With the increasing popularity of digital music downloads, the music industry has been living a digital revolution out-loud for years. Perhaps on a quieter stage, the Art world has also been experiencing a similar digital shift. Cory Huff, social media marketing consultant and creative mind behind TheAbundantArtist.com, took some time out to share his insights on marketing and social media for today’s artists and craftsmen.
TMMPDX: The music industry has had to significantly change and evolve their marketing and distribution practices to adapt to the digital age. Is the same thing happening to traditional artists who typically rely on galleries and word-of-mouth to sell their work?
Cory Huff: The music industry is an exact parallel to what’s happening in the art world. The major music labels built their businesses around being gatekeepers for the musicians. The only way that a musician could get their music to a fan was through a record deal. Now we can download music directly from the artist. A record deal can help, but the contracts aren’t always favorable for the artists, and many well known musicians have chosen to go independent.
The Art world is in a very similar place. Many art galleries and academics want artists to think that the only way to sell their art is to get the pieces in a gallery and let the gallery owner sell to collectors. If Art collectors go the way that music collectors do, which I believe that they will, then artists who can figure out how to cultivate their own fan bases, along with email addresses, will ultimately succeed independently of the academic and gallery systems.
There are several very good examples of artists who are having a lot of success online. Hazel Dooney from Australia is probably the most well known example. Besides her there’s Natasha Wescoat, Dreama Tolle Perry, Melissa Dinwiddie, Matt Richards (a Portland local), and a handful more. Each of these artists have focused on building a following online. The strategy has lots of subtle variations, but essentially it amounts to setting up a blog, an email list, and touching their fans as often as those fans feel comfortable. The more touch points you have the more loyal your fans become.
TMMPDX: Does an artist need a website, blog, online store, and social media profiles to be successful? Is it still worthwhile if an artist only manages one or two of these?
CH: I wish I could quash the idea of the website, blog and store being separate entities. In an ideal world, the artist should combine all of these things into one website. It takes a little bit more work, but in the long run it’s absolutely essential. Your blog, online gallery, and store are going to attract more traffic than the other parts of your website. You need to take advantage of each piece by making them work synergistically. It’s not absolutely necessary to use social media. You can succeed without it, but of all of the artists that I know who are having massive success online, only one is not active in social media. He has been selling online for eight years though, and uses Google Adwords. He pays for some of the traffic that most artists get through using social media. Even he maintains a blog.
TMMPDX: What should artists and craftsmen consider when deciding to expand their online presence by adding an online store or blog to their website?
CH: You should plan out what you’re going to add to a blog. Create a 30 day content calendar, then do that every month. Your store should make available everything you sell – originals, prints, and more. You need to plan in how much time it takes to update your store each month. Also think about what your goals are – many artists start blogging because they’ve heard that they need to do so, but haven’t created a strategy around the content that they are putting out on the Web. Your blog is there as a marketing tool. It can be personal and still market you as an artist – but in the end, it should be about your work.
Another big mistake that I see many artists make is using ugly pre-fab templates. There are several artist website companies that sell expensive pre-made templates that don’t allow for custom design or coding, and invariably the artist ends up having to find another website down the road. Get the highest quality website that you can afford – hire a web designer if you can. If you can’t, then at least create a website that can be upgraded later when you can afford a designer.
TMMPDX: What role does social media play in Art-world promotion?
CH: It depends on what you mean by social media. Social media is simply word of mouth powered by electronic communication. Facebook and Twitter are tools, not saviors. Unless what you’re doing is interesting, and it’s presented in an interesting way, you won’t get any attention in social media. There’s too much noise.
That said, I think social is the best thing that could have happened to the art world. Sites like Etsy and Flickr have led the charge to help artists reach out to people directly. They’ve really raised the tide and shown artists what’s possible when you embrace new ways of communication.
In my consulting work I break social media marketing down into three categories: Awareness, Sales, and Loyalty. You can use social media to help people find you by enabling people to share your work with others. You can generate sales in the same way. You generate loyalty by being engaged with people through blogging or using social networks. When collectors have a personal connection with the artist, they are more likely to buy again and let others know how great you are.
TMMPDX: A lot of commercially-driven social media marketing uses strategies like contests, trivia games, and giveaways to connect with fans. Should artists approach social media in the same way?
CH: Artists should be careful giving away their art. I think that they can use giveaways in limited ways with success. Personally, I think artists are better off developing a loyal fan base by interacting with them via their blogs and social networks, as well as email newsletters. Contests and giveaways tend to work better when you’re giving away that hot new toy that everyone wants (i.e. iPad) than giving away something that no one has ever heard of and most people won’t connect with (your abstract oil painting that is mostly black and brown amorphous shapes).
TMMPDX: What are some unique challenges artists and craftsmen face when beginning to market themselves online?
CH: The biggest challenge is usually getting past the technology challenges. There are a lot of really useful, simple tools out there that will enable artists to get websites, blogs, and email lists set up with little to no technology know-how. If I were to name names, I’d say use a self-hosted WordPress software (free) to build a website, then use Mailchimp.com for the mailing list (free up to 1,000 subscribers).
Beyond technology challenges, artists need to learn the principles of marketing. For some artists this comes naturally, but for most they fear the idea of pricing their work and especially fear being seen as a smarmy salesperson. The artists who succeed realize that they are creating something incredibly valuable and that they simply need to learn how to make sure as many of the right people hear about it as possible.
TMMPDX: You own a website called SellingArtworkOnline.com. What do your “Do It Yourself” website courses for artists cover?
CH: I developed the Selling Artwork Online course as an answer to the most common problem that artists bring to me: getting an affordable, high quality website. The course covers learning to how to use WordPress, a powerful free software, to build a great artist website – including a store and blog. There are more than five hours of video tutorials, as well as a companion pdf that shows you how to organize your efforts.
In addition to the course, people who purchase Selling Artwork Online also get access to The Abundant Artist Community, a private message board for artists who are serious about learning to sell their art online. The Community contains lessons on learning to differentiate your work online, SEO, marketing, and more.
TMMPDX: Do you think there is a hierarchy of importance for artists who are investing time in marketing themselves online? For example, is a website a necessity or is a popular Facebook or MySpace page more important for sales?
CH: Relying on a third party site for your business is a recipe for failure. By now we all know how Facebook obliterated MySpace. Facebook’s big now, but they’ve started censoring content. Google does the same on Blogger. If you’re serious about making a long term career out of your art, then you need your own website. Facebook and other social media are there simply to drive traffic back to your site so that you can gain more attention and get people on your own lists.
TMMPDX: In today’s art world, does a successful artist need to be constantly creating online content in addition to their creative works?
CH: If you’re smart, you’ll turn each piece of art into several pieces of online content. Write blog posts about your process while you’re creating. Do some videos of you painting. Go to an art fair and write about your experience at the fair or preparing for the fair. Highlight a collector.
I don’t think artists can avoid creating content – unless they have a serious budget and an inclination to advertise. Even then, though, your best bet is a solid mix of paid advertising, blogging, social media marketing, and email newsletters.
Category: TMMPDX Portland Marketing Innovators