Recently I was asked to comment on the value of social media in marketing and selling art. This is an ongoing debate among professional artists, repeated endlessly in online discussions in chat rooms and professional groups. Perhaps the most common conclusion observed by this artist is summed up in the phrase “Facebook doesn't work. I know. I tried it.”
Social media is a poor
conduit for business.
When asked what does work, unfortunately these otherwise creative folks have little else to offer, other than mailing lists and word of mouth (both of which work very well, but apparently not well enough, or quickly enough, to suit our desires), or the hope of representation in a high-end gallery - which these days is becoming more myth than reality.
So many artists have tried and failed to sell their creative products through social media, that it is tempting to agree with their conclusion.
Social media is a poor conduit for business, for two reasons:
1) It's SOCIAL Media, not Business Media. (The latter is called Advertising.) People visit on social media primarily to gossip, not to buy or to hire talent. Besides, commerce in polite conversation is a bit unseemly – rather like talking shop at a cocktail party.
2) For artists, self-promotion is pandering, pure and simple. We might as well be sitting on a box at an intersection, holding a cardboard sign telling drivers how great we are, and asking for a donation. The credibility scale never rises above zero.
We use social media
for the purpose for which it
for the purpose for which it
was intended. We gossip.
On the plus side, should any third party (agent, art rep, gallery owner, former client, street person) advocate on behalf of an artist, suddenly the doors of opportunity fly open. It really is that simple: Convince anyone else to spread the word about your creative ability, and you're suddenly in business (assuming, of course, that the quality of your work lives up to the hype).
How do we use social media to generate business? We use the media for the purpose for which it was intended. We gossip about our own work. While we consider every one of our Friends as potential clients, we treat them instead as actual friends in our social playground. That is who they are, after all.
If this is selling,
it’s a downy-soft sell.
Our Friends want to know what we're up to, so we show and tell, posting photos of our work along with the usual variety of snarky comments, links and memes that loosely tie in with our personal and creative philosophy. We also find palatable ways to announce Open House events, discounts and contest giveaways, so our Friends feel included in the milestones of our growing business. But mostly we just play along, getting what attention we can, and doing everything we can to entertain our audience along the way.
While all of this may count as advertising, in the context of social media, it’s more like casual conversation. If this is selling, it's not just a soft sell, it’s a downy-soft sell, with no quotas, and no short-term agendas.
We never say, “Buy this artwork!” That would be pandering. Instead we say, “Look at this artwork! Isn't this fun?” Our Friends who like what they see will share our posts with their Friends, and some of them will share the work with others.
In this way our fans and visitors on Facebook, Pinterest, and other media outlets become our third party advocates. Our popularity grows, and we’re encouraged to come up with more entertaining ways to showcase our creative meanderings.
If our Friends decide to become our customers, it will be because they like what they have seen, not because we have twisted their arm to make a sale.