Unlike high school, getting a reputation online as an artist isn’t easy. We can’t just smile and charm our fans and potential customers with our good looks. Sure they might stop by and admire your stuff, but chances are they’re not going to be buying anything unless they end up feeling a real connection to you, not as an artist, but as a human being.
People don’t buy art — they buy the artist
Let’s be honest here, people can get good-looking art or decent sounding music virtually anywhere these days, which is why nobody’s really looking to go out and buy another piece of art to hang up on their wall or another book to shove in their bookcase — what they are really wanting to buy is a story. This might be a real story that you tell them about how a particular piece of art came to be along with the thought process and motivations behind its creation, or it could also be the story of you.
It’s not enough to be the best at what you do; you must be perceived as the only one who does what you do. ~Jerry Garcia
This second type of story, however, is far more important because it’s not a story that you tell directly, but it’s a story that is told about you by other people. This is your reputation as an artist. It could be good story, it could be not-so-good story, or there could be no story yet to tell (i.e. they’ve never heard of you). Either way, it’s up to you to create, build, and then maintain this reputation throughout your career. Great artists such from Warhol, Versace, Dali, Picasso, Hemmingway, Twain, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, to Lady Gaga understood the value of creating a very specific reputation for themselves. We’ll talk a little bit about how we can create this type of reputation in a minute, but first we need to take a closer look at some of the reasons people would choose to buy something online from one person but not someone else.
What do they want from me?
The internet offers us as some unprecedented opportunities, as well as some unique challenges to selling our creative work online. Since most of our customers will never meet us face to face, they have to base their decision on what we say or do online.
We buy from people we trust
Think about this for a moment. When you’re looking to buy that new book or DVD online, are you more likely to buy it from a site like Amazon or from a site called MovieTimeRUs. Chances are you are going to go with Amazon because most of us have not only heard of Amazon, but we also instinctively trust them because we know they’ve already had millions of satisfied customers. This is called “social proof” which essentially means that if everyone else is doing it, then it must be okay.
Unfortunately, there is no universal e-Bay like feedback rating system for us as creative professionals, people who buy our work rarely write reviews or testimonies about our greatness. So instead we have to rely on our word-of-mouth reputation as well as our charming personality.
But what if no one knows who I am?
We buy from people we like
This turns out to be the real secret of online success for the individual artist. When it comes to buying something like art, writing, or music we want to buy from someone we know and like. Again, we can find good art/music/writing anywhere these days so what often makes the difference between one artist and another is how we feel about them. [Keep in mind that I'm using the term "Artist" here to describe any kind of creative professional]
Okay Dale Carnegie, so how do I get these people to like me?!
Create – Share – Connect
We do this by first creating an online home where our future friends and fans can stop by and get to know us a little better. It can’t just be a one-way conversation either, which is why we have to find ways to interact with our visitors and show them what a cool cat we really are.
Give what you have. To someone else it may be better than you dare to think. ~Henry W. Longfellow
We also have to share something of value with them. This could be a story, an idea, a resource, etc.. The point here is that we have to give them something other than our sales pitch when they drop in for a visit because nobody likes to get the Amway ambush when they’re just stopping by for a cup of coffee.
Finally, we have to find a way to connect and grow our own circle of friends by going out and visiting our neighbors once in awhile. After all, it’s kind of hard to meet new people if you never actually leave your virtual house. Go out there and explore the online world around you. If you take the time to look around, I think you’ll discover that there really are some cool kids out there to hang with.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps:
- Create a virtual home for yourself where people can easily stop by and visit you. Be sure that you have complete control over this space because it will be the foundation on which your future reputation will be based.
- Create some content on your site that has nothing to do with the work you are selling. Remember that you have to give your visitors a reason to stop by and visit on a regular basis. Give them a valuable resource or tool they can use. Things such as how-to tutorials, interviews, and other website tools and resources. Also keep in mind that the many of your visitors will find you for the first time through search engines so think about what your visitors will be searching for and what they may want to learn or know.
- Create a space for building community and encouraging interaction. This could be anything from creating a forum, running a poll, to inviting your readers to comment on your content.
- Share your story. Remember that it’s going to be your personality that will set you apart from all of the other artists in the world. The best advice I can give you here is to not try and be someone you’re not. Most people these days have a pretty keen online bullshit detector and if it starts going off they’ll not only avoid you, but they’re going be telling all their friends to avoid you as well.
- Share your successes but also share your doubts, fears, and vulnerabilities. Nobody likes to hang around with that one kid who never shuts up about how great he is, and whatever you’ve done, he always seems to have done the same thing better — Don’t be that person! Look, we are all already feeling insecure enough without listening to some jackass telling us how great life/business has been for him. It’s okay to talk about the good stuff, but don’t forget to include some of the warts and worries as well.
- Share other people’s stuff. Believe it or not your not the only person who’s out there busting your butt trying to make a name for themselves online. Remember that we’re not playing a zero-sum game here where if you tell someone about another great artist you know, they’ll end up falling in love with her and you’ll lose a potential customer. Sometimes we just have to take a step back and put our little food-grabbing reptilian brains on hold for a minute in order to understand that this just isn’t the way things work online. This is an idea that we’ve talked a lot about in our latest Skinny Art School series.
- Connect with other artists in your field. When you are first starting out, the vast majority of your visitors are going to be other artists who are trying to find their way through the online jungle just like you. Some of them may be looking for advice or inspiration, but chances are, most of them are simply looking for a friendly face. The one thing no one tells you about being a creative professional is that it can often be an isolating and lonely experience. We live the majority of our lives inside our own heads which means that our social interaction with the outside world can sometimes be lacking.
- Get involved with the community. Where do artists in your field hang out? Make an effort to find out and then go there on a regular basis. Forums and communities on sites such as Flickr, DeviantART, WetCanvas, and RedBubble were made so artists could have a place to hang out, complain, and put off work for as long as possible.
- If nothing else, get on Twitter and Facebook. Even if you can’t imagine dragging your introverted little self into the forums, you should at least get on Twitter and Facebook in order to connect with other artists. We’re not trying to make ourselves out to be some kind of experts here, after all it wasn’t that long ago that we became Twidiots ourselves. And as far as our sad little Facebook page goes, we obviously don’t have a clue what we’re doing, but we’re still out there making it up as we go along.
- Comment and Link to other artists blogs. Everybody wants more comments and links for their own blog or website, but stop and think for a moment about how many links and comments have you given out in the last week? How about in the last month? Somehow it seems that most of us forget that we have to give in order to receive. Giving other people comments and links makes them feel appreciated and loved, which is just good karma for everyone.
One last thing. . . .
Your online reputation builds slowly but can fall apart quickly
It takes time and persistance to build your online reputation as an artist. It’s not a one week, one month, or even a one year kind of deal. Not only does it take years to build this reputation, you also have to guard it carefully because it often only takes one act of stupidity in order to destroy it.
I was reminded of this fact recently when I read about Thomas Kinkade the world-famous artist who spent years carefully creating his reputation as this moral and religious “painter of light” only to see it come crashing down around him with a fraud and public bankruptcy hearing and more recently a DUI arrest.
The lesson here may be that in a world where news travels around the world within minutes, we cannot afford to risk our reputation as an artist. Luckily, it turns out that the easiest way to protect your reputation is simply to . . .
Live your Art.
How are you building your reputation online?