An artist’s dilemma: working the social interwebs

First, a quick tech notice: I recently changed the method I use to deliver new blog posts to my email subscribers. All of my phalanges are crossed that my technology jinx doesn’t botch it, but if you receive multiple emails, have trouble viewing the email, or anything else less than desirable, please email me (

Marketing. For me, it’s akin to gardening – if I had all of the time in the world, I would be a pro. However, I always seem to be running on empty when it comes to time. But I get it – if you don’t spread the word about your work, how will anyone know you’re out there doing your thing? So, I do what I can to tell the world, “I’m here (painting)!”

Obviously, I blog, and you read it (and you’re awesome, by the way!). I’m on EtsyTwitterPinterest and LinkedIn. I’m also lucky enough to catch a writer’s attention from time to time, such as Sara Bauknecht, who recently featured me in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Sunday Edition “Stylebook Snapshot.”

Post Gazette Stylebook Snapshot June 2014

And then I convert folks to blog subscribers at events by doing drawings for prints and such for people who provide their email. For example, Ashley Noble, who signed up for my blog updates at this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, won this print, which is already framed and hanging in her house (congrats, Ashley!).

Print give away winner

Nonetheless, people tell me I should be on Instagram and Facebook (not my personal account), submit my work to art blogs and style magazines, and do handstands outside of my studio (just kidding, no one has ever suggested that). Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how to keep up my marketing momentum.

So, I’m curious to know, how do you connect with artists or other people doing creative things you love? What should I drop? Be honest now, have you ever bought art via an Instagram discovery, or a magazine feature? I’m counting on your clever insights to hone my shameless self-promotion. You’re a smart cookie when it comes to finding creative and beautiful things, I know it.


  • Erin McMahon on

    Study your numbers like tea leaves. Are your blog analytics telling you where visitors are coming from? If your social media outlets aren’t getting people over here, that may be a signal. But don’t cut too hastily. Even if referrals aren’t huge from one spot or another, you can still look at your engagement metrics (likes, shares, regrams, etc.). Even if all that liking isn’t garnering a lot of purchases directly from those followers, it may be exposing you to a larger audience.

    Ultimately it is just a balancing act of time vs. effort (as you already said). I think you have a really good mix, in all the right places. If you’re putting a lot of effort into one network or another and people don’t seem to be responding, maybe that’s the one to drop. I suspect that’s not the case for you, though. 🙂 So I guess the question is, are you happy with what you’re doing right now? If you feel you need to spend less time than you currently are, then I would look for the underperformers, based on whichever metrics are most meaningful to you. If it’s most important to you to get referral traffic to the blog, then focus there. If you just want to see that people are engaging with you and talking about you, then focus on your likes and shares.

    I have definitely found things (and purchased things) on Etsy from artists after finding the artists on various social media. Not often (I’m not doing a lot of purchasing lately), but it has certainly happened. And there are others I follow who I would purchase from in the future, when I get back to purchasing. 🙂


  • Erin McMahon on

    Afterthought: if you’re looking to connect social activity directly to sales, that’s a bit of a tougher nut to crack. Doable, of course, but may or may not be as easy. If you’re doing all your online sales through Etsy, then you’d need to know those site analytics – referral traffic et. al.

    And of course Google Analytics is one of the best tools to see the direct path of a social media-referred visitor through your site to conversion (sale). But I don’t know if Etsy will allow you to do that. (I’d suspect not.)

    So what then? You probably don’t want to completely renovate your online purchase tools/system, be that via Etsy or other, so how can you connect those dots from social to sale?

    Test, Test, Test. Give yourself a long enough period (you can best determine that period based on frequency of current sales) and stop being active on one social network. If you experience adverse effects, then you know it’s working for you. Do the same with all your channels until you feel you have a solid understanding of how each affects your performance.

    Hope that helps! Ok I’m done now!

  • Oh, Erin. I knew you would have smart smart things to say!

    Etsy is surprisingly good with reporting stats (they clearly have a vested interested in artists selling well). I do need to be better though about really looking at google analytics and such versus just checking the number of visitors from time to time. I’m sure some trends would be apparent if I dug a little deeper.

    Thank you!

  • Your post is in sync with my own musings on balancing the shameless self promotion with reality. I have heard once that the key to all success is balance, so if you find yourself stretched too thin in one of the areas, eliminate it!

    I myself have used blog posts to find products I have then gone on to purchase. Usually the blogger is writing about some idea and references another idea then I end up with a new thing in the mail and a debit on my credit card.

    My studio mate says she posts a lot in Instagram and Pinterest and the results are in sales on her webpage. She apparently puts up a lot of “how to” photos and also has a lot of others who will graciously share her posts….oh, maybe that is what we need to put some focus on…asking friends and family to “share” and “re-pin” and whatever the other words are. That would help a lot too. You never know who shares a link with 40 and who is sharing with 4,000….

    Let me know when you crack the code.

  • It is a struggle to balance it all. These paintings don’t paint themselves 😉

    I’ll definitely share the secret when I figure it out.

    Thanks, Colleen!

  • Jen Saffron on

    I feel like you are talking about two main topics: community process and sales. They are related, and also separate.
    Connecting with other artists and people doing creative things has to do with being physically present (both as a presenting artist and as an attendee) at events, happy hours, openings, talks, poetry readings, markets, and so on. Also, hosting events in your studio, perhaps with another artist whose work you admire. Bring your business cards, start talking, and follow up with invitations for coffee and conversation. You are both participating in a community and also building a network of support. Being of service is also a wonderful way to meet people – how might your art be of service? Also, where are the non-art places where your presence might enlarge your sphere of influence and also who you might meet – a community meeting, the dog run, or other kind of gathering outside of the traditional arts scene. Those are good places to make sure people know who you are and what you do.

    In terms of selling, there are various points to moving people from being a prospective client to a buyer, and the basis of all of that is creating positive relationships (see above). The goal is that by creating and sharing authentic work, you will move people through a series of “moments” – becoming aware of who you are and what you do, taking an interest in your work, having a desire to help you or own a piece of your art, and then following through with the action to purchase and support your work. I doubt you will sell a work (action) via Instagram, but Instagram might be an important part of the first step of someone finding out about you (awareness).

    That said, communications and marketing components should inform one another with a common logo (branding) and links to the other components. Include “calls to action” in your electronic and social media, but balance that kind of “selling” – you don’t want to have too much of a selling voice on social media, because that is not what it is for, totally. To build a social media following, have a balance of: providing useful information or tips, inviting people to learn about or buy your work, and commenting on other’s work.

  • What a great reminder Jen to simply talk to people (in person). It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten about face-to-face interactions. I do host events at my studio and elsewhere and it’s always a successful way to sincerely connect with someone. Actually, I’m personally much more inclined to buy artwork from someone I’ve met in person or commission work from someone I know.

    The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is fortunate to have you on their team to market their programs. Thank you!

  • I have a friend who is a painter and was trying to get her work recognized in galleries in Chelsea. She was a prolific artist, but like many, was not well known, and she rarely ventured out to promote her work. She had a lot of issues with the idea of selling her art, but it’s not necessarily about selling, but sharing your artwork and inspiring them with your vision. She eventually buckled down and got a tablet, where she uploaded photos of her artwork, and she started to use it as a virtual business card to show her peers her portfolio. It was a great step in the right direction. Her next step was to start using social media channels.

    I don’t think it’s a question of what you should drop, but it should be about using the channels for specific purposes. The ultimate purpose is not necessarily about the transaction, but really about building a following and sharing it with an increasingly wider or more targeted audience.. The art that you create and share on high-traffic channels such as Instagram or Facebook are really important to create engagement with folks that you might not have ever known, as social media can help you find a niche.

    The posts on Instagram or Facebook could vary from posting about the art itself, a behind the scenes look at the art, what kind of materials you’re using, color inspiration, everyday objects or observations that inspired you, new items in your Etsy page – lots of options. Lots of ways to inspire people with the work that you do!

  • Thank you, Joleen! You’re right that it doesn’t take much to create interesting content for social media and such when you’re an artist – posting a progress shot, for example, is simple and people love it.

    I appreciate the input.

  • Amy Sample Ward on

    I feel like I’ve come late to the party – all the best advice has already been covered here and I agree wholeheartedly with so many of these recommendations!

    To me, it really comes down to this: what do you really want? Selling pieces is very different than connecting with an audience of potential buyers (even though they are a similar group defined around the option of a purchase), just as there’s a difference between getting coverage in media/press and being known amongst the artist community. What do you really want to do? Answering that question makes it easy to answer the question of which platforms may serve you best. Where are those people hanging out or sharing content or otherwise investing their time? Go there.

  • That is a simple and clear way to think about it, Amy. It’s pretty amazing how obvious things become when you think about the end goal and work backward. Thanks!

  • Hi Ashley,
    I love these posts and struggle with stretching myself too thin all the time. To me I take the “”what do you really want” direction a bit further into my own life, and realize I am willing to have a “good enough” business in order to have more time just enjoying my life. I value my time to observe, putter, help my kids with their homework. As an artist, that is gas in the tank so I can do this until the day I die. So, let’s say I want a 30-hour workweek. I want to spend half that time actually creating art (my product) that leaves me 15 hours/ week to work on my business. First order of business is to take care of clients, second is to find more clients and third is to run my biz, (accounting, planning, logistics). All equally important, so say I divide those three main tasks by three, and say that leaves me with 5 hours per week to focus on marketing tasks, or manage the projects and someone who will give it more time. That is not enough time to maintain social media engagement across multiple platforms, be developing quality stories about your work, maintaining your website, refining packaging and branding and attending in-person events or networking.

    My advice? Work backwards, understand your time constraints so you can have the life of your dreams being there for that amazing ball of joy on your lap on your home page, and create the most leverage in the least amount of time. To me that means being totally clear about purpose, where and how you can create the most value, and where you can connect most deeply with your customers. The blog seems like a great start, links to this page people will know you and love you.

    I know I cannot consistently show up across four + social media platforms, and as long as I am able to make enough money to pay for my sweet life expenses, I do the marketing activities I can support on a consistent basis and continue incorporating advice from those who know more, and then let it go. btw you have some smart friends! I might take some of their advice…

  • Hello Morgan. You are one smart cookie! I’m working on my plan for next year and I will take your advice to work backgrounds so I’m not always panicked about what I’m not getting done. Starting with how much time I have and what I need to get done at a minimum will help set realistic expectations. Great insights.

    Your work is great! I don’t know how you paint at this scale consistently. Murals take it out of me. The one at the laps pool is mind-boggling! Well done!

    Thanks again for your advice.

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