Social Media for Artists: Mistakes, Myths & How to Avoid Them
Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion about Social Media Marketing for artists at the Phoenix Art Museum.
But I must say, as someone who spends ~40 hours a week working in digital marketing and most of my free time thinking about how digital marketing can be applied to the arts, the talk left something to be desired…
Of course, with industry leaders like that, there were a many instances of great advice! I really appreciated hearing some words of wisdom from experienced professionals.
But when it came down to it, there wasn’t a whole lot of concrete information about social media today.
Don’t get me wrong — it was an important conversation!
By far, the most valuable information I got from the talk was hearing from Rebecca Senf, Curator of Photography at both the Phoenix Art Museum and Center for Creative Photography.
photo courtesy of Laura Marks
She shared something you don’t often get a glimpse of as an artist, which is what the life of a curator looks like…and what it actually takes to get on the radar of someone like her though social media.
Obviously, curators have a lot on their plate, especially if they’re working at national and international art centers, and have about a billion responsibilities. But it’s not entirely impossible.
One thing she mentioned was that email is by far the best place to hold a conversation (something I mentioned in an early blog post about writing an exhibition proposal).
However, she uses social media as a way to be “omnipresent”.
Through social media, she can keep tabs of what’s happening in the art community. With Facebook, in particular, she can see who’s exhibiting work, if an artist is publishing a book, who is giving a lecture, etc. But ultimately, if you need to get in touch with someone in her position, email is the way to go.
Beyond that, the lecture didn’t account for any of the increasing problems artists face on social media, and what it takes to actually grow a following in 2017.
You see, people’s understanding about social media has gotten a little dated, and it’s not just artists that don’t quite get it…
Sure, back in 2010, managing an account and reaching your audience was pretty easy. All you had to do was post engaging content, often.
And because everyone was still trying to figure out how to make it work, the high-quality accounts would attract followers like nobody’s business.
But now, there’s so much competition that it’s easy to get lost amongst the noise. And creating strong relationships from an active audience is even more difficult to achieve.
Is Social Media Even Worth It Anymore?
I’ve never been one to love social media.
Like the rest of us, I spend WAY too much time scrolling through my Facebook feed, but I’ve never been compelled to broadcast my personal life to my virtual friends and acquaintances. So using social media to share my accomplishments or promote events has always felt like a chore.
If you’re anything like me, and have noticed the competitive nature on most social media platforms, you might be wondering if it’s worth your time.
Well… yes and no.
A social media presence has become somewhat expected of us artists. But ultimately, deciding to invest your time in creating an active social media account depends on what your goals are.
If you’re simply making art for yourself — and you despise social media — then by all means, ditch it.
If you’re interested in getting more involved with your local arts community but aren’t a huge fan of managing multiple accounts, then maybe just stick to your personal Facebook page to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the area. Then, you can focus your time and energy on networking with other artists and influencers in-person.
But let’s say you hope to one day have a successful Etsy shop or you’d like to eventually crowdfund your dream-project. Then you’ll definitely want to focus on building an audience on social media.
Whether you plan to go all-in on social, or you just want to use it for the occasional promotion, you need to know exactly what you’re up against.
And if you hate social media, but feel like everyone’s pressuring you to get on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat or whatever, then you can stop reading now and tell them they’re wrong.
Because I can assure that social media won’t work if you’re heart isn’t in it.
To make sure you don’t find yourself in a social media mess — trying to figure out why you can’t seem to grow an avid following — I’m going to share some social media myths, pitfalls, and mistakes, PLUS some ways that you can avoid or overcome them!
Keep reading to see 8 common mistakes artists make on social media, and how you can make sure you don’t do the same!
Choosing the wrong social media platforms for your goals
Before you start creating any dedicated social media accounts for your art, you need to understand which ones will actually help you achieve your goals. Each platform functions a little differently, and understanding how they all work best will help you focus your time on something that will actually work for you.
For example, Instagram is entirely based on visuals, so it’s a good place to show of your artwork and give your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your creative practice.
However, the only place you can include a link is in your account bio, so it’s not very good for driving traffic to a different website. You’re much better off posting links to news or events on a platform like Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest, all which are much more link-friendly than Instagram.
Think about your goals as an artist and consider what you’re trying to achieve on social media. If you want to learn more about how each platform is best used, you can check out How To Art: A Beginner’s Guide to Establishing Yourself as an Artist, where I’ve dedicated a section to outlining the purpose of everything from Facebook to LinkedIn.
Not posting frequently enough
Trust me, I know how easy it is to neglect your social media accounts, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy the act of managing accounts multiple platforms.
But post frequency is the key to staying top-of-mind and growing your audience, especially on time-based feeds like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
If you want people to remember that you’re making awesome work, you have to show them what you’re up to, and do so frequently.
Plus, more posts = higher discoverability, and higher discoverability = audience growth. I can tell you from experience that this can’t be more true, especially for platforms that rely on hashtags.
In fact, I posted two high-quality images every day on Instagram during the first three weeks in January, and from that I gained over 50 new followers. Sure, that’s not all that impressive… but considering that I’ve never really used my account on a regular basis until recently, I’m pretty happy with the results!
Posting at the wrong time
On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr, posting when most of your followers are online is going to make a big difference. Because if you don’t account for when your audience is online and post too early or too late, then your content will get buried under a bunch of other stuff by the time they check in.
This is especially important on Facebook, even though it’s algorithm isn’t entirely time-based. But posts that see more engagement in the first hour will take priority over the most recent posts — meaning that you want to publish at the right time, so Facebook will keep showing it to your friends and followers!
Wondering how to determine when your audience is online?
Mostly, this is a matter of being observant. If you look at Facebook messenger, you can get an idea of whose online at that moment. Pay attention to when people are posting or sharing most frequently, and think about what the day of your target demographic might look like. If most of your fans work 9-to-5 jobs, then it wouldn’t make much sense to post at 10 a.m. But if your audience is college age or younger, they’ll have a much different schedule, or might be checking social media more frequently.
Looking at your social media analytics is also a great way to determine who is online, at what time. Business accounts are free on almost every platform and provide a wealth of information that you can’t get with personal accounts.
However, there’s a big drawback with Facebook Pages because they’ve been significantly de-prioritized in your followers’ newsfeed.
No matter how many people like your page, only about 5-10% of your followers will see posts from your Facebook Page; whereas a post from a personal account will probably reach about 25-50% of your friends.
Relying on crossposting between platforms
Almost all social media platforms allow crossposting, but that can discourage people from following you elsewhere.
Well, think about that one Facebook friend that always shares their Instagram photos on Facebook. Unless they’re also holding back some great work exclusively for their Instagram followers, you’re probably not going to make it a priority to look them up on another platform, since you’re already seeing what they post on Facebook.
Not only that, but have you ever noticed how crossposted content can look out-of-place on another social media site, because the way you optimize for one platform doesn’t always transfer over to the next.
Here, you see a photo that I shared on Instagram a few weeks ago. Notice that I’ve tagged my boyfriend, the location, and included hashtags in a way that hides them from immediate view.
But when I use Instagram’s share feature to repost on Facebook, Mick is no longer tagged in the photo. So I unless I edit the post and manually tag him on Facebook, I won’t benefit from this photo showing up on his Facebook friends’ News Feed to reach a larger audience.
Plus, hashtags don’t really serve much of a function on Facebook, and now they just look like an unsightly mess above my picture. While including hashtags on Instagram helps your account get discovered by others, they do little more than clutter a message on Facebook.
Furthermore, some users on multiple platforms find it annoying to see the same post over and over again if they’re following you across your various social media channels.
So even if you think it might save time in the long-run, it’s a much better idea to create unique posts for each of your social media platforms!
Not optimizing your posts
Each and every social media platform gives users a set of tools to use when posting on their accounts.
For Twitter and Instagram, you have things like hashtags. For Facebook, you have events, tags, and check-ins.
And optimization isn’t just about making it easy for new followers to find you, standing out in the News Feed, or getting more post engagement.
Optimization helps your friends and family understand where your next exhibition is going to be. It helps your followers understand what information they’ll be reading when they click on a link you’ve shared. When you optimize your posts, you’re making your friends understand what actions they can take next to support you!
If you don’t optimize, don’t be surprised if your posts get lost in the crowd. You want to do everything in your power to improve the user experience for other people, so that they’re more likely to notice and interact with the information that you’re sharing.
Neglecting to connect with people in-person
One thing that stood out to me at the INFOCUS panel I attended, was that artists with a healthy social network IRL have a larger following on social media, as long as they maintain moderately active accounts.
After studying the Instagram accounts of people in my own arts community, I noticed that teaching artists and people that work at arts organizations tend to grow a decent following, even when few of them do anything to optimize their posts. This is in-part caused by the fact that they reach a mass of students and artists on a yearly, monthly, and even weekly basis.
When you’re constantly involved in a real-life community of artists and art-lovers, it only makes sense that you’ll see organic growth on social media, whether you wanted to or not.
And the best way to expedite that growth is to talk about your social media accounts. When you’re in conversation with someone, mention that you have an active Instagram account, YouTube Channel, or Tumblr blog. Ask if they’d like to stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, or become a part of your mailing list.
Or better yet, the next time you’re giving an artist lecture or leading a workshop, add a slide into your presentation that includes your social media handles. That way, attendees can easily find and connect with you later on!
I know it can feel awkward to bring up social media in conversation, but social media was designed to help people stay in touch. Plus, it’s become so integrated with our culture that no one’s even going to think twice the next time you ask for a follow-back!
Neglecting post quality
Most importantly, people expect quality — especially from visual creators!
Access to creative tools has set the bar high. A blurry cell phone photo with a harsh filter will no longer do the trick.
Your images, links, and even text should be intentionally edited before hitting the share button. Your content should match your individual brand across all platforms, and you should focus on posting stuff that is related to your creative practice.
Sorry, no more viral cat videos and food pics!
But don’t think that means you need to suck all personality and humor out of your posts — on the contrary, you’ll want to balance your unique voice with clarity and a dash of professionalism!
Paying for Followers
If you’ve been on social media for a while, you may have noticed random accounts leaving comments like “Get more followers now!!!” or you’ve been followed by some Instagram model that unfollowed just a few days later.
Bots have become an increasingly irritating problem on social media, even while programs that generate followers are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
It seems like every photo I share on Instagram generates at least 3 new followers, and within a few days (or even hours) my follower count will drop because they’ve unfriended me.
If you’ve noticed something similar on any of your accounts, don’t take it personally! So many accounts, from business to the arts, use this tactic to get noticed by potential new followers. They pay for programs to follow accounts en masse in the hopes that they’ll follow back.
They’ll even leave generic comments that sound genuine… until you notice a different account leaving the exact same comment on a different image.
I know at times social media can feel like a numbers game. It can be frustrating to see generic Instagram or Twitter accounts that have somehow amassed 100’s of thousands of followers while you’re struggling to show off your unique, creative perspective but no one seems interested.
Sometimes these “bots” seem like the only way to get noticed…
Well, even if you’re tempted to hand over some cash in exchange for followers, know this:
The only follower that is worthwhile is one that is genuinely interested in what you’re doing.
You think some bot can give that to you?
Plus, the second someone flags your generic comments as spam, you’re putting yourself at risk of getting your account shut down.
Then you’re really SOL.
So play fairly, and focus on fostering real connections through social media. You can do that simply by following and befriending people you’re actually interested in, and leaving thoughtful comments on their posts.
Sure, the growth will be much slower. But ultimately, social media will be much more rewarding!
And theBiggest Social Media Myth Is…
So now that we’ve gone through all of the common mistakes, there’s something you really need to understand about social media, especially if it’s all new to you.
The days of “going viral” are long gone.
Most social media platforms have reached a point of user capacity, meaning that it’s going to be more difficult that it was, say, 3 or 4 years ago to get noticed.
But even though chances of virality are slim, I believe that artists have a unique advantage for attracting followers over business and brand accounts, simply because artists are making and doing genuinely cool stuff!
And even though it’s harder than ever to grow an enormous following overnight, there are still ways to stimulate growth and expand your audience.
There are plenty of open calls for work that will feature your art all over the internet! Submit to online magazines or galleries that exhibit work in your creative niche, and try to get your work featured on curatorial Instagram accounts.
More formal awards and recognitions in the arts can also give you a social media boost, since people interested in your work might also want to connect with your in other ways.
Be sure to feature any social media accounts you’d like to promote on your portfolio website, that way it’s easy for new fans to find you!
Last but not least, if you absolutely hate social media, it’s not that important. If possible, maintain a personal Facebook account to connect with people, share announcements and promote events, but you don’t have to be on there constantly. There are plenty of other ways to get your work out there than by dedicating a few hours a week to maintaining your social media accounts.
Most of all, be sure to stick to a few of your favorite platforms so you don’t get overwhelmed with posting, and make sure you’re going in with the right expectations!
I hope this helped you wrap your head around the vast and confusing world of social media! If there are any social media sites you’d like me to review or explain further, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about which social media platform is right for you!
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