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How Artists Can Use Facebook to Engage Their Audiences

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Visual artist Bonnie Collura got into a major international show because of a conversation that began on her Facebook profile, and now, thanks to the show’s success, a serious collector wants to buy her drawings. Tyler Oyer just began his career as a sculptor and performance artist, yet he has already managed to collaborate with some well known artists he might have never met without online networking. Nina Katchadourian crowd-sources constantly from her Facebook wall, posting snapshots of themes or scenes she’s thinking about to see how her virtual community reacts. It’s even led to a major commission by Brown University for a piece that grew out of one of Katchadourian’s wall posts. “In a spontaneous moment, I wrote ‘Tell me the best advice you know,’ and within 24 hours I got over 65 quips and expressions, and that response led to my idea for this sound piece, where a speaker will play bits of advice from interviews I did with 100 alumni.”

Facebook’s social platform, in other words, has a lot to offer visual artists. This post will go through a few basic ways artists can take advantage of the site.

Create An Artist Page

While you still need an artist website where you can send people to see your portfolio, curated just the way you want, you will get far more out of your online presence—and ultimately send far more people to your artist website—if you create an artist page on Facebook.

Some artists choose to use their personal profile as their artist page; others end up doing so because that’s where people from the art world reach out to them. If you’re just starting out, however, I recommend keeping your personal profile as just that—personal—and creating an official “Page” for your artwork. That way, random fans and complete strangers can contact you by “liking” your page without having to become your “friends,” which requires your approval for every request and which complicates any attempt to manage the boundary between your personal and professional life.

Creating an artist page on Facebook is easy. Go here and follow the instructions for “Official Page.” Don’t publish it or send it to anyone until you’ve added all your content and made sure it’s set up exactly how you want it. (While this post is about visual artist pages, you can get general guidance here.)

First, add all the basic information from your artist website: your contact info, bio and resume. Include links to your artist website, your personal Facebook profile and, if you have a gallery, to your gallery’s website and Facebook Page. If your gallery doesn’t have a Facebook Page, send your dealer this article.

Next comes the art. Upload your images, creating a new album for each body of work and including the full title information in the “comment” section below each image. Upload the highest resolution Facebook allows and don’t watermark them. You want people to share these images, and post them on their blogs, and talk about your work. Just add a request below each image that any re-publishing be accompanied with the line “Courtesy of [Your Name].” If you’re really nervous about copyright, upload a few representative low-res images and send people to your website to see the rest.

Make it easy for people to go from your Facebook page to your artist website by including its URL on every single page within your Facebook Page, so that no matter where people are on it—reading your wall, looking at your images, browsing your events—they can click directly to your website. If people have to hunt around to find your URL, chances are they won’t bother.

Build Your Facebook Audience

Once you’ve set up your page, you’re ready to build your Facebook audience. Start by writing your Facebook friends a personal message letting them know about the page. Include a link to it and ask them ‘like’ it. Currently, you can send the same message to up to 20 friends at once, but you should send personal notes to each friend individually. Taking the time to do that will greatly increase the chances that they will actually go and ‘like’ your page, so dedicate a few days to the task. Either way, avoid the temptation to use the “Suggest to Friends” function because it’s even less effective than sending group messages.

(For anyone not that familiar with how this works, your page will only be as effective as the number of people who ‘like’ it. That’s your audience and you want to grow it as much as you can. Every time someone ‘likes’ your page, Facebook posts a link to it in that person’s newsfeed, which means it will show up on all of their friends’ newsfeeds, and if any of their friends ‘like’ it, your page will show up on all of their friends’ newsfeeds, and so on. Each user, in other words, could have an exponential impact on your page’s reach.)

If your gallery has a Facebook page, ask your dealer to make your artist page one of the gallery page’s “favorites.” Your dealer should be willing to ask his or her collectors to ‘like’ your page, too. You might grease the wheels by offering to help with the outreach, since, as you will have just learned, it takes a good deal of work.

Make a backup doc of all the people who like your page and whatever contact info they provide. Ask their permission to add them to your email mailing list so you can hit them up in more than one place when it comes time to invite them to your shows.

Finally, if you’re comfortable enough with HTML, or have someone helping you with your artist website, add Facebook’s Like Box to your home page. This lets people ‘like’ your Facebook page directly from your artist website.

Engage Your Online Community

Think of Facebook as a non-stop open studios, except that everyone really is in the building, and a lot more likely to come through your door. All you have to do is remind them you’re there.

Just as you email updates to your email list, keep your Facebook audience abreast of what you’re doing by posting to your page’s wall. Whatever you post there will show up on their newsfeeds, and is a chance for them to comment on or ‘like’ what you write. Respond to comments if you feel like it. Give people a reason to pay attention to your posts. The more they reflect your personality, the more people will feel like they’re getting to know you and the more engaged they’ll become. Not every post has to be about your next event, either—you could write about what’s inspiring you at the moment, or some amazing show you just saw or something as mundane as which supplies you just bought for your next piece.

If you already have a blog, cross-post your blog posts on your Facebook Wall. If you’re on Twitter, you can link your accounts so that what you post on your Wall is Tweeted instantaneously.

Posting to your Wall is typically more effective than sending official page “updates,” which go to a subfolder in people’s inboxes. But it’s worth testing out both routes to see which is more effective. Use different bit.ly links in your wall posts and updates to see which links get more click-throughs.

Ultimatley, of course, you need to take things offline. Create events for all your art-related activities, such as open studios, group shows or lectures you’re attending, and invite everyone on your page. Make the guest list public and reply to people who rsvp. The more you’re willing to engage people online, the more likely they are to come see your work in person.

Jonathan Melber is an attorney, the director of business development for 20x200 and the co-author of ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Free Press), a business and legal guide for visual artists.