This article is by Clint Watson, former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here.
I stirred up a bit of a minor Twitter firestorm with my post "Don't Show Your Work Out of Context."
Interestingly and surprisingly, from the tone of the discussions, it appears to me that only a very small part of the post was the focus of people's disagreement with me. I hope I'm correct in assuming this or I may have another post to write in my future :-). One sentence in particular seems to have struck a chord: I wrote, "The wrong context explains why marketing art on Facebook doesn't work well." - which I think in people's minds turned into something akin to "Clint says don't use Twitter and Facebook." Which, of course, I actually didn't say at all.
Perhaps that idea caught fire because I have become known for "bashing" SEO, and for "bashing" Facebook and Twitter, while so many others seem to champion SEO and social media for art marketing.
So, I thought it would be good to have a post that I can point to and link to that explains and clarifies my current thoughts on those two services, Facebook and Twitter, as they relate to art marketing. This is that post. A warning now: this is a long post. I'll probably cover sections of this article in future, shorter, blog posts.
Creativity Dangers of Facebook and Twitter
I am a member of both services and I use them both almost every day. I prefer Twitter, but I use them both. So I'd like to dispel any notions that I hate the idea of social media - I don't.
However, I've also discussed in the past how distracting Facebook and Twitter can be and how I've struggled to limit my time on them. They can be an addictive time sink. There is no denying that.
But even worse, for some artists, Facebook and Twitter can become a creative sink, sucking the creativity out of you and your art.
Recently, musician John Mayer led a clinic at Berklee and said the following:
The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long…I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song. - John Mayer [source](emphasis mine)
Facebook and Twitter are like gambling - maybe not everyone will become addicted - but it's enough of a danger that caution is warranted. In fact, my favorite blogger, Kathy Sierra, warned us that Twitter posed this danger back in 2007. I suspect this is a major reason why Seth Godin doesn't use Twitter (He just has his blog automatically post to his Twitter stream).
So I've come to realize that my position on Facebook and Twitter for business use for creatives is kind of like the old FDA food pyramid's recommendation for fats, oils and sweets: USE SPARINGLY.
[A quick aside: If your idea of downtime is to shoot the breeze with people on Twitter, then please don't think I'm trying to tell you not to do that. Go right ahead. If you have a day job and have a Twitter window open while you work, particularly if that's a time you can't create art or do other art marketing - no problem. Go right ahead. (although your employer will likely have something to say about it).]
When I say "use sparingly", I mean use sparingly for business use and art marketing, particularly if you suspect you're starting to experience the same procrastination and distracting, creativity drain that John Mayer did, and many others do. UPDATE: Artist Lori Simons addressed this issue on her blog as well.
I agree with Mayer and would suggest you try to pour your creativity into your art, not into your tweets. It will do more for your art career in the long run.
Just for the record, however, I want to point out and say very clearly that "Use Sparingly" does not equal "don't ever use."
Marketing Challenges with Facebook and Twitter Streams
The Ephemeral Stream Issue
Facebook and Twitter present a list of content as a "stream." Once a post scrolls off the front page of your stream, it's pretty much gone forever. This has implications for any marketing use of such streams: If you announce a new artwork and I don't see it before my screen fills up with tweets (a few minutes later) - I'll never see it. On the other hand, if you email me, I'll see it. I might delete it, but I'll see it.
The Non-Ubiquitous Reach
When you use Facebook and Twitter, it seems like the whole world must be there. They're not. Many people have never set up accounts and there are millions of abandoned accounts. There are loads of people who don't use social media. I recently looked for my past best art buyers on Facebook. Out of the 17 people I looked for, I found exactly one. Think about this: not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter - almost everyone does have an email address. Don't ignore the non-Facebookers.
The Content Issue
On Facebook and Twitter your content is, essentially, owned by another company. Have you ever tried to find an old tweet? If you don't have the link saved somewhere, unlike a blog, they're pretty much gone. What if Facebook decided you were a spammer? How do you reach your followers? Who do you call at Facebook? If you have your followers' email addresses, it's not nearly as big an issue...in fact, hardly an issue at all.
The "Feels Like Work" Syndrome
I think this is my biggest concern with marketing on social media. I've spent hours on Facebook and Twitter talking with business contacts and, at the time, it sure "feels like work" - they're business contacts after all, right? However, on days when I keep Facebook and Twitter closed and write code, think about our business plans, talk directly with customers, or write marketing material/blog posts, I get so much more important work done. "Important work" being defined as the things that push this company forward by leaps and bounds. While I have made some great contacts on Twitter, time spent on social media has only very, very rarely led to anything that truly pushes me/us to the proverbial "next level" - in either financial or creative terms. On the other hand, the activities I previously mentioned - writing, thinking, talking, etc - almost ALWAYS push us toward that next level.
The Signal to Noise Ratio
This relates back to my "context" post. I'm harsh on social media cause it has a terrible signal to noise ratio. Yes, your marketing message can cut through that noise, but there are so many conversations going on, games being played, photos being shared. It's also extremely easy for the conversation to get off track and take way too much time. Again, that's OK in your down time. But if that distraction cost the world one of your masterpieces, then the price is way, way too high.
Scenario 1: The Social Media Marketing Method I Rant Against
Let's imagine you've busted your hump to create a great body of work. You posted them on your Facebook profile. You tweeted them a few times. You set up a fan page. Maybe you set up a website. Maybe you posted them on an online gallery. Maybe you paid an SEO consultant. THAT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK.
BUT IT'S NOT ENOUGH.
There's too much noise in the signal. It's "spray and pray" marketing. And there are a whole lot more effective things you can do to market your art.
When I rant against social media, I'm ranting against the idea of using it to the exclusion of other, often more effective marketing methods. And I'm particularly harsh on it because I know all too well that people can easily spend a whole lot of time "marketing" on social media when they could have done things more effectively in the same amount of time.
Scenario 2: A Marketing Method I Can Get Behind that Can Include Social Media
How about this instead? [This is just one example, I'm not suggesting this is the only formula that includes personal, timely and relevant marketing.]
Again, let's imagine that you've busted your hump to create a great body of work. Next, you send a hand-written note to your 20 very best customers and let them know, as a thank you, before the works go on sale to the public, you are going to have a special viewing just for them.
You follow up with each and every customer personally by phone. Since you know what each one of them generally likes from past conversations, you can make some recommendations as to which pieces they might love. Offer to email images directly, for them to see ahead of time. You can set up a special page or site for them to preview the works - or just email images.
OK, so you have this special private event. You've created an amazing context. Trust me, 20 people is enough to sell a lot of art if they're the right 20 people. After the event, you next send an email to the rest of your past buyers announcing that the works are going on your website on such and such day in the near future but that they may purchase them now since they have supported you in the past. Perhaps offer something special. Perhaps free shipping. Of course, this assumes you've built an email newsletter list. OK so you probably sell a few more. Now you post them to your website. Go ahead and post some of the sold ones as "social proof" so people know your work does sell. Next, post the strongest remaining work to your blog. Include a short paragraph about what inspired you to paint that particular one - people love that, they really do. Send that blog post to your email list. You might be surprised, people are in a buying mood right after they just bought, plus there are others on your list who maybe didn't see your first email.
NOW we are actually ready to use social media effectively - post a link to your blog post on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps repeat the post 3-4 times over two days to get around the "scrolls off the screen" problem. Bonus points if you just do it automatically like Seth Godin. If you get direct inquiries on Facebook and Twitter, please respond - that's a fantastic use of Social Media. Ask anybody who responds via social media, if they would like to receive your email newsletter so that they are in the early email group next time around. Let them know that your email list gets first choice. And, if they become one of your best customers, make sure to include them in that first group in the future. In other words, you move your priority of social media further down, past your more qualified buyers and more effective marketing methods and then you use it as a "net" to catch other interested people with the goal of moving them further up in your marketing plan.
That's a whole lot more work. It's also is a whole lot more effective.
What I'm Really Bashing
When I "bash" social media, what I'm really bashing is the idea of skipping all those intermediate steps which are so incredibly effective. And I know a lot of artists do skip those steps because I sign up for a lot of artist email newsletters and hardly ever receive one. I've bought quite a few artists' works - artists who never let me know when they have new work. That completely blows my mind. (Actually, one artist whose work I own does now email me, but only because the artist read a previous blog post I wrote where I made the same complaint.) So these artists rarely actually communicate with me, an interested party and, in several cases, a past collector. And yet I know many of these artists, instead of communicating directly with me, are posting their art to Facebook. Are they hoping we'll see it? I sometimes (rarely) manage to catch a glimpse of their art before my stream scrolls the image off the page. I also sometimes manage to catch a glimpse of artist's status updates wishing the economy was better so sales would pick up. They likely would pick up under Scenario 2. In short, I'm bashing "Scenario 1" as outlined above.
How I Recommend Using Facebook and Twitter for Art Marketing
Having pointed out several problems, there is an opportunity with social media. I want to make that clear - I see potential. It gives you yet another way to reach people. And that can be a good thing. I'm suggesting you think of social media streams not as your primary marketing channel but as tributaries - streams that lead INTO your primary channel, your river: your contact list, email list, and mailing list. It's OK to play in the stream every now and then, but spend the bulk of your time navigating in the river.
I think there are valid uses of social media, you just have to work around the challenges. So here's what I suggest:
1. By all means, announce new works and blog posts on Twitter and Facebook, but don't make it a time consuming thing. Just announce them and link to your website/blog. You can perhaps announce them several times over the course of a couple of days to help somewhat mitigate the "scroll off the screen" issue, but put your creative time into the artwork and the blog post itself. That's your content, on your online home, in the right context. And announce your works on social media after you've already contacted your best customers as I outlined above or, at least, in tandem. Perhaps any that missed your earlier announcements will be reminded when you post to social media.
2. For bonus points, tie your blog to Facebook so the announcements are automatic, keeping you away from the distraction/temptation even more. Again, this is what Seth Godin does.
3. Use Facebook and Twitter to directly engage with specific people who are interested in your work. People often bring up this use of social media as a major "pro" when I "bash" social media. And, I agree, that this can be an awesome thing about social media. I would also point out that directly messaging some through social media really isn't anything new....IT'S GLORIFIED EMAIL. Facebook Messages: Powerful? Yes. Pretty much just like Email? Yes. Social Media does sometimes make it easier to find these people, especially when you don't know their email address in which case, I would suggest that you direct message them and get their email address.
*4. You can sometimes use social media to "prospect" for customers, BUT BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL. This can easily lead to time and creativity wasted. On Twitter, I have joined conversations with people I know and ended up meeting people who I didn't previously know. Some of those contacts have been valuable from a pure "business" standpoint. I think it's possible that you might be able to meet friends of people who love and/or have purchased your art. THIS MUST BE NATURAL AND GENUINE. And that's what makes it difficult. * I've added the asterisk on this one because I wouldn't suggest doing this unless you're already doing the things I outlined in scenario 2 AND are able to be very disciplined about not letting social media eat up your creativity and time. I would also put this activity very, very low on your marketing totem pole.
5. Limit Your Use to Guard Against Diminishing Returns. A quick "rule of thumb" - If you're using social media for more than 20 minutes a day for art marketing, then I suspect you're getting distracted and using it too much, in which case I recommend you consciously limit your Facebook and Twitter time. You should be able to announce new art and respond to inquiries in 20 minutes or less.
6. Be Focused. Get in, do what you need to do and get out. Don't get distracted. Don't play Farmville. Don't look at family photos. Get back in your studio. If you need to do that stuff, do it in your downtime.
Other Uses of Facebook and Twitter
For FUN. Nearly, everything I've written has been from a pure marketing viewpoint. If you LIKE social media and feel you have the time, especially if it's what you like to do during non-creative time - then fine. I'm certainly not here to tell you how to spend your recreational time. My recreational time is spent playing guitar or enjoying wine - and those activities certainly don't further my business and marketing goals. We're human after all. I've also played on Facebook/Twitter on a Friday night when I'm bored and too tired to be creative. THAT'S OK. But BE HONEST with yourself. It is easy to turn FB/T into a procrastination/distraction technique. And when you start to suspect that is happening - force yourself to try to be creative, or to do some "real" marketing - sometimes it's difficult to start but the brush will start flowing if you just force it to start.
Use it Wisely
In the end, social media is not magic. It's just another communication medium.
I know tons of artists who are extremely successful and who don't even have Facebook and Twitter accounts. They're too busy painting. But I also know artists who use them every day who are also successful. Just like with paint and clay, it's not the medium that's magic, it's what you do with it.
While social media, in my opinion, is not the best communication medium for marketing art, it is a medium nonetheless and one that can be used if you can avoid the pitfalls. And one more than we had a few years ago.
The existence of pitfalls in a medium doesn't mean you shouldn't ever use it. It just means you should be smart and disciplined in your approach. "Smart and disciplined" may mean not changing your behavior at all. It may mean limiting your Facebook time. Or it may mean not using it at all. It depends upon you.
But please remember, if the world loses a single work of art you could have produced because you got sucked into playing Farmville, well, that would be, quite frankly, tragic.
So this long-winded post is all to tell you that, when it comes to social media, use it wisely. The missive above attempts to define what I think "wisely" means. Good Luck.
Sharing Art Enriches Life.
FASO Founder, Software Craftsman, Art Fanatic