Are you doing the work but not getting engagement?
For years, I struggled in the art world. I wasn’t growing a following outside of friends and family. My social media accounts were going nowhere and my engagement was terrible. I’d post something and get crickets. Despite the fact that I was making art and displaying it, few people seemed engaged with what I was doing. Then in 2017, everything shifted and more people were finally paying attention to what I was doing online. I was able to increase my engagement online, make more sales, and finally feel okay about claiming “Artist” as my official job title.
What did I do differently on social media?
I didn’t suddenly start making better art or art that people were more interested in. In order to increase my engagement and grow an online following, I changed how I connected with my audience. (And made videos–but the videos are the same thing…I’ll explain more.)
There is so much noise in the art world, and I made the mistake of just adding to it with content and captions that didn’t speak to my audience in the right way. There are thousands of artists all vying for the same attention, and I was amongst the demanding crowd that sounds a little like this:
“Look at my art!” “Do you like it?” “Would you buy this?” “Do you think this is good?” “Want to visit my store?” “Support me as an artist!” “Tell me I’m worth it!” “Could I sell this?” “How much do you think this is worth?” “Shop now!” “Come to my art show!” “Vote for my art!” “Like this if you want to see more!” “Enter this giveaway!” “Follow me!” “Which piece is your favorite?”
Pretend that you are a potential customer and read that again. Does it feel a little overwhelming? This is what finally shifted for me around the time I started to gain traction in the art world online. I stopped trying to be one of those many voices demanding attention and started to provide entertainment before asking anything of my audience.
So the 1 big reason your art might not be getting the attention it deserves is this:
You’re asking too much of your audience without giving enough in return.
In order to increase engagement on social media, you need to ask for less. We don’t realize how much we are asking of our audience at first when we interact with them. Even when you just present your art in person or online, you are asking for something.
“Hey, will you look at my art?” And then it quickly moves to “Will you follow me? Do you want to buy this?” All without us giving something additional in return.
You might be thinking that you’re offering art, and art is valuable. Shouldn’t that be enough? If someone really loves your art, yes that’s enough, but if someone just thinks it’s cool then they are going to need a bit more from you before you start asking for anything beyond “Will you look at my art?” Think of your social media interactions as a balanced relationship. There is an exchange of giving, taking, giving, taking, and repeat.
I increased my following and my engagement because I started giving more.
For every request that you have for your audience, you should have something to offer. At events, that could be a pleasant conversation, a compliment, or a recommendation of art supplies to use. On social media, it could be entertaining process videos, a funny story, a moment of vulnerability that others can connect to, or nuggets of inspiration.
When you display your art, think of your audience. What can you and your art do for them? Before you push someone to visit your store or follow you on social media, give them more to connect to.
Focus on what you can give to increase engagement, not what you can get.
I’m not saying to physically give things away or anything like that. If you want your art to get more attention, you can do a few simple things to really pull in an audience without begging them for their attention or appearing needy. Here is what I have done to increase engagement online:
1. Entertain your audience with your visual content.
Imagine a busy art event. On your left is an artist yelling “Hey! Come over here and look at my art!” and on your right is an artist enthusiastically painting on a large canvas without saying a word. Which would you gravitate toward? The one screaming for your attention, or the one allowing you to watch their process? The one loudly invading your bubble or the one inviting you into theirs?
Creating entertaining content goes beyond posting a picture of just a piece of art. It’s about creating a story with your photos or showing your art process unfolding. If you create content that is enjoyable in itself like time-lapse videos, tutorials, and beautiful photos, you are offering something more than just your art.
Your visual content can make people inspired. It can make them dream of a different life. It can take them out of their lives and make them forget their daily stressors. Even if it’s seen for just 10 to 60 seconds, your content can make a long-lasting impression on your audience.
2. Make your audience feel something positive.
Start meaningful conversations. A caption saying something like “18”x24″ acrylic on canvas, DM to purchase” should not be your go-to caption style. Or when people walk over to your event display, don’t start with “all prints are 50% off.” Start with a human connection.
When you are conversing with potential customers in person or writing captions for an Instagram post, think about how you can make a positive impact. Whether this is giving someone encouragement to pursue their own dreams to create their own art or asking them how their day is going with a genuine smile.
Add something to your viewer’s life. Then, when you then push for a sale or encourage someone to follow you on Instagram, they won’t feel like you’ve demanded too much.
3. Show your audience that you care about their story too.
Have you ever sat down on a date or with a potential new friend and all they did was talk about themselves and their problems? I’ve experienced this quite a few times, and I find myself less and less interested in asking that person questions or giving them further attention. Why? People who only take drain your emotional battery.
When you are interacting with your audience, ask questions. Give people an opportunity to share their stories. Even if it’s just a question of what art supplies they like, it’s still giving them an opportunity to feel heard. Share your stories, and connect to the similar stories of your audience. Don’t just take.
4. Be confident in what you’re making.
Even if you think your work is garbage, resist the urge to ask your audience for validation. Do you know how often I look at my work and wonder if it sucks or how often I declare that it is crap? Probably not, and that’s because I try not to present those particular insecurities on social media or in person. It would put a burden on my audience. Plus, you eventually get to a point where, crap or gold, you’re still going to keep creating and sharing your work.
Feign confidence until it starts to feel genuine, and reserve your insecurities for those in your inner circle who can offer support. Sometimes you can increase engagement temporarily with your existing followers when you lean on them, but if you are trying to attract new followers, leading with a request for emotional support isn’t a great start.
If you find yourself in need of encouragement, repeat this little pep talk to yourself:
“My work doesn’t suck. I love what I do. Even if other people don’t like it, I know I will find my audience. Good or bad, I’m going to keep creating because it’s something that brings me joy.”
Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post.
P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.