Selling Art Online – Pt 7 – Twitter

Twitter LogoThe previous article in this series discussed the importance of utilizing social media for selling art online. One of my favorite services to use for this purpose is Twitter. Since the next few articles in this series are going to discuss specific social media sites, I thought I would begin with my favorite.

Fundamentally, Twitter is composed of 140 character bursts of information that may contain headlines, photos, or videos. Users follow other members of the community and each person can use Twitter to tell stories, update people about their lives, or even sell products. Edison Research reports that the majority of Twitter users are actually “lurkers” who never post to the service but merely follow the Tweets of others. They further report that 70% of regular Twitter users post status updates to at least one social-networking service such as Facebook. Twitter is functioning more as a news service compared to Facebook and many other social-networking sites and that is the way they wish to publicly portray themselves.

Twitter’s About page states that at the time of this writing, there are over 230 million monthly active users of the service. Although Twitter is based in San Francisco, it reaches users on a global scale and Twitter claims that 77% of accounts are outside the United States. Additionally, 500 million Tweets are sent everyday and 76% of the active users are on mobile devices.

The above research data indicates that Twitter is a perfect vehicle for delivering news and information concerning products and promotions to a large and continually growing segment of our population. In fact, Apple and Twitter entered into an agreement to deeply integrate Twitter into Apple’s mobile operating system beginning with iOS5 during the Fall of 2011. The relationship continues to remain strong as millions of Apple mobile users share information online through the convenient sharing tools in the operating system.

Developing a Follower-Base

Online influence can translate into real world transactions and creating a network of relationships with current and potential customers can lead to rewarding results. By building and nurturing this network, marketers can create relationships with people who will get to know them, trust them and will ultimately conduct business with them. In order to accomplish this, however, social-network marketers need to invest time toward establishing a follower-base within Twitter’s social community.

Using Twitter to reach thousands of people with product promotions, etc… requires that people are actually following your business through the service. Being followed doesn’t just confirm an existing affinity, it increases purchasing intent and the willingness to recommend your product or services to others.

Beginning to use Twitter is as simple as joining, choosing a user name, and creating a free account. Building a loyal follower-base, however, can take some time and patience. There are several steps you can take to help speed this process along, however.

When you create your account, pick a user name that people can clearly associate with you and your product. If you are using a consistent brand across multiple social media platforms, you might stick with that. I try to use “Powers Fine Art” for all my network presences but if you are promoting yourself as an artist, it might be just as effective to use your name since it makes it easier for people to find you. Put some thought into this since it is difficult to switch to a different user name after you have established a loyal following within a community. In my case, my Twitter user name is Powers_Fine_Art so the URL of my Twitter page is http://twitter.com/powers_fine_art.

Every Twitter account can display a profile image, a brief 160 character biography, and a web site link. Be sure to use a professional image for the profile picture. This will be the first thing people see before they observe your posts and first impressions are everlasting. Just leaving the profile image blank is sure to dissuade people from following you. Bear in mind that this image doesn’t necessarily have to be a head shot. It could also be a sample of your artwork.

Additionally, Twitter allows 160 characters to create a clear and concise biography that explains who you are and what you do. Oddly, they allow 20 more characters than their standard post length. This is the perfect opportunity to intrigue readers. If you are an artist, sculptor, photographer, or musician, people need to know it. A cryptic biography does nothing but confuse a potential follower and could ultimately dissuade one from joining your network.

Lastly, include a link to your home-base, virtual storefront, or product web site. Potential followers may only take one opportunity to visit your web site and see what you represent. It is important to exude a professional appearance and demeanor in order to gain followers and the more followers you have, the more trustworthy you and your products appear.

To further garner followers, make sure you display your Twitter user name on your web site, blog, Facebook profile, business cards, newsletters, in forums, and in the signature of your e-mail address. Just notifying existing customers and friends of your Twitter presence can quickly create a loyal fan base.

Twitter Lists

An effective way to organize your followers and to encourage people to follow you is by utilizing the Twitter List feature. Twitter users can organize others into groups, or “lists.” When you click to view a list, you’ll see a stream of Tweets from all the users included in that group. At the time of this writing, each user can have up to 1000 lists and each list can have up to 5000 members. I currently have 2 lists (List 1 & List 2) of visual artists comprised of over 7500 like-minded individuals within my industry and the lists are growing daily. I have several other lists as well that categorize some of the other people I follow or who follow me. You will find that people will often follow your Tweets simply to entice you to include them in your lists.

Another useful aspect of the Twitter list is that you can subscribe to the lists of other users. This allows you to follow an organized group of people in one easy motion. Mentioning a list in a post is as easy as including its URL in a Tweet. This becomes a quick link to a list and can be an excellent way to encourage subscribers and followers.

Hashtags

An unique posting feature of Twitter that has been adopted by other social-networking sites is the hashtag which is simply a number symbol followed by a descriptor. Hashtags are popular on Twitter because writing space is limited to 140 characters but people can associate their Tweets with an event or product without having to explain the full context.

Invented by Chris Messina who was originally with the community-marketing consulting firm Citizen Agency based in San Francisco, the first Tweet with a hashtag read:

how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?

Since that initial post, the use of hashtags has blossomed into an incredible phenomenon. According to Twitter, as many as 24% of all Tweets contain at least one hashtag. Some statistics indicate that the use of a hashtag in a post increases engagement by 21%. However the use of more than two within a single post can actually reduce engagement. Hashtag usage makes Tweets more discoverable and searchable which is very important in order to gain followers who are interested in your particular business or information. Some of the more commonly used hashtags and their definitions can be found at the web site http://tagdef.com/.

Often, when I am posting a Tweet regarding a new watercolor painting I have finished, I will post something similar to the following and include various hashtags as descriptors:

My latest #watercolor floral #painting uses only 2 pigments, Prussian Blue & Ochre. Not sure if I like the ochre: http://su.pr/33We1j

Notice the usage of #watercolor and #painting  in the post above. By using these hashtags, users of Twitter who search for watercolor, painting, or art will see my post in the search results. This is a great way to add followers who are interested in the specific information or products that one is representing.

Follow Friday

One particular hashtag usage that can be extremely powerful in gaining a follower-base, is #FollowFriday or #FF as it is commonly shortened. When beginning to use the Twitter service it can be a very confusing endeavor deciding who to follow in order to begin developing a network of like-minded individuals. The #FollowFriday hashtag is a way for fellow Twitter users to help recommend people who they feel are interesting. Whose recommendations would be better to trust than your friends who are already using Twitter?

In mid-January of 2008, Micah Baldwin created the following post which set the #FollowFriday ball rolling:

I am starting Follow Fridays. Every Friday, suggest a person to follow, and everyone follow him/her. Today its @fancyjeffrey & @wiredone.

Mykl Roventine suggested the #FollowFriday hashtag and the concept became a perfect example of a crowd-sourced recommendation engine. On the first Follow Friday, there were almost two recommendation Tweets of this nature per second. Current studies indicate that #FollowFriday has now spread into Thursday and the weekend as well due to the incredible International coverage of the Twitter social-networking service.

There are a couple important news-feed factors to keep in mind when utilizing #FollowFriday. If you are recommending a lot of people, it can become easy to overload the news-feeds of your followers. For this reason, I will often use a Tweet scheduler in order to space out the recommendations and define exactly what times I want my Tweets to appear. I use a program called “Hootsuite” which is a bit awkward to use every week but there are many online utilities or desktop alternatives. I try to space the #FollowFriday recommendations about three to fifteen minutes apart since I usually promote about 200 users a week. Three minutes or more seems to allow ample time to avoid bombarding a follower’s news-feed with posts from a single user.

I have found #FollowFriday is most effective when thank you messages are extended to the people that are recommending you to their peers. It is amazing what a little gratitude can accomplish. Knowing you have taken the extra time to thank a fellow Twitter user for their kindness can often prompt them to regularly promote your business or artwork and can blossom into a mutually productive friendship.

Additionally, when you are planning to follow someone’s recommendation, be sure to look at the bio and/or web site of the person being recommended. Often people will use automated services to come up with #FollowFriday lists and this can lead to some unusual suggestions. It is important to maintain a quality group of people you follow and to avoid following those whose content consists solely of meaningless promotions. Quality followers can often mean more than pure numbers. Having said this, I should note that there are many automated responders out there that allow user’s to automatically follow new followers, automatically thank new followers, or automatically invite new followers to view a web site, etc… Although these can be convenient, they can frustrate new followers who recognize an automated direct message. The lack of personalization can often lead to losing potential networking opportunities. I would recommend implementing this type of technology with a measure of caution.

Following Limits

It is important to mention at this juncture that Twitter does impose a following limit. They claim it is the same for all users, regardless of societal stature, so it is important to acknowledge the existence of this rule. Twitter’s technical follow limits are as follows:

  • Every account can follow 2,000 users total. Once you’ve followed 2,000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow. This number is different for each account and is based on your ratio of followers to following; this ratio is not published. Follow limits cannot be lifted by Twitter and everyone is subject to limits, even high profile and API accounts.
  • Every Twitter account is technically unable to follow more than 1,000 users per day, in addition to the account-based limits above. Please note that this is just a technical limit to prevent egregious abuse from spam accounts.
  • Accounts are also prohibited from aggressively following other users. The Follow Limits and Best Practices Page has more information on Twitter’s following rules.

Early on, I reached the above limitations and was forced to “unfollow” several people who weren’t following me back in order to allow the followers to catch up with the followed. Once you can maintain this balance, you can continue to follow more people and symbiotically grow your follower-base. It is important to note, however, that these limitations are only imposed upon the number of people you are following. You can have as many followers as there are users who wish to follow you. The following limit is really only in place to minimize problem spamming accounts.

Composing Posts/Tweets

The quality of the information you present to your followers on Twitter or any other social media or blogging service can go great lengths toward gaining a faithful legion of members. It is important to create pleasant, meaningful, engaging Tweets that are free from inflammatory rhetoric. Why create polarizing posts that can alienate potential customers? When promoting a business or product, you are not remaining anonymous and while people at the other end of the Internet cable may not be able to physically see you, they can clearly hear your words and their meanings. This can have the same effect as speaking to them directly. It is amazing how many companies have had to fire personnel and have had to expend huge amounts of time and energy simply to undo the damage caused by one ill-conceived social-networking comment written and posted in haste. It is very important to think posts through and to maintain a web-presence based upon professionalism.

Due to the sheer number of people who are using Twitter and the huge numbers of people each person follows, it can be easy for your promotional Tweets to become lost in the massive number of posts that move through a user’s news feed. Unlike other social-networking services such as Facebook, Twitter users may each make from 2 to 20 posts a day. This can create a blur of Tweets running through a user’s news feed. Because of this, unlike a lot of social-networking services, this news feed can withstand repeated postings of the same information. I will often post the same notification of a new painting’s completion at 7AM, Noon, 8PM, and once the following morning. The key is to make sure the information is seen but to not bombard your followers to the point that they will remove you from their follow lists.

Not only is it important to compose quality, non-offensive and professional Tweets, it is important to recognize the posts of people you are following and to interact with the people in your network. Many professional marketers recommend you utilize the Pareto Principle and implement 20% self-promotional Tweets, and 80% cross-promotional Tweets. If you expect people to pay attention to your posts, you have to return the favor. Remember, you are utilizing this social-networking service to actually “network” with other people who can help promote your product.

One great way to accomplish this is to Re-Tweet (RT) other members’ posts. This is an excellent way to help get their information spread to as many people as possible while helping solidify a great networking relationship with the other member. I usually make sure to thank other Twitter users who do this to my posts and it entices me to re-Tweet their posts as well. It is amazing how far a little kindness and gratitude can take you in the Twitter universe.

If you are interested in seeing a professional ranking of your Twitter and social media efforts, there is a very informative tool located at http://klout.com/ that can help analyze your user name and its Twitter world effectiveness. Keeping an eye on how your Twitter account’s marketing strategy ranks is an effective way to measure your success in the virtual marketing world. The Twitter service itself also has an analytics tool available to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.

As can be seen from the above information, there are a lot of good reasons why Twitter can be an effective tool for marketing artwork. It may take a little experimentation to find what works best for your particular product but the value of reaching a large audience definitely increases the possibility of future sales.

The next article in this series is going to delve into the world of Facebook and many of its idiosyncrasies.

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Comments (6)
  • Dai Wynn February 8, 2014

    Another extremely thoroughly researched article, Ken.

    One issue which is continually front of mind when I tweet or post to FaceBook (or any art-related site for that matter) is that I must remind myself that I am engaging with an international audience and I must speak their “language”. As you clearly point out, 77% of Twitter users are outside the United States of America. It follows then that, although English is a widely-spoken language, spelling varies and times and seasons will have different names and notations. For example, you mentioned “Fall 2011” as a time when something occurred. Better to say October – November 2011 because “Autumn 2011” fell in March-May 2011 for me. When I use hashtags or keywords, I write both “watercolours” and “watercolors” or ‘realise” and “realize”. Similarly, posting at particular times really only suits the sender and his immediate neighbours and neighbors. I notice that most of the traffic to my websites occurs during my night time when viewers are enjoying daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. As you will remember, we have already discussed issues of measurement – imperial versus metric. Only three countries use imperial measurements – the USA, Liberia and Burma.

    So it may well be that the courtesy you recommend in your tweets includes a deference to the subtleties of communication with an international audience.

    I just hope that this does not appear to be too condescending.

    Cheers,

    Dai

    • Ken Powers February 8, 2014

      Thank you for the very insightful comment Dai! It is truly in the spirit of what these articles intend to accomplish by promoting dialog aimed at enhancing artists’ interaction with their audience in order to create more sales. Bravo!

      International audience interaction is more important today than ever before. As we examine our shrinking local art markets and gallery closures, the Internet and international sales are the new frontier. Personally, I sell and ship nearly as much artwork to other countries as I sell to US purchasers and it is always a difficult task to remind myself that language, dates, and measurements need to be easily read by audiences outside my own country.

      Whenever I tag my artwork on POD sites, I always include both “watercolor” and “watercolour” in order to enhance searches. There may be a line which needs to be drawn to avoid going overboard with this, however, and I am sure that readers of blog posts take the writer’s locale into account to some degree when it comes to general language. Measurements and times of the year seem like great primary areas to focus upon when it comes to an international audience though.

      Thanks again for contributing valuable dialog to this discussion.

  • Ian McKendrick February 8, 2014

    Again, many thanks for sharing, you’ve given some great advice there. Brilliant comments above from Dai too, particularly with needing to use alternative spellings of things like watercolor/watercolour etc.

    One of the most frustrating problems I encounter is that artists rarely put links to their social media accounts on their websites or blogs. It means that I have to spend ages trying to find them as I share their work through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc. I used to use HootSuite when I first started but now I use Buffer, which is an excellent tool to share artists work across multiple networks. Buffer also reformats your updates for you which is handy, for example if you look at my Tweets, where I mention your Twitter user name, the corresponding post to my LinkedIn and Facebook pages are automatically changed to your Twitter name. i.e. “@powers_fine_art” to “Ken Powers” saves a lot of time and looks much more professional.

    Once again, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Ken Powers February 8, 2014

      Thanks for the valuable insight Ian! Your comment is truly in the spirit of enhancing this dialog.

      I have experimented with Buffer on several occasions and have found it to be an excellent tool. I need to be utilizing it more as I have gotten a bit lazy lately! 🙂

      You make a very valid point when it comes to social media links being neglected when one is designing a website or blog. It is a pet-peeve of mine as well. Social media is an important aspect of marketing our business and encouraging sharing of our content and artwork should not be overlooked in this day and age. With local markets shrinking due to economic woes, expanding our niche via social media is of the utmost importance.

      Thanks again for your valuable insights and professional perspective.

  • Rose Rotzler February 12, 2014

    I’m such a newbie to utilizing social media as a marketing tool, I certainly don’t have anything to enhance this dialog but I can tell you how grateful I am that somehow I found you through Twitter! This has been an extremely helpful article, and I fully intend to soak up as much information as I possibly can from you and others that are kind enough to take the time to offer it. And I promise, as soon as I start to really figure this whole thing out, I’m going to somehow repay you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    Oh and by the way… Beautiful work and KILLER botanicals!!! 🙂

    • Ken Powers February 12, 2014

      Thank you very much for the kind words Rose. I am glad you are finding the information and this dialog to be helpful. I am hoping as the conversations develop over time, new ideas will be presented which will help all artists in their online marketing endeavors!

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