So you’re an artist and you’ve decided to finally create a social presence for your work. Where do you even start? And how do you get people to follow you? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here are 8 keys to cultivating a following for your art.
1. Pick the right platform
Whether your work is digital or physical, it’s important that you maintain a social presence somewhere online. When managed well, your social channel(s) can function as part portfolio, part marketing tactic, and part relationship building space. Simply having an up-to-date Instagram or Facebook page will give you credibility and earn loyalty from your audience and potential customers.
The key though is to not spread yourself too thin. These days you can’t just post a photo to Instagram and garner hundreds of likes without doing anything else-- now we have to do a lot of outbound engagement to secure inbound engagement (more on that later). Point is that you have to dedicate a lot of time to your account to make it successful, so focus on nailing one social channel before trying to manage multiple.
Chances are Instagram will be the right fit for you if you do anything visual. Facebook is suitable for you if you host events, write a blog, or have a brick and mortar shop or gallery. Twitter is good if words are your medium. And Pinterest is an ideal supporting platform for anyone who creates homewares, decor, or clothing.
2. Build an email list.
Social platforms are great, but we cannot take them for granted. We will always be at the hands of Instagram or Facebook or Twitter-- ultimately they control how our audience does or does not see our content. So as Mariah Coz likes to say, “why build your house on someone else’s land?”
If your social channels are the only avenue you have to your audience, and Instagram dies tomorrow, what will you do? This is why it’s crucial that you start building an email list now, if you haven’t already. Email is your sole direct channel to your audience without risk of third party interference. Building an email list also necessitates a more “active” follow-- when someone voluntarily engages with you on that level, you’ll likely experience higher quality engagement from them.
So how should you go about building your list?
- Add a signup CTA to your site
- Drive to your list signup periodically on your social pages
- Offer lead magnets (downloads, exclusive products, special sales)
- Ask customers to subscribe post-purchase
*Note that you cannot add people to your list without getting their permission! That is considered spamming and you could get in trouble. Subscriber opt-in is essential.
3. Craft a better bio
When a prospective follower or customer comes across your social profiles, your bio is their first opportunity to get an idea of who you are and what you’re about. It’s an opportunity to differentiate yourself and catch people’s attention, so don’t leave it blank. With character limits, you must be strategic with how you convey a lot of information into a small space.
4. Hone a creative niche.
It’s not easy to build a following from scratch around basic lifestyle content these days— the internet is saturated with creators so you need to be novel and niche. One easy way to do this is to identify the intersection of a demographic and an interest or product, e.g. posters for socially minded individuals, ethical fashion for the androgynous type, or bedding for eco-conscious consumers. Or perhaps one product becomes your signature thing so you center a lot of your content around that, like Cold Picnic’s boob bath mats or Secret Holiday Co’s It’s OK banner. Whatever you do, make sure that you’re creating content (and products) for someone, not for just anyone.
5. Plan your content.
The easiest way to make your content planning easier is to batch your content-- come up with a few “formulas” for the types of posts you can do (e.g. behind-the-scenes look, your art in action, user generated content, close up detail shots of your work, studio tour, imagery that inspires your work, etc.) and then assign a type of content to a day of the week. That way, when the day rolls around you already have an idea of what you are going to post. For example, every Thursday you can post a #tbt throwback photo to an older work of art or an early iteration of your product.
When assigning your batched content to days of the week, determine a posting schedule that you know you can maintain. Make it as frequent as possible so that the algorithms will continue to serve you up to your audience, but be realistic. Don’t commit to posting twice per day, everyday, if you know you don’t enjoy being on social media much or don’t have the time for that. We recommend 4 times per week (per platform) as a starting point.
6. Foster engagement.
Engagement is a 2 way street. That was part of the revolution that came with social media— people and brands could no longer broadcast messages one way. It became a dialogue.
Because of this, outbound engagement has become extremely important on platforms like Instagram. Those who are more active and engaging with others are more likely to have their content served up to their audience, especially those with whom they engage frequently. Additionally, every time you find potential followers and like or comment on their posts, that’s like a free advertisement-- it’s a way to get your name in front of their eyes.
So what are the best ways to foster engagement in both directions?
- Simply interact with current and potential followers (go like, comment, and follow, but be genuine! Do not use an automated service for this). You can find potential followers by searching relevant hashtags and see who is using them.
- Provide valuable content. Posts with relatable and helpful content encourage more interaction than simply a pretty picture with a cliche quote for a caption.
- Include a CTA to further encourage comments or other actions. Ask your followers a question, ask them to ask you a question, ask what type of content they like seeing from you, link to a free download (like a phone screen background)-- options are endless.
- Reply to comments on your posts. It can be tedious but it makes a difference, both to your followers and to the algorithm.
7. Get found via hashtags.
Hashtag functionality has changed since social media’s inception. While you can no longer grow a following solely by using a few hashtags, they still serve a purpose: surfacing your content to new potential audiences.
When deciding which hashtags to use, select a handful of them that are in the range of about 10k- 500k posts. If you use super broad and basic hashtags (like #coffee #art #dance) which have millions of posts associated with them, your content will not be seen in the hashtag feed because the turnover is so fast. So the more niche the hashtag the better. Be sure to check the the other posts in the feed are high quality-- sometimes a seemingly appropriate hashtag will get spammed with inappropriate or irrelevant content.
Another thing to consider when selecting hashtags is to think about your target audience and what they would search for. Use a variety of hashtags that will garner attention from peers, customers, and clients.
BONUS: Use a location tag too, when possible. A Simply Measured study showed that posts with location received 79% more engagement.
Collaborating with other creatives can have a lot of benefits, including exposure to new audiences, association with other credible artists which can boost your cred, and making new friends! Depending on the nature of your work, you can collaborate locally or remotely. You and your collaborator should have somewhat comparable followings, or you should be offering more in the partnership if they’re bringing a significantly larger audience to the table (e.g. guest posting on a larger blog. You give content, they give their audience).
Here are a few ideas for some creative collaborations:
- Recreate a piece of the other’s work in your own style.
- Merge your works to create one, potentially to sell. For example, if you illustrate and someone else hand letters greeting cards, you can pair up on a special edition series of cards.
- Each donate a piece of your work for a joint giveaway.
- Pass off your “waste” for someone else to use as material. E.g. textile artist (like a clothing designer or shibori dyer) can give scrap fabric to someone who can use it to make quilts or braided rugs.
With this tricks of the trade, you should be well on your way to building a meaningful following, which is more important these days than having hundreds of thousands of followers.
Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence.
I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.