April is National Letter Writing Month:

Is Social Media blocking our success?

There has always been someone standing between artists and making a living. We’ve always been at the mercy of someone who could make or break us. Back in the Old Masters Days it was a wealthy benefactor such as the Church. At that point the patron was more like an employer. You paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling for the Pope, and he’ll pay you $3,000 ducats, or the equivalent of $78K, which was a very nice sum at the time, except for the fact that it took 4 years to paint the thing. Less than $20K per year. Yipes. The artist’s life, right?

This is a portrait of my son, Micah, painted in 2019.

Click his handsome face to visit more of my art on my website.

More recently it was galleries. For many years, and still today, they serve as gatekeepers between the artist and the buyer. In many cases the artist and buyer never meet, and the artist can’t reach out to the client if they want to build a relationship. However, galleries also act as the artist’s agent and broker so the artist can do the painting. I, personally, want to build some gallery relationships to give me some varied income streams so that in case one breaks down there are others to take up the slack. However, I’m told by friends who work with galleries, sales can be slow there these days and you need to have other irons in the fire at the same time.

And now, it’s Social Media. Artists have come to think of social media as the be-all, end-all of art marketing. It used to be that we could get our work in front of thousands of people on Instagram, for example. But the thing is that few of those people are buyers. They’re lookers. They may love to watch our videos of paintings in progress, but they aren’t up for paying $1,000 to own said artwork. Like me, they’re laying in bed at night flipping through their phones. If they buy something, it will be the leggings with pockets, not the $500 painting of a crow, no matter how amazing it is.

I was only on Instagram for 2 years, but when I decided to jump in, I jumped all in. I posted every day, often more than once a day. I scheduled posts to post at the recommended times. I tracked my own results and adjusted the time to when my audience was most active. And despite all that, I got tepid responses, no matter how much I tried to do what the social media marketing people said I should be doing.

After two years on Instagram, do you know how many sales I made through Instagram? One. One sale. Granted, I started Insta right at the time they were tightening the screws so that organic reach was a thing of the past. But many of my friends with tens of thousands of followers are now having the same results. They can’t grow. Only a small percentage of their followers are actually buyers. And they’re looking for other ways to make a buck with their art.

I made most of my sales through Facebook. And not my business page. I made most of my sales by putting my work in front of the people I knew on Facebook, mostly from a previous career, and they not only started buying my work, they started sharing it with other people, giving it as gifts or recommending me when they wanted original artwork. And children, I only had about 2,500 friends on my old Facebook account. But how many paintings can I make in a year? Not a ton, right?

Here was my morbid mistake. I trusted that I could continue to do that on Facebook. But I couldn’t. They divorced me, and said that I couldn’t hang out on Instagram anymore either. Don’t do what Kellie did. I have finally realized that for all my 2 years on Instagram I kept telling myself that I was doing it for my business, but in fact, I was doing it for likes and follows. I did find genuine value in it. I followed some amazing artists that I became friends with and followed happily. But it was not a business move in terms of making sales. Self-education is great and good and should be done, but if you’re on Instagram, be sure you track how much good it’s doing you, and HOW it’s doing you good. Is it helping you sell art? Is it enriching you as an artist? Or are you crawling after the vanity metrics of likes and follows?

Back to Facebook. My original Facebook account lived from 2008 to 2022. Over the years I would post something I made, but I wasn’t interested in selling while I was working a day job. I only started marketing my art on Facebook a year or so before I started fiddling with Instagram. But because I could casually post something and say, look what I did, people started approaching me through DM to ask if I could paint them something. Isn’t that a better way than saying, “HEY BUY MY ART, DAMN IT!!!” I think so. The buyers themselves actually convinced me to start my art business, more than the other way around. I always wanted to be a full time artist, but when you have people asking you to make art for them for pay, you’re in a very cozy spot.

Sadly, if we let social media be our gatekeeper we can get in trouble. (I repeat, FB divorced me. I was their best user of all time, and they divorced me. They’ll never find another user like me!) I should have been doing exactly what I was doing on Facebook, but I should have ALSO been creating offline relationships. I should have brought some of those friends into my mailing list and text zone.

Thing One I’m going to do more of. I used to be an avid letter writer, back before email and social media. (Hell, yes, I’m old! It is very helpful when trying to rebuild a business away from Social Media if you’ve done it before!)

Every year there is a National Letter Writing Month. It happens in April. In April 2022 I challenged myself to write a letter a day. I mean, I got so into it that I bought a letter writing desk. I bought sealing wax and personalized stationery. And I wrote a letter every day of April and a few after that. I wrote to people I already had addresses for, like my children, other relatives, but I also gathered new addresses for friends from social media, neighbors, , and even some businesses and politicians. This was an amazing practice and I plan to do it every April. I’ll think of a bonus something-something to offer when I write that handwritten letter, and maybe they’ll order artwork, or share the offer with their friends. Or maybe they’ll just feel good that they got something personal in the mail. Because each letter will have something handwritten from me.

Old School Marketing. How about that? (Be sure to click through to the artist who made this graphic!)

The Moral of this Blog Post is that there is no law that we have to do everything on Social Media. We can do some things the old fashioned way, we can do some things in completely new and original ways, and we can still be successful.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Onward and Upward,

Aunt Kellie

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