How to Use Social Networking to Sell Your Art

The following article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Build Your Brand With Social Networking

Turn your online profile into a profitable venue for marketing your art in 6 easy steps.

By Karen Leland

Photos: Artville, PhotoDisc, Rubber Ball Productions

Kyle Walters concocted an ambitious summer project: complete one painting a day, five days a week, and sell them on the Internet. “The point was to get myself to paint and to get my work out there,” Walters says. The result? Over the period of 12 weeks, Walters produced 60 small oil paintings, posted their photos on his Facebook profile and sold 55 of them at $30 to $160 each. Welcome to the brave new world of social networking!

Jason Alba, co-author of I’m on Facebook—Now What??? (Happy About, 2008), says success such as Walters’s lies in an artist’s ability to think of social networking as a business tool. “Most people think of Facebook as a social platform,” Alba says, “but it can also be a marketing platform.”

Knowing how to make the best impression on such a site will help you introduce an audience to who you are as a professional artist, what you specialize in and how people can buy your work. To make the most of your time online, use these tips for turning social networking into new sales.

1. Sign up

All you need is an e-mail address and 15 minutes to get going on the most frequently used social networking sites. With more than 150 million members worldwide, Facebook is a premier spot where artists and other creative types tout their wares. MySpace, which trails just behind Facebook in total membership, is also popular because it allows for additional customization of members’ pages. LinkedIn is by far the most business-oriented of all the social-networking sites and a good place to meet other professionals in a similar field. Twitter is a growing online network focused around microblogging—a quick update service where users are limited to 140 characters per update. Flickr is a photo-hosting site that many artists are using to showcase their work to friends, family and potential buyers.

All of the sites allow you to post the latest news about your life and work, share photos and keep in touch with your ever-growing circle of clientele.

2. Flesh out your profile

“Many artists have a profile that is scantily clad,” Alba says. To create a winning profile, provide links to more information about yourself: your website, art-related awards you’ve received, your blog, online galleries of your work, brick-and-mortar galleries that feature your work, and articles written about you.

In addition to providing loads of links, Alba suggests that under the education and work section of a profile, artists should focus on promoting their artist’s statement, medium and process—not their entire work history. “This is where you have the opportunity,” says Alba, “to make your pitch about your artistic passion.”

3. Load up on photos

Even if you have an online gallery elsewhere, let people get a clear idea of your work within the social networking site itself. Creating a portfolio of available artwork (including medium and prices) and letting visitors know how to purchase your work are essential to turning passive visitors into active buyers.

4. Find friends

One way to build up your list of contacts is to search within the site for people you already know and invite them to connect. In addition, LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and even Twitter (to a lesser extent) all have well-defined groups you can join, where like-minded folks flock. The potential for finding helpful contacts makes spending time and energy searching for people with interests similar to yours worthwhile.

For example, if you find another artist who’s a fan of encaustic landscapes of the Fiji Islands, it’s perfectly acceptable to reach out and suggest you become online friends.

5. Host an online event

Want to create your own online art affair? In Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, you can easily create an event and then promote the happening to your network of friends, family, potential clients and anyone else who would be interested.

Martin Whitmore, an illustrator who does hand-drawn line work with digital color touch-up and effects, used Facebook to create a community art project. “I was looking for people who wanted to donate money toward a group-commissioned work of art,” he says. “I let potential donors know that by contributing they were not only going to receive a print of the final piece, but they would also be part of the creative process.”

Whitmore set up the online event so that everyone who made a donation would also provide a three-word phrase containing two adjectives and one noun. The artist then incorporated these phrases into the final piece he created. “I did all the artwork, but the inspiration and concepts came from the people who donated,” says Whitmore. He says that beyond selling prints, the Facebook event gave him exposure to people who otherwise would have never seen his work.

6. Promote live events

Annie Heckman, an animation-installation artist, uses social networking to let people know about her upcoming live, open studios. “I post the event and provide a link to my website,” says Heckman. “The great thing about doing this is that people I don’t know well enough to e-mail find me through social networking and come to the event.” Heckman has had art fair directors, gallery owners and curators show up at her shows—even though she’d never met them in person prior to the event. Heckman says when she does finally meet her Facebook friends in the flesh, they’ve already developed a rapport from being connected online.
With the economy in a topsy-turvy tailspin, the ability to build a brand with almost no budget is an attractive proposition. No wonder an increasing number of artists, like Walters, Whitmore and Heckman, are making the leap to social networking as a new way to attract an audience of art lovers. Log in for yourself, and see where your social network takes you.

Karen Leland is a freelance writer based in Sausalito, California, and the president of Sterling Consulting Group. She is the author of Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day (Career Press, 2008).

More by Karen Leland

This article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, which is available for order as a digital download. Click here to learn more.

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