, especially if they interest you or you'd like to know them better. The best way to show people you care is to comment or respond to their postings or get involved in their threads. Being generous and taking the time to share your thoughts with others-- not in self-serving ways-- is appreciated as much on social media as it is anywhere else.
* Get to know people gradually, just like in real life. Friendships and business relationships evolve over time. Respond to people's posts, like their posts, like their art, share their posts, and maybe-- very occasionally at first-- send them short supportive or complimentary personal messages.
* If you're looking for feedback or input about your art, you go first. Comment or offer input on the work of other artists, galleries or art people who you respect or appreciate-- assuming their posts invite those kinds of responses. You get noticed by giving freely of yourself and expecting nothing in return.
* Use chat and DMs sparingly, especially with people you hardly know or don't know at all. Initiating chats is no different than walking up to someone at an art opening or anywhere else and starting a conversation. If you feel the need to get personal, message first to find out whether the other person is busy or whether they have a moment to talk... before getting into your agenda.
* Think about who you want to friend or follow and why. If you want to friend someone who doesn't know you, briefly explain why you are friending them. This is especially important if most or all of your personal information is private and the person you're friending doesn't know who you are. Better yet, make your page as public as you feel comfortable doing. That way, people who don't know you can get a good sense of who you are and decide whether to friend, contact, or engage with you personally.
* Get to know people's profiles before friending them. That way, you'll be better able to explain yourself in case they ask who you are. Better yet, explain yourself in advance. Nothing complicated is necessary here; a well-worded sentence or two will do just fine.
* When you post images of your art to your page, organize them into albums of related works. That way, people can easily what kinds of art you make and go to the album or albums that interest them the most. One giant album with all of your art is NOT the way to go (too confusing, overwhelming, disjointed, labor-intensive, etc).
* When you post an image of your art, say something about it. Briefly introduce it. This is essential especially for people who don't know you or are seeing your work for the first time. Provide enough background information or explanatory for anyone to get a basic idea of what it's about and who you are as an artist. Descriptions or comments accompanying images of art always deepen people's experiences and encourage them to comment back rather than simply click "like" and move on. One to three sentences is more than enough in most cases.
* If you have a website (which hopefully you do), occasionally use social media to drive traffic to specific images, pages or galleries on your site. When you do this, always make sure you have something new or worthwhile for people to see. Driving traffic to a stagnant website that looks exactly the same every time people visit is not a good strategy.
* If you don't do it in real life, don't do it on social media. As impersonal as online interactions might seem sometimes, everything you do affects real people with real feelings in real ways.
* Whatever you do, don't ask people for favors-- especially people you don't even know. Things never to ask for include contributing to your fundraiser, voting for your art in contests or shows, buying your art, showing your art, etc.
* Never use other people's posts to promote yourself or your art. Either comment specifically on the post or don't comment at all.
* Don't make your pages only about what you want or need. Always leave room for others to join in on the conversation. There's much much more to life than you, plus the fact that people prefer to visit pages where they can dialogue with others, get informed, share information, learn new things, be exposed to different ways of living and thinking, and so on.
* There's no need to call your page "Bill Smith Artist" or "Mary Jones Fine Art" or "Art by John." That's being redundant. What's important is to use your real name, the one you sign your art with, and format your page in a way that makes it instantly obvious to anyone who visits that they're on the page of an artist.
* Don't tag people you don't know in your posts unless you know them personally or images or texts directly relate to them or posts they've made. Tagging strangers simply to draw attention to yourself is super irritating, plus now they'll have to waste time untagging themselves (and maybe blocking you as well). Tag an image of your art with someone's name if the art is a portrait of them-- and that's about it.
* Never tag strangers in self-promotions, show announcements, or other art news. If you want someone to know what you're up to, ask to send them a private message instead-- but at all times, make sure you have a really good reason that involves them, not just you.
* If most or all of your information is private, don't contact or friend strangers without first introducing yourself, explaining who you are, or giving a reason for your request. If people you are friending have no idea who you are and can't find out anything from your page, then what reason do they have to accept your request?
* Don't spam or send mass emails, DMs, or messages to groups of people you don't know just because you want them to see your art. If you do send an announcement or invitation or request to more than one person, make sure the reason you're sending it has something to do with them. "Look at me" or "Look at my art" or "Look at my upcoming art show" are not good reasons. If you're having an event, make an event page and invite friends that way. And NEVER use apps, marketing software, or other devices to spam friends on your behalf.
* If you make an event page, do not post or message people repeatedly on it. Posting over and over again is really irritating for all of us who either can't come or have no interest. Even if we're coming, we're likely to get tired of post after post after post. Those of us who can no longer endure your barrage will be forced to remove your page from our calendars or at worst, block you. We know you're having an event; thank you for inviting us. Now that we've been invited, remind us maybe once or twice between now and whenever it's happening. That's more than enough... and best of all, it keeps us on your good side.
* Don't add people to a group or page you're either starting or already belong to unless you ask their permission first. Invite them instead. If they don't want to be in the group, they're forced to go to the group's page and leave, or worse yet, block anyone from adding you to the page in the future.
* Don't ask people you don't know to look at your art, go to your website, comment about your art or give you feedback unless you introduce yourself first, ask their permission, and provide some sort of explanation as to why you are contacting them. If there's no upside for them to respond other than to spend their valuable time looking at your art and commenting on it, you're better off not messaging them in the first place.
* Don't ask people you don't know for free stuff-- merchandise, favors, advice, services, shows, to contact other people on your behalf, or whatever. Get to know them first, cultivate a relationship, and if things go well, then you can ask whether they mind if you make a request.
* Go easy on putting up post after post that have little or nothing to do with your art, like your favorite music, food, your pets, third-party quizzes, politics, or other non-art related topics unless they directly apply to either you as an artist or to the type of art you make. Supposing someone likes your art but hates your music or politics? Throw it in their face and you're screwed.
* Don't post on someone else's page unless that post has something to do with that person, that person's interests, something they posted, or something you know they or their friends will be interested in seeing. If it's all about you and has nothing to do with them or their friends, either message them directly, or save it for later when you know them better and will understand why you're contacting them.
* Don't post your response to a discussion thread separately on the wall of the person whose thread it is. Post it in the thread. Posting outside the thread just makes you look like you're more interested in calling attention to yourself than you are in contributing to the thread. Plus, those participating in the thread will not see your post.
* Don't use other people's discussion threads to promote yourself or your art-- unless those threads closely relate in some way to your art, are invitations to promote it, or your comment or promotion relates directly to the post.
* Don't post on other people's pages unless you know them well or they know exactly why you're posting.
* Don't link your Instagram feed directly to your Facebook page. They're two completely different platforms. Instead, share your Instagram posts selectively on Facebook and invite your friends their to follow you on Instagram.
* Don't initiate chats with people you don't know-- especially if your only reason is for them to look at your art, talk about yourself, come to your show, go to your website, answer your questions, or make other requests. If you want to chat with someone you don't know, email or DM them first and ask whether it's OK.
* Don't invite strangers to like your page, pages, group, etc. unless you briefly explain why you're inviting them.
* Don't message people to ask what they think of your art or your website or whatever. Post these requests on your page and ask your questions there. That way, you give everyone the option of responding without pressuring them. Forcing people to look at or respond to these kinds of messages is uncomfortable for them and counterproductive for you.
* Never mislead or misrepresent your intentions. For example, don't message someone a link to what looks like an article about social justice or the environment, for example, when it's really little more than a request for them to look at your art.
* Don't ask "friends" to do things for you unless they're really your friends-- like in real life. Only ask when you can explain the nature of your request in terms they can relate to, understand, and appreciate. Better yet, make sure they're something in it for them to respond to whatever you're asking.
* If you contact someone to ask them for a favor and they message you back to decline, thank them for at least considering your request. Not responding because you didn't get what you wanted is really rude-- and makes you look even more self-centered than you looked when you contacted them in the first place.
* Don't be a taker. Social media is not a vehicle for you to try to sponge up as much free information, advice, favors, feedback and other perks for yourself and your art as possible without giving anything back to others. If your purpose is to advance your art and art career, give first; ask later. The more you give, the more you get back in return. People are far more likely to respond positively to your requests once you've made yourself available to them in some sort of constructive capacity first.
(art by Jun Kaneko)
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