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Get Social:  Art Professionals: Getting Started with Social Media

By Mary Alice Franklin
ART TIMES January online 2015

The world of social media can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. As an arts professional, you can benefit from increased exposure, valuable networking, cost effective marketing and a better understanding of your customers. This is why it should be a vital element of your day-to-day routine as an entrepreneur. The secret is to make sure you don’t become overwhelmed by the growing number of available websites, tools and apps. Choose a few specific platforms and excel at those, rather than trying to tackle them all and spreading yourself too thin.

Getting Started

Some of the major social networks include:

· Twitter: This “microblogging” site allows users to communicate with 140-character messages known as “tweets.” (Tip – using “hashtags,” a # symbol used to mark keywords or topics, can help to extend the exposure of your work.)

· Instagram: This service allows for communication through images and videos, which can be altered within the application and accompanied with text captions. (Tip – this is one of the most visual social platforms and a popular choice for emerging artists. Use hashtags to make your work easier to discover.)

· Facebook: The most diverse option in terms of what can be posted by users, Facebook allows for text, multiple images, videos and links in your updates. (Tip – it is important that you create a separate “page” for your work. Using your personal profile as a professional page will make it impossible for people to “like” you.)

YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit and Tumblr are several other popular platforms to consider. All have the option for commenting on posts and connecting with others.

Whichever platforms you choose, your social accounts represent your brand as much as a business card, letterhead or website does. That branding should be consistent across all platforms: display the same profile picture and showcase the same logo, colors, tagline and website link on all accounts. Artists who put the time into extending their online presences are more likely to become recognizable and trustworthy to potential customers.

Social media is about sharing, not selling

Once you have your accounts set up, it is important to realize that getting started on social media doesn’t begin with sales. Social media exists for networking, not selling, so the goal of your efforts should be to gain the attention of appropriate followers and engage that audience. Sales will come naturally once you have someone to sell to.

If all you are doing is hard-selling, your account will seem like the equivalent of turning on the television and being shown commercial after commercial without seeing the program that you wanted to watch. The trick to social media is adding some personality to your brand.

When people follow your accounts, you can assume that they are interested in your work and what you have to say, but posting too often can be overwhelming for them. It is important to strike the right balance between personality and self-promotion. In fact, Facebook has recently begun enforcing stricter censoring of any posts that are overtly promotional or sales-driven. Promotion is good, but when it is too strong, it will cause you to lose the attention of an audience you worked so hard to gain.

In order to produce content that resonates with your audience, you must know them well enough to cater to their interests. When building a relationship with your customers (and potential customers), don’t simply talk at them. Talk with them. Social media requires “give and take.” Research the social media accounts of publications, artists and institutions you admire and create a dialogue with both potential customers and other arts professionals. Instead of simply “liking” or retweeting something, respond and contribute to the conversation. Just like interacting with someone in person, encouraging dialogue will help you to better understand your audience.

Share your personal process

As important as it is to get to know your audience, it is equally important to let them get to know you. By this, I don’t mean letting them know what you had for breakfast. Let your followers feel like they are gaining insight into you and your brand. People who follow artists on social media are often interested in learning about the whole aspect of their art: the process, the work environment and the artist(s) themselves. Becoming familiar with these apps on your smartphone can help you to interact with your followers “in the moment” and on a more regular basis. Bring your fans with you, via social media, to your opening receptions, concept meetings or research sessions.

As an example, the followers of my clients’ accounts especially enjoy installation photographs, as it allows them a behind-the-scenes view of a show’s transformation, from an empty room to a robust exhibition. As an example, you can present images such as: your studio, you working on a new piece, the view out the window from your easel, or mats and frames taking over the floor as you prepare for a show. Don’t be afraid to show artwork that isn’t a masterpiece: if you are at a coffee shop and sketch on a napkin, post a photo of your drawing. If you live and breathe art, show that to your followers.

It is preferable for any social media account to present striking, visual content. For an artist, this is imperative. A visual aid – image or video – should accompany every post. Similarly, posting only an image without explanatory text is passive and possibly confusing. From a botanical artist, a simple: “Walking on a trail today, these buds inspired me – I plan to find out what they are. Perhaps I’ll paint them soon!” can lend context to the image he or she posts. All of a sudden, it isn’t just a pretty photograph – it is inspiration, curiosity, research and a potential new artwork.

Connecting your art to the outside world

Once you begin experimenting, you’ll find that there is plenty of room for variation in your posts. It is never a good idea to recycle or repeat content. Even if it doesn’t seem relative, you can often find opportunities to connect popular culture back to your work. For instance:

· The organization for which I work happened to be opening an exhibition about hats when musician Pharrell Williams wore a hat that created a quite a stir at the 2014 Grammy Awards. This provided the perfect opportunity to speak about the exhibition in relation to something that everyone was already discussing, and to do so without being pushy: “This Los Angeles Times article about last night's The Grammys says that ‘headgear is having a moment.’ Of course, we already knew that – our next exhibition, ‘HATtitude,’ is all about functional, fashionable and fabulous hats. Join us for an opening reception on Feb 9!” When posting, I was certain to “tag,” or cc, Los Angeles Times and The Grammys and include a link for the exhibition so that people could find out more about it.

· While watching the television show “So You Think You Can Dance,” one of the judges began speaking about the importance of keeping the arts in our classrooms. I took a photo of the screen, jotted down his quote, and tweeted it right away while including the show’s hashtag and Twitter account. The show retweeted it and exposed my account to all of their followers.

· Creating context around your work is preferable to simply posting for the sake of posting. Rather than simply sharing your painting of a snow scene, you can include text to say: “It’s getting so cold out! Here’s my version of a winter wonderland.” Be sure to include a link for where they can buy the work.

While this article is only an overview, the world of social media is expansive. Be sure that you take further steps to improve your performance online. Learn timesaving practices like scheduling your posts; adjust your content based on measured analytics; and improve sales by researching the appropriate apps and tools. Don’t be afraid to play. Experiment with new trends, websites and apps that have become popular. For example, Hyperlapse creates time-lapse videos; Canva and PicMonkey help you to edit photographs, which is especially helpful to those who do not own Adobe Photoshop; Vine creates videos that repeat on a loop. Discover your own unique ways of posting and selling your work.

Social media is a current, youthful avenue that can help reach audiences that may have been out of your reach before; however, it shouldn’t be the sole driver of your efforts. It is important to continue work on press releases, media connections, in-person networking, advertising and good old-fashioned nose-to-the-grindstone work. That said, social media should be implemented as a permanent and necessary part of these overall marketing efforts. Utilizing most of these social media platforms is veritably free or affordable. So why not get started now?

Mary Alice Franklin is a Writer and Social Media Manager with an arts and culture focus. She currently works at ArtsWestchester and as a freelance writer and social media contractor. For more information, visit: www.maryalicefranklin.com.

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