5 Rules for Artists Using Social Media

In my last post, you learned that no one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are.   Social media literacy is an essential skill for all artists to master.  And by social media literacy, I don’t mean being able to create a facebook event, or tweet about your breakfast, or add friends on Myspace.  My 10-year-old cousin can do that.  I mean being able to effectively use social media to self-promote and create a lasting, active community that will continue to support you.

When using any social media tool, there are 5 important rules to follow:

  1. Don’t lead with tools, lead with relationships. You aren’t going to get anywhere by blindly twittering promotional material 20 times a day.  In fact, that’s probably a pretty good way to annoy your fans.  Instead of looking at these tools as a platform solely for spewing content, think of them as a way to get involved in the conversation of your community.  Amanda Palmer, lead singer for the Dresden Dolls, is a great example of what an artist should strive for.  In May, she made $11,000 in one night. She twittered her fellow “Losers of Friday Night” (fans who had decided not to go out on a friday), got together a group of people to hang out on the internet, chatted about stuff, made a t-shirt on the spot about the stuff they were chatting about, and sold over 400 shirts in the next few days.  That is how you harness the power of a community.
  2. Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

    Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

  3. Use tools as an aide to build community. When you are an artist, community is everything.  It is your bread and butter and if your fans are not strong and loyal, you will not survive.  You do not have to be a household name to be successful if you have a strong community.  Have you heard about Great Big Sea?  Probably not.  They are a Canadian celtic-rock band.  Last summer I went to one of their concerts and then saw the Backstreet Boys the following weekend at the same venue (don’t judge!).  Can you guess which concert was sold out and which one wasn’t?   It’s hard to believe, but a Canadian celtic-rock band actually beat the Backstreet Boys in ticket sales. Great Big Sea enjoys consistently sold out concerts because they have an active fan base that will travel thousands of miles to see them and they recognize the power of having this community.  An example: their website is titled “The Community of Great Big Sea.”
  4. Tell your story. You want to use social media to connect and engage with your audience on a personal level.  There’s an Indian Proverb that goes: “Tell me a fact, I’ll learn.  Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.  Tell me a story and it’ll live in my heart forever.”  People remember stories, so why not tell yours?  And I don’t mean a stale bio that you find on all these artists’ websites.  I mean something personal, written by you, about you, that readers will want to tell other people.  One interesting and memorable anecdote or fact makes it easier for your fans to promote you.  I can’t count how many times I’ve bragged that Lady Gaga was one of 20 applicants accepted into Tisch early decision ever.
  5. Create an incentive for users to come back. There was a Mashable post a few weeks ago about 5 great Facebook fan pages.  They all had one thing in common:  original content.  You want to make content that is not available elsewhere.  We yearn to be on the inside, getting the “exclusive sneak peek”. Make your fans feel special and give them something they can’t get anywhere else.
  6. Don’t sign yourself up for more than you can maintain. Having 8 different profiles on various media platforms won’t do any good for you unless they are all well developed and updated frequently.  If you have enough time to maintain 8 accounts, then that’s great.  However, if you are an artist, you probably are busy working on your, you know, art.  Focus your time on one or two platforms (using points 1-4).  And don’t ever hire someone to maintain your profiles.  There is nothing that will make you look more out of touch with social media.  Your fans want to connect with you, not your 20-year-old intern.  The whole point is to engage people, and you can’t do that if you are spread across eight different platforms or aren’t even using the tools.

Building community, making a personal connection, and actively engaging your audience is not only important, it is necessary to set yourself apart from everybody else. Be authentic and be yourself.

Web Comics Under Fire

Neil Swaab posted last week about the viability of webcomic business models in the current economy.

“I know there are plenty of web comic artists who are able to subsist on the income they make from their website, but they aren’t making money from their comics; they’re making money from merchandise. Not to belittle web-only comic artists, but when their income is derived from t-shirts, it makes them salesmen first, artists second.”

As a print comic artist, Swaab’s assesments about the webcomic world were questioned and challenged by several webcomic artists, most notably, Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content. Jacques’s post contains a point-by-point rebuttal of Swaab’s assertions and the back and forth illustrates most of the key differences in perspective between those working primarily in traditional media and those more comfortable with online and new media outlets.

On merchandising:

Swaab:

The t-shirt sales method is unacceptable for the reasons that an artist is not intrinsically making money off his or her comic, but is instead making money off merchandise sales and using the comic as a form of advertising for their merchandise.

Jacques:

I don’t know what country accepts BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS as valid currency but I’m sure glad I don’t live there! Money is money.

On subscriptions models:

Swaab:

If enough artists decided to lock up their archives at the same time so readers had no choice but to subscribe, and the technology existed to prevent illegal copying and distributing on the Web, this could be a very wonderful solution.

Jacques:

If “the technology existed to prevent illegal copying and distributing on the web” we would be living IN MAGICAL FAIRY PONY FANTASY LAND. Maybe that’s also where those BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS are legal tender!

On viability:

Swaab:

“Whatever business models alternative comic artists can come up with, the one thing that I firmly believe is that the current paradigm is dead… Artists must figure out a way to monetize their work online and readers must be willing to take this journey with them.”

Jacques:

Webcomics readers are the best readers in the entire fucking world. We are all incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have you guys supporting us, either monetarily or simply by looking at our websites and enjoying them.  But artists already have figured out how to monetize their work online, and readers have already made that journey with them.

It will be interesting to see other responses to this debate as the decline of traditional print comics and the viability of webcomics are likely to be echoed in other creative mediums. Jacques also briefly mentions an important point at the end of this response: that some comic would only work online, and other would only work in print.

Jacques is alluding to the fact that the long tail effect makes it possible for webcomic artists to sustain interest within a niche audience that is reachable by using the web as a distribution platform. Conversely, some print comics that have enough broad appeal to survive in a print world would not attract enough loyal fans if those readers were presented with a host of other options that may be more tailored to their individual tastes.