Perhaps, you associate social media with Kim and Kanye, with beer pong videos and thumbs-at-the-ready politicians and gossip that comes with a hashtag, or maybe you just want to remind friends of your existence through uploaded images, Tweets (or retweets) and Likes and texted messages. Shannon Wilkinson, chief executive officer of the New York City-based Reputation Communications, wants you to think of social media as a career-building tool.
“Social media culture is a community,” she said. “First and foremost, it is about connecting and sharing. It is not about endless self-promotion, although many people misuse it in that way.”
The first step is building a community of what she called “influencers,” referring to gallery owners, museum staff, grant-making and awards organizations, journalists, critics, collectors and sponsors, as well as other artists – “people who play active roles in making decisions, policies and statements that impact the art world, in particular, the art world that is most relevant to an artist.”
Building that community involves researching the audience that matters to the particular artist. For instance, a sculptor might conduct a hashtag search for “#sculpture,” which will offer a sense of what is currently on Twitter and Instagram in that space. Next, artists should conduct searches for the magazines, writers, institutions and organizations that are most active in supporting their particular type of art, following those that interest them and are relevant to their careers. After that, artists might start examining who those people and institutions follow, following the ones who interests them.
Wilkinson also recommended conducting a search outside the more narrow confines of the art world. “If science is a theme in your work, or nature, research the journalists in those are, including bloggers, starting with the same #hashtag search,” she said. “Bloggers are more accessible than magazine editors and often freelance for them.” Even better, bloggers generally respond before mainstream editors and writers do, as there is less competition for their time. “When they publish posts about art or other topics, it provides instant online forums for it that can be built upon and expanded.”
Print publications are on the decline, being reborn as digital publications. However, all digital magazines and blogs have social media platforms. Artists who are not aware of them, much less following and engaging with them, are restricting their opportunities. Much publicity is now being done digitally, and publicists are connecting with writers online because so many are independent; they are freelancing more and less likely to be a full-time staffer. Often, these writers also write for other online publications, ones that curators read. Being active on social media enables artists to see who those writers are and where they are publishing.
Social media should be used to support, rather than replace, other forms of marketing and public relations, she claimed. For example, an artist preparing a mailing of printed promotional material for art consultants and editors at art publications to announce a recently installed commission might look to maximize the marketing opportunities by researching all of those individuals on Twitter and other social media platforms and connect with the ones she finds. Begin sharing their posts (with the goal that they will notice and follow her back). That can lead to what is called “engagement” on social media – also known as a “conversation.” If that occurs, the artist might send a private message letting the contact know to look for his or her announcement. If it does not occur, the artist can still include the person’s twitter handle or Instagram address on future posts with pictures of her new commission.
Similarly, when artists have an exhibition and know there is a critic who is likely to respond to their work (based on the reviews the critic writes about other artists with commonalities), they can follow the critic on social media and ensure that his twitter/Instagram handles are included in posts with images from the upcoming show. “That is a very easy way to increase awareness about the upcoming exhibition,” she said. “It reinforces the message that is being sent on other channels, such as direct mail, perhaps in advertising as well as from a gallery or PR consultant.”
Different social media platforms should be used in different ways. Facebook, for instance, should serve as a portfolio, while Twitter would be used to gather information and to build an audience, and Instagram can showcase one’s work. Using #hashtags on posts helps to reach new audiences. For instance, she said, “if you just finished a painting in Sedona or the Hudson Valley, make sure an Instagram post about it includes #Sedona or #Hudson Valley. Otherwise, you might be missing exactly the type of audience that wouldn’t otherwise know about it, and who may respond to it.”
We live in a world of people seemingly glued to their phones and tablets for hours every day, following So-and-So and posting images from their drive home (or whatever struck their fancy). Social media might seem to fine artists like an enormous time-suck whose rewards are only theoretical while the requirements only guarantee distraction and time away from work in the studio. However, Wilkinson said that two or three hours per week would be sufficient, using that time “to scan the posts and tweets made by the community they have built, which provides them with marketing insight about news, reviews and opportunities within their sphere, and to compose and schedule periodic posts for the coming week. That may be as little as three posts in a week, two of which may be just sharing someone else’s content.” She recommended several free and low-cost social media management systems – such as Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social – that enable users to read the social media posts of anyone they want to follow, as well as schedule and publish one’s posts on social media platforms. That enables artists to participate within that community, and the alternative is to be invisible to it “at least in the digital space.”
By Daniel Grant