Leveraging Social Media as a Creative

Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Friendfeed, LinkedIn, blogging … the sheer number of social media platforms for promoting your art can be overwhelming. If you’re still trying to decide whether Facebook or Twitter can help you get your work out there, read on for designer and illustrator EC (Lisa) Stewart’s advice for getting the most out of social media. This article originally appeared in the 2010 edition of Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, which you can purchase at the North Light Shop.

Leveraging Social Media as a Creative
by EC (Lisa) Stewart

I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.
—Mae West

The landscape of traditional marketing is rapidly changing, and traditional publishing is eroding due to the flood of social media (SM) and new, online competition. Small business owners are embracing this change and establishing a presence in the growing world of online business. And the savvy creative entrepreneur knows to go and grow where their customers are and they’re discovering that social media platforms are very low-cost way to establish a meaningful dialog with customers.

How does this affect me?
Social networking is growing.

QuickFact: There are 152 million U.S. Internet users.
QuickFact: 3 out of 4 Americans use social technology.
 

Social media provides creative businesses with online access to current and future customers and allows them to connect virtually across miles. Web 2.0, the latest generation of the Internet, allows small businesses and creative entrepreneurs to interact and engage directly with customers, enlivening traditional print advertisement into a one-to-one personal service. As a creative entrepreneur, people love knowing they’re interacting directly with the artist and social media enables us to readily connect.

In addition to your website, consider enlisting a number of popular social media tools as key components of your marketing program to augment your online presence. Blogs, videos, and social networks are a powerful combination and play to the strengths of small businesses by fostering meaningful relationships through links to other sites, resources, and people.

Simply being active on the social media platforms can help provide transparency that today’s customers are looking for and lets you directly engage with your biggest supporters. Remember, 78% of people trust recommendations from other consumers and one of the best ways to get those recommendations is through direct engagement.

The benefits of social media—build, protect & grow your reputation
Social Media can help you build a presence and generate new ways to be found easily. And online opportunities are typically less expensive than traditional marketing, but you should be aware that they often involve more planning and time-intensive work. Shifting money to social media to augment your traditional print advertising budget will allow you to:

  • Make connections, even if you’re typically shy;
  • Build your persona and business brand awareness;
  • Manage your brand’s reputation.

Social media community & tools
Social media can take many different forms including blogs, forums, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video.

QuickFact: 6.8 million people between age 15 and 24 visited social networking sites in June 2009, up 13 percent year-on-year and roughly in line with increased usage of the Internet overall by this age group.
 

The fundamental categories of social media include:

  • Communication: This includes tools such as blogs, micro-blogging, social networking, social aggregation, and events. Examples include, WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Friendfeed, Upcoming, and Meetup.com all of which allow you to find and link to other people and activities. Once linked or connected to someone, you can keep up to date on that person’s contact info, interests, posts, birthdays, etc.
  • Collaboration: Includes tools such as wikis, social bookmarking, social news, and opinion sites. Wikipedia, Delicious, StumbleUpon, GoogleReader, Digg, Reddit, and Yelp are examples of some of the applications that are available.
  • Multimedia: Includes tools such as photo and video sharing, audio and music sharing, and livecasting. Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, Vimeo, Ustream.tv, and Last.fm are all sites that allow you to create, upload, share videos, photos, and music with anyone and everyone.
  • Social bookmarking: Includes sites such as Delicious, StumbleUpon, and Kaboodle to help you find and bookmark sites and information of interest. You can save and access your bookmarks anywhere online and choose to share them with others.
  • Reviews/opinions: Includes sites like epinions and ask.com where you can learn what other consumers think of products and services.
  • Entertainment: Includes sites like Second Life, The Sims Online, and Miniclip for game sharing and entertainment platforms.

Tip: For every tool, there is a cult following. Depending on your business, it may focus more in one of these areas than in others. For example, I find myself focusing at least 80% of my time on Communications through WordPress, Facebook, LinkedIn and FriendFeed and supplement my activities with other categories. I’d recommend one tool from each category to keep your sanity. The key is to cross pollinate your Social Media tools with each other. Any new product, service, or news you share on these tools, will be amplified that much further.

 
Cross-Pollinate & Automate
There’s a danger that social networking can turn in to a terrific time sucker. Be smart in your approach. Spend only about an hour a day on Social Media, but be disciplined about keeping your content fresh. Whenever you can, cross-pollinate your link feeds from your Twitter account to your blog to and to your Facebook account. Use automation tools to schedule tweets.

What’s a Blog? Isn’t my website enough?

QuickFact: By 2012, more than 145 million people, or 67 percent of Web users in the U.S., are projected to read blogs on a monthly basis and the number of blogs also will grow. There were 22.6 million bloggers in the U.S. in 2007, and that number is projected to reach 34.7 million by 2012!
 

Blogging is a way of bringing life to your static website. A traditional Web presence is a passive broadcast of your work that often discourages engagement with your customer. imagine that your website is like a house where the door remains closed and locked. This prevents your enthusiasts from seeing anything more than just your front yard. As a result they often don’t stay around very long or absorb much about your lifestyle as an artist. Now imagine that your blog as a garden around your website house where you fertilize, plant, and harvest your new and ongoing online relationships. Your blog is now the hub of your Web presence. Cultivating your blog with your art and activities helps nourish your artist’s soul. When you tap into a poignant moment and express it in one of your blog entries, a personal connection happens and a relationship begins to form. Your blog is a welcome mat for a new member of your online family.

Blogging allows you to engage your followers on a number of different levels. They can learn about your style, get a sneak peak into new designs you’re creating, and gain a better understanding of your philosophy as an artist. For instance, when they discover you’re a fun-loving artist who has a penchant for raspberries on chocolate ice cream in the middle of winter, they can begin to connect with you. And this is just the beginning of building your rapport with your clients.

Blogging strategy: It doesn’t matter how long and involved your entries are, but that they vary to nourish the inquisitive visitor. Describing the influence that, say, the red raspberry has on your painting begins to foster a visual experience. Then, including the recipe to a wonderful raspberry cobbler to celebrate your finished painting deepens the intimacy. These are the kinds of wonderful things you can share on your blog that are impossible on a traditional website.

Tip: Frequency is key if you want to continue to have visitors. To socially engage with your devotees online, 3-5 posts per week is a good number to plan for. Crafting a personal editorial calendar will also make it easier to summon great ideas. Also, to make it easy on yourself, you could dedicate a different topic to each post on separate days. These should include things that are educating (what you do), entertaining (how you do it), and enriching for your readers in order to and keep them coming back for more.

For example:

  • Monday—Inspiration Found on Weekend Field Trip
  • Wednesday—Behind the Scenes in my Studio
  • Friday—Finished Art Project
What Are Your First Steps?
Here are a few things you can accomplish today:

1. Claim your name on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Friendfeed, etc.
Be sure to complete your profiles as much as possible as this highlights another level of transparency.
Be sure to include a photo of yourself on each of these tools where encouraged.
It’s a known fact that people only converse with people who display this level of information. Using your pet, your child, or your art for your avatar often prevents connection as it creates a veil between you and your new friends—people want to talk with you. Including your art and your family is strongly encouraged in other areas on your platform and you can choose to share as much or as little as you want.

2. Join the social media conversation.
Watch, listen, and pay attention to what your audience needs.
Follow the 80/20 rule
Take it easy at first as you engage your own wants, needs, and interests. The 80/20 rule means giving out information 80% of the time you’re online (sharing tips, helpful links to same industry sites, moral support) and spending the other 20% on self-promotion. This ratio helps demonstrate that you are a fruitful part of the family. Remember to build your own stories, share works-in-progress, inspiration, and case studies on your blog and encourage enthusiasts to visit by funneling traffic via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the best tools available to go and grow where your customers are, and it’s growing everyday—more of the key art buying demographic are spending their time and attention on this adaptable social networking tool. As a result it only makes sense to seek out guerrilla marketing opportunities in on Facebook to promote your business and engage new fans and customers.

QuickFact: Facebook grew from 200 million to 250 million in just over 3 months
QuickFact: Among 14 key new media tools, Facebook leads by 24% in sharing.

Facebook strategy: Create and keep a separate personal page and Fan Page. By keeping the Fan Page strictly focused on the business, one doesn’t risk tarnishing one’s own brand.

Tip: If you decide to use Facebook as a hub of your Web presence, be sure to take advantage of the free tools available. The Wall, Galleries, Discussions, Videos, Events, Polls, Notes are just the beginning of creating an enriching experience for your fan base.

Video
YouTube is becoming a new marketing channel for many companies and more people are watching videos to see product demonstrations to help with their purchasing decisions. Videos are a great way to present to your consumer time and again without feeling the pressure of performing live where a single slip of the tongue or misspoken word can cost you a sale.

QuickFact: YouTube was far and away the top online destination by video streams, with more than 6 billion total streams during the month, and more than 95 million unique viewers on YouTube.com in June 2009.
 

Video strategy: Peppering videos throughout your social media platforms will also give your brand vitality and possibly create a viral buzz. People love to be entertained, and video is a great channel for that. Exploring features and benefits of a product, demonstrating a DIY project, or vlogging on the daily life of an artist captures attention more quickly than text.

Tip: Each time you upload content to a specific site (i.e. video on YouTube) also pull the video into your blog, website, Facebook Page, even Flickr to showoff your new idea. Cross-pollination is key because not all of your enthusiasts visit all of your venues.

Twitter
As a micro-blogging tool, Twitter (among others) is another vehicle to connect and manage your brand online.

QuickFact: Growth rate of Twitter from June 2008 through June 2009 was 1928%, reaching 21 million monthly users.
 

This unique tool only allows 140 characters to make your point, so be sure to use highly targeted phrases when you’re looking to connect with your product or service’s online audience. Micro-blogging will definitely make you a better, more concise writer.

Twitter strategy: Make sure your messages (called “tweets”) work out of context and ask yourself if your tweet has value. Use conversations already in progress as content inspiration. It’s a good suggestion to compose an idea list of topics that might be of interest to your followers that include:

  • Your New Blog Entry (include link)
  • New Art Posted in Your Store (include link)
  • Photos of Your Work-in-Progress Art Project (include link)

Tip: There are several automated tools to augment your social media experience. Schedule your automated business-like tweets on a recurring basis so that you don’t have to remember to do it yourself. Scheduling automation allows you to continue to conduct your online relationship on a personal level.

A few repeating topics include:

  • Thanks for following me! You can find more info on what I do here (insert link to site)
  • Top 3 Reasons to join my club (include link to site)
  • Personalized messages to your followers at specific times (include link to promotions)

Flickr
A photo sharing site, Flickr is another way to broaden the reach of your art. Upload, edit, organize, share, geotag, and make products from your photos all through this new-media tool.


QuickFact:
As of June 2009, 3,600,000,000 photos are archived on Flickr.com
 

As with many tools, Flickr is free to upload and host your photos. The site also has an annual fee service that allows one to create more than two categories. This can be advantageous for the creative entrepreneur. Additionally, one can create password  protected categories—great for works-in-progress and client related material.

Friendfeed
As a sharing service, Friendfeed also serves an aggregator for all of the social media tools you have employed. It is a good idea to claim your name on Friendfeed and then pull in all of your tools by adding them within the feed. Due to the most recent purchase by Facebook, Friendfeed will now become a more powerful and valuable search tool.

Social Marketing Strategy
These days, one must use technology to remain agile and Social Media tools can help you get ahead and stay in the game. Understanding your target market will help you better understand what tools you will need to successfully engage with your customer. When you know your goals, you can build your strategy around them and prevent getting overwhelmed by the very tools that are supposed to help you.

Design a strategy will enable you to:

  • Measure visiting traffic
  • Measure the effectiveness of your content long tail
  • Hold you accountable for content

Sharing, growing, and engaging through trial and error is part of being the creative entrepreneur. Continuing to listen, engaging in dialog—not monologue—and collaborating, is the reward of staying in business.

EC (LISA) STEWART is an award-winning designer and illustrator with a degree in  Graphic Design and Fine Arts from Western Michigan University. She’s held a variety of positions including display artist, interior designer, accessory buyer, and print/Web designer before starting ECStewart Design Studio in 1998. In addition to the agency, she has returned to her fi rst love, illustration, and now her CalligraphyPets form the foundation of the ECStewart Collections, an expanded line of pen and ink illustrations. She finds inspiration in travelling, indulging in her hobbies that include photography, painting, illustration and relaxing at home with Andrew and their three cats. Visit www.ecstewart.com.

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