What Is the Best Way for Artists to Get Found Online?

The myth of social media and marketing art online.

I talk with lots of artists through a variety of communication methods. Some of it is in person, but also via email and social media. Many of the conversations include questions about how to sell art and get found online.  A recent question via Twitter from @kylevthomas is an excellent example.

In his tweet to me, Kyle asked, “Barney, in this online culture, what do you say is the #1 way to get art seen by more potential collectors?” My reply was, “I think it is the wrong question. I would ask how can I find more collectors? Waiting and hoping to get discovered gets you stuck.”

Expecting to get found online and have success is a prescription for failure. Stay tuned. I will expand on that thought later in this post.

Thank you for your art marketing survey responses!

Nearly 100 of you were kind enough to complete a (now closed) survey I conducted called, What Is Holding Your Career Back?

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.

Respondents answered 22 questions. Two questions had the highest percentage responses in one level. For example, nearly 70% of respondents ranked the importance of selling art online as very important.

The other question asked if respondents felt they needed help in creating a systematic way to find and keep collectors. It also had nearly 70% strongly agreeing they did.

Need a system to help you sell art

The first graph you see above echoes Kyle’s question. I believe we tend to think this way because so many of us spend more and more time involved with social media. Moreover, we see traditional media as either overly expensive, ineffective or both. Thus, a natural conclusion is we can get found online and become successful as a result. We then erroneously conclude the way to build long-term success and easy sales is to be get found online.

Social media and search engine rankings are not the answer.

I trust you can tell from my response to Kyle that I do not believe “getting found” online is an effective way to market and sell art. The truth is collectors are not hunting artists online. This is especially true of the ones you would like to cultivate for a lifetime. They are not browsing the Internet trying to “find” artists.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.

Art buyers are not the same as art collectors.

There are art buyers, who I think are the ones doing most of the buying online. They differ from art collectors in that they typically are filling a current need, usually for a design scheme. They don’t think of their online art purchase as “collecting art.” They don’t have plans to buy more art unless some other decorating need arises.

Art collectors, on the other hand, seek art and artists to engage, support and communicate with them. I believe you may encounter collectors online, but you will not get impulse sales from them. Selling art to collectors takes touching them with repeated reminders welcomed due to engaged, evolving relationships. This doesn’t necessarily mean being BFF with art collectors, but it does require a lot more than just being strafrangers, too.

These are generalizations, of course, and you are free to disagree and prove me wrong. While it is great to get the occasional sale from an art buyer, it is not the way to make a long-term profitable career. Finding and developing art collectors is your ticket to your to sustained art career success.

What the heck is a “Strafranger?”

A few years ago, in a blog post, I coined the phrase, “Strafrangers.” Sadly, but not surprisingly, it didn’t go on to become a meme on the Internet. I made up the term as a mashup of strangers and friends. A perfect example is Facebook where I have nearly 3,000 friends . They are almost all artists who sent me an invitation to be their friend. Naturally, I rarely decline the invite as I value the opportunity to create relationships with artists online.

Just like you with your art, I rarely get impulse buys of my books and workshops from artists Facebook friends. If I want to turn that relationship into a selling opportunity, I have to work for it. That’s mostly because I don’t know much about most of my Facebook friends. They really are strafrangers to me. Furthermore, the way Facebook throttles news feeds these days; most of them unfortunately don’t see all my posts, nor do I get to see all of theirs either.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.

Real friends and relationships are where you find the real money!

In that post on strafrangers, I said something along the lines of I would take 100 real friends over 1,000 strafrangers every day. I was talking about marketing, and although it applies to me, I believe it is even truer for artists.

You hear stories about artists selling $10,000 on Instagram and thousands on Facebook. However, those are anomalies, and I don’t believe they are sustainable. And, I don’t hear about it on an ongoing basis. To me, you should not waste time trying to become a one-hit wonder.

For long term success, build relationships with your buyers. - Barney Davey

If you investigate the stories about artists who are successful selling online, you will find nearly all of them spend an enormous amount of time and energy communicating with their fans, friends, and followers. None of them are just posting pretty pictures and sitting back watching the money roll in. They are “working it.”

The dark side of selling art through social media.

I agree it is possible at times to make some high figures selling online. However, I am betting most artists reading this are not equipped or willing to do all the work necessary to make it happen. Moreover, there are hard costs to selling online. Sales dollars are never free money. I believe the margins for online sales are about the same as selling through other channels.

With online sales through social media, you are not in control.

The real problem with selling online is you are not in control. You don’t own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. You are a user, and perhaps an advertiser. Either way, you have to play by the rules set by the owners of those platforms. They can kick you out for not adhering to their Terms of Service, or as often happens, they can arbitrarily change the rules, which can end up in you losing a big chunk of irretrievable sales.

When things like this happen, and invariably they always do, you cannot do a single thing about it except first have a tantrum, then calm down and read, Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.

Every time you spend your money and effort to send traffic to Facebook, you are contributing to Facebook. According to Forbes magazine, as a user, you are worth about $128 to Facebook. Wouldn’t you like to collect $128 for each of your Facebook friends every year?

Digital Sharecropping

A sharecropper in the traditional term was someone who toiled on the farm owned by someone else. I use your pasture to grow some corn and make a little money, then I have to share part of the crop sales with you, the owner. At any time, you can decide to sell the farm, or kick me off to bring in someone who is willing to pay more to use your land. Additionally, all the while, as the owner, you are gaining value and equity as part of my payment helps decrease your mortgage.

Today, when you drive traffic to social media, you are digitally sharecropping for the management and stockholders of that platform. While it temporarily might, and the “IT” needs to be emphasized, pay some results for you to put all your eggs in the social media basket, it is a long-term risky proposition.

What should an artist do?

First, find and build lasting relationships with collectors offline. Second, search for and develop profitable relationships with galleries. Third, research, find and develop third-party distribution channels. Fourth, use social media only to support the first three points.

Too many artists are seeking the Holy Grail of art marketing trusting they can make a dent using social media. They think of social media as the means to an end, as the vehicle that – if they could only figure out how to use the secret decoder ring  – will solve all their marketing and art sales problems.

Social media is a tool that’s all.

It seems because so many of us have found Facebook, in particular, to be such a fun way to spend, (err waste), time. As such, we also tend to think it is an excellent way to “get found” and sell a bunch of art. That way of thinking, as I pointed out to @kylevthomas, is turned around and wrong. It’s potentially damaging to your career, your pocketbook and your psyche.

Do You Know the True Nature of Your Business?

I asked readers if they knew what business they were in. I already knew most of them had no clue. That is not putting them down. It’s just the truth and something that plagues many businesses of all sizes. If you don’t know the answer, you need to read that post.

This week, I’m telling you that thinking about getting found online and building a successful career using social media is a way to harm your career. Alternatively, at the very least, it will throw you off doing the things you need to do to make a go of it for the long haul.

Put social media in perspective.

As I said, social media is a tool. Used properly, it can be very useful in helping you achieve your art career goals. If you don’t have goals, well that’s a completely different problem. I will digress briefly to say you have to have some idea of what you want from your art career. It’s an entirely unique choice to you. However, you just can’t make any smart decisions about your future without goals to guide you.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. – Lewis Carroll

Do you need help in creating a systematic way to find and keep collectors?

That is the question posed in the second graph above. Overwhelmingly, artists say they need help in this area. That is not surprising. Building any small business into a thriving sustained successful operation is not easy. You have to have the right product or saleable art in your case, and you have to have a dependable way to find buyers and keep them buying from you.

When it comes down to it, there are not that many ways to go about finding buyers. In last week’s post, I outlined the eight steps that you need to take to create a successful art career. There is no magic in any of the steps. They are just logical. What is important about them is you need to know what to use and how to organize yourself so you stay focused on doing the most productive tasks.

Let me help you.

If you agree and have a buy-in that I have given you good advice in that post, you just need to do the research to understand the importance and impact potential of each of the outlined points.

You can independently learn how to use the tools discussed. If you put your research and knowledge together with a plan of action, you are in business and on your way to success.

You have other options to get help with your art marketing — ways to make it easier and more thorough.


The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.


art career, art marketing, art marketing mastery, art marketing webinar

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. As usual you are writing about what’s been on my mind, Barney. I did well locally selling my art when I had a small gallery – which I loved the experience of. When it closed I needed to work full time so I opted for online exposure – fast forward 7 years and it has finally hit me – or I am finally accepting it – this is a dead end without “real” contact with “real” people.
    I need to figure out what my ducks are before I can get them in a row, so thanks for all the tips here!

  2. Spot on as usual and what I’ve thought for a long time.All the social media platforms have one thing as their goal – get their users (or us as their product) to supply them with our content and time. I use the various social media platforms to drive traffic to my own website, even though most of them make even this quite challenging.It is good not to have to rely on social media or on-line exposure. I think social does have its place as it can help build awareness…but as you say as a support for other more focused activity, not the destination. But many artists are trying to use social media as their main selling tool.

    I decided to focus first locally (after reading your excellent book Guerilla Marketing) and have an art gallery in a local Arts Market – and in addition to networking I am finding success selling through my offline gallery. I invite potential collectors and buyers to come and see my work there. It is more work however the exposure (and sales) I get there outstrip any online exposure I’ve had to date – including my online PODs. I also have local people contact me through my website however they usually want to buy offline… which is great because it gives me a chance to talk with and meet them.

  3. Could you please clarify what you mean by “third-party distribution channels?” Thank you for sharing your insights once again.

    1. Thanks for your question. As I define it, third-party distribution is anything not galleries, not direct sales to collectors, or online galleries. Think of boutiques, salons, furniture stores, antique malls, home parties, and so forth. Places where art is sold, but in most cases is not the major economic engine of the distribution channel. See my Finding Art Collectors | 40 Ideas Any Artist Can Use post from last month for more thoughts on this subject.

      1. Thanks for the clarification Barney. I have just finished reading the 8 steps post and will now go read the 40 Ideas posts. I do have some of my work in third party channels but not enough of it as yet. As a photographer, I have my photo greeting cards in a higher end consignment shop and view it as a marketing effort in itself. Sales are infrequent but the exposure is coming along.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe & Get the
"7 Marketing Tools Artists Need" Report

Search This Site