When Instagram was launched in 2010, the platform became a fantastic medium for artists to be discovered, shared with others, and ultimately sell their work. Then, Instagram switched to a new algorithm-based feed rather than its original chronological feed. Artists found things had changed drastically and it became much more difficult to target and reach their audience. Users are no longer scrolling through their feeds and seeing posts in real time; now they’re seeing what Instagram THINKS they should see, which isn’t necessarily their favorite artist’s work. This means that, even by following best-practices for the platform, artists have a much tougher time getting their work in front of their followers. Diligent use of hashtags, staying on top of comments and questions to boost engagement, and engaging with other accounts can be a full-time effort with little return on investment these days.
Some artists feel that Instagram is full of non-artists, same as when everyone and their brother was buying a DSLR camera several years ago and calling themselves a photographer; soon the term “fauxtography” was everywhere.
But if Instagram isn’t “real” then what is? Do you honestly have to be starving in the streets, suffering for your art, doing very manipulative things to get space for a show? Aside from a well-trafficked gallery in a larger city, certain internet platforms may still offer an artist some genuinely valuable exposure.
Reaching a New Audience
Where, then, will you display your art to be viewed, if not on Instagram? What other media are available to artists now that Instagram is no longer the preferred platform to showcase their work and make sales? Let’s take a look at some options to help you reach a new audience:
YouTube - YouTube can be a great tool to showcase your work, reach a wide audience, and even gain sponsorships. Think about Bob Ross back in the day: people loved to watch his tutorials on PBS. Now people watch his videos on YouTube for their unintentional ASMR qualities. Makeup artists have had huge success on the platform—Jeffree Star, James Charles, and Tati come to mind. It’s all about the tutorials and showing your personality, like opening night at a gallery (only the gallery in this case is worldwide and space isn’t an issue).
- Reddit - Many artists are finding that showing up on their local subreddits as well as posting on niche subs makes for a successful combination of online advertising. The platform allows an artist to post images of their work, events and showings, and of course their personal story. It’s also easy to interact with other Redditors and discuss anything art-related. Being able to network with your target audience before a big show can definitely boost opening night turnout and engagement, and in turn, sales.
- Facebook - Facebook can be a valuable way to get your work in front of a very targeted audience, plus you can link it to your Instagram and directly sell your work. Creating Facebook Events for shows is an option, and you can keep tabs on discussions on the events pages themselves to gauge turnout and interact with potential attendees and customers. Facebook Groups are another facet of the platform that can help you get noticed. Participating in several groups can be a great networking resource as well as a way to reach new audiences. Even groups that don’t pertain to art can be useful—always remember there are potential clients everywhere. If you have an interest in, say, cooking, join a cooking group on Facebook and make friends. Once you’ve established yourself in the community consider posting a piece of your art if it seems relevant to a discussion thread and be sure to link to your website so members can see more of your work. This tactic isn’t a way to make instant sales, but it’s a long-game effort that typically pays off at some point.
- Pinterest - The Pinterest app or website is a platform that has gone through a lot of changes since its inception. It can be helpful for artists if you have your own website from which people can buy your work. Pinterest posts have the potential to reach huge audiences, and if your art happens to go viral, you could have some major exposure. It’s certainly worth setting up a business account to showcase your work and to get involved in the community. Another positive of Pinterest for artists is that it can be an outstanding source of inspiration, and that’s always nice when you’re in need of a burst of creativity.
- Your own website and blog - This seems obvious, but sometimes artists don’t realize how important it is to maintain their own website and blog. Your website doesn’t have to be fancy. It simply needs to be a way to give yourself a personalized space on the internet that showcases you and your work. You may only need 1-2 pages—the front page, which consists of a “My Work” section, a snippet of your profile, or “About Me,” and a teaser of your weekly or monthly blog posts. These can link to internal pages, and you can feature each section as a menu item on your sub header. WordPress and Wix are 2 platforms that are super user-friendly so you can design and maintain your own site. You’ll just need to buy your domain and find a webhost if you choose not to go with free options from WordPress or Wix.
Converting to Sales
While you’ve determined the platforms that best suit your needs you must also consider how you’ll be able to convert engagement to sales. Typically, this involves a CTA (or call-to-action in web speak). This means you want to specifically ask users to buy your product. To do that, you must have prepared a way for them to buy your work—either a shopping function on your website, an Etsy store you can link directly to, or even Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. The priority is to have your product available for sale with as few clicks in between as possible.
Don’t spam! It’s easy to just get rolling with showing your work everywhere and asking for sales, but you need to keep your customer’s point of view in mind. People are constantly bombarded with companies marketing to them and trying to get them to buy things. As an artist, sure, you are a business, but your goal is to keep things personal. People are more likely to buy artwork when the item has special meaning, or a story behind it. In other words, don’t just start posting the same content all over Reddit and hope a lot of people see it and that you start selling all your work on top of taking commissions. If you get too salesy, expect that people will call you out on spamming. Your tone needs to be casual, and it needs to come across in a way that makes people glad you shared some of what you do. Show an example of your work, tell your story concisely, and engage with the community. Make it clear that your work is for sale and where it can be purchased and leave it at that.
Your own website leaves more room for direct calls to action. There, you can say “Get in touch with the artist” and provide a contact form so people can ask you questions directly about a piece or connect with you regarding any work they’d like to commission. You can also say “Buy my work for sale here” and link to your Etsy store or product page within your website. The key is to make it known that your website is a medium through which people can buy right now. Remember, they wouldn’t be on your website randomly; they already have interest in your art and that’s why they’ve clicked onto your site.
Whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’re a seasoned pro at online marketing and sales, don’t spread yourself too thin unless you have hired professionals to do the marketing and sales side for you. Stick to a few platforms you feel confident about and keep your presence on those consistent and fresh. Bonus points if you’re able to contribute to community discussion and enhance the space by answering questions or providing information and suggestions. You know—good, old-fashioned networking. Pay attention to your metrics, adjust your content accordingly, and watch the sales take off.