I have been listening to many artists on various social media channels talking about what they should or should not share on social networks to promote their work. I’ve also listened to some very mixed opinions about the best approach that artists should use to utilise social media to make a sustainable living by selling art online. After receiving several emails and Direct Messages on Twitter in the past few weeks from several artists who are new to social media, seeking my advice on the best way to use social media to sell art, I thought it was time I shared some tips.

Online social media resources for artists

If you’re new to social media, I need to point out that this article is not about how Twitter works, or why a Facebook page is important, or what the benefits are of using specific social networking sites like Pinterest, Flickr, LinkedIn or Google+ etc. There are plenty of articles out there that do a great job of this already. Here are a few links to some great online social media resources for artists that I can personally recommend to get you started along the right path:

Who is your customer?

To be successful in any marketing activity the first question you need to  ask yourself is “Who is my customer?” It’s very important that you identify the answer to this question even before you consider which social networks you’ll be using. In fact, your answer will actually influence your decision on which social networks are most appropriate for marketing your specific art online. I suggest you start with a blank sheet of paper and begin by writing down a long list of customer “keywords” or “phrases” that best describes your potential buyers. When I started selling my art online I maintained such a list in a small notebook which I constantly kept by my computer, and I updated this daily as I identified new words or phrases that described potential art buyers.

Art buying keywords and phrases

The next thing you need to work out are the words or phrases that your potential art buyers would likely type into Google when they go online searching for your specific type of art to buy. Again, I suggest you start with a blank sheet of paper and begin by writing down a list of keywords and phrases that potential clients are likely to use. I used to use the same notebook to maintain this list, starting on the back page and working my way forwards through my notebook.

I no longer have my notebook as I’ve gone digital. I now have two documents that I maintain on my smartphone, and using a piece of software called Evernote (the basic plan is free) my list is constantly kept up to date wherever I happen to be when new words or phrases come to mind.

Research the right places to sell your art

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, you need to be in the right place to sell it. For example, a Fishmonger would be unlikely to sell any fish at a vegan store. The customers that go shopping in vegan stores aren’t there to buy fish, if they had wanted to buy fish they would have gone to the Fishmongers! Think of selling your art in those terms, where are your potential art buying clients likely to hang out online? Go there, set up an account and join in the conversations.

Bringing it all together

You should now have the key words and phrases that you believe describe your potential art buying clients, as well as the key words and phrases they are likely to type in to search for your art, and you should now have some idea of where you can find these people networking on the internet.

Building a following who will buy your art

When selling your art online it’s important you recognise that it’s not about “how many followers” you have on your chosen social network, it’s about the “qualification” of those followers. By qualification I mean that the network you are building have been qualified by you as valid potential buyers of your art, and you have identified that they may be interested in buying the artworks you create.

Social networking is not about selling

We all hate spam with a passion, so sending out a constant stream of updates promoting what you do doesn’t work. People will see this as spam and is one of the quickest ways to get yourself unfollowed, and on some social networking sites you could even end up with your account being blocked.

Don’t sell, curate, become a concierge

Think of the Fishmonger who wants to sell fish online, he wouldn’t spend his efforts building up a network of vegan followers, he’d want to build up a network of people who are likely to want fish. The successful Fishmonger would attract a fish loving following by thinking like a concierge. He’d look after all of the needs of fish lovers by doing things such as sharing the latest fish recipes, post delicious looking pictures of fish dishes, sharing little known but interesting fish facts, and possibly even hot interesting news articles about the fish industry, and so on. You need to think in this way about your art and the people who are likely to buy and collect it. Identify the interests of your followers in relation to your art, the problems they face, freely offer your knowledge, know-how, and advice, and share this with them on your chosen social networks. It’s all about creating “value” for your followers. The more you share, giving them what they need, the more you will be valued, and the bigger your tribe will grow as more and more people start following you.

Tips on finding art buyers on social networks

Here are some suggestions as to how you could go about building up your following of people who are interested in buying your art online. I’m going to use Twitter as an example, but the methods described here can be applied across most of the major social networking sites.

Using the list of customer keywords you created earlier, search for people that use these words and phrases in their bios and start following them.  e.g. “love art”, “art lover”, “collect art”, “art collector” etc.

IMPORTANT! Enclose phrases and multiple search words within quotes, e.g. art collector as shown in the graphic below.

Here are the settings you’ll need in Twitter Search  to find specific keywords and phrases in people’s bios.

How to search for "Art Collector" on Twitter

Click to enlarge

Following people by what they are saying

You can also search for words and phrases that your potential buyers are actually using in their tweets, such as “bought a painting”, “buy a painting” etc.

Here are the Twitter Search settings required when searching for searching everyone’s tweets, and not just those of your existing followers.

How to search all Twitter users for specific phrases

Click to enlarge

Rinse and repeat

As I mentioned earlier I’m constantly updating my word lists, and at least a couple of times every week I create new searches based on these words and phrases, I follow a whole new bunch of new people, and to save myself time I also save these searches to use again later.

Regularly converse with influential followers

Influential followers are those with lots of social influence. For example they’ll be posting regular updates, have a fairly active following themselves which means they’ll have a good “reach” to many people. Here are a couple of tools you can use to help identify influential users on Twitter

You can also create public lists in Twitter which you can use to help you organise your influential followers, and you can make these private lists if you don’t want to share this information with others.

Who do your tribe already follow?

Identify and visit the social media accounts of people and organisations that you know your Tribe are already following, and follow them. For example: Art Dealers. Who follows art dealers? People who want to buy art of course! Follow the Art Dealers followers, they might even decide to cut out the middle man and buy your art directly from you!!

Give, Give, Give!

It’s good practice to follow fellow artists who produce similar work to yours, or who create similar art within a similar field, and regularly retweet their art and announcements for them. They’ll normally tweet you back to thank you, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, they may even retweet your art too. This will give you and your art greater exposure to their audience (the people who are interested in their kind of art – which is similar to yours). Not only will this will help to bring you new followers and potential customers into your Tribe, it’s always good to help out your fellow starving artists wherever you can!

Final tip for greater Twitter reach

A final tip, exclusively for Twitter: When replying to other people’s Tweets you can give your Tweets better coverage by inserting some text before their Twitter name.

Rather than Tweeting “@UserName I’m loving your work, where can I see more or buy some?” Reply to @UserName (their followers who don’t follow you will not see this)

It’s better to Tweet “I’m loving your work @UserName , where can I see more or buy some?” everyone on Twitter, while mentioning @UserName


Next Steps

If you try out some of these techniques yourself please come back to let us know how you got on. If you have any more tips on building your tribe to sell your art online then please share them with us in the comments below, where you can also ask me any questions you may have 🙂