Mastering online platforms like deviantArt isn't difficult, but it can be time-consuming. We'll preface this new series with a simple mantra:
"When I do the work, I will get results."
It really is that simple. There will be days when you feel like you're doing a lot with nothing happening in return, but I encourage you to see beyond the beginning stages to the big picture. At first, you are the only one talking about what you do. After a while, others will talk about it too, and then you don't have to work so hard. But you will always have to pay attention and you will always have to give more than take. So just get used to it. The payoff is worth it: getting to do what you love for a living.
Since we are doing this on online platforms like deviantArt and etsy and Facebook and whatnot, this series will focus on using online platforms to build an audience. There are two types of audiences we'll be talking about: the kind that is vocal and the kind that pays. Both are equally important, but they care about different things.
Everyone reading this probably has a profile created on deviantArt. I'm a newer member of dA so I won't be using specifics for this platform unless it's an example I have personal experience with. But I was an early adopter to many of the social apps you see out there today, and I've worked as the key message creator for internet startups that scaled internationally. I can tell you from experience that the information in this series works universally, for any application.
One final note: If you're not comfortable with giving away parts of your work for free, then online exposure is going to prove difficult for you. I originally wrote this series to be part of a book I'm publishing. I still intend to publish it, but I'm giving this to you out of the kindness of my heart. As you'll see, that's part of the deal for artists today.
The first hurdles are technical, not social. Get ready to master the technical stuff. When you want more exposure to fans and clients online, it starts with knowing the technology.
1. Join a platform and build COMPLETE profile.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm surprised by how many incomplete profiles I see. This is the first thing that people see when they want to see who did that fantastic piece they loved so much, so you want it to show that you care what the audience thinks. It's the same principle as taking a shower and dressing in clean clothes before you meet someone. Be presentable. You may be able to do your work in your pajamas - I frequently do - but my public face on this and every site is polished and appropriate.
You're an artist. Do something special with your profile, but be focused.
The key to a complete profile is consistent updating. I have to revisit my profile at least once per week. This may sound like a lot of work, but really it only takes about ten minutes on average. Considering how many profiles I maintain, this can get time-consuming, but you probably won't need anywhere near the web presence that I maintain. You'll probably only need three or four connected profiles for a stable audience, which amounts to a little more than half an hour each week. Sometimes far less, depending on your needs.
Which community should you join?
You'll join some and realize eventually that it won't work for you, but you should really give each platform a fair shake, probably four months. So pick a few you think look like fun, a key ingredient, and master them one at a time. This includes your central website. (You DO have a central website of your own, right? You should.) Once you have the ball rolling, you can add another platform when you want to grow your audience without too much trouble.
Tip: If you figure out after the first few months that a particular platform is just not worth your time, revisit your profile and remove
everything but a single message thanking everyone and directing them to your website. This way you don't have to worry about dated information on a profile you aren't using anymore.
2. Begin participating at the basic level. Experiment. Focus on learning the lingo and how people communicate and share with one another.
Again, to some of the people reading this it may seem hopelessly basic, but many people only look for features they're familiar with from other platforms and give up after only trying one or two features. This is not enough. You need mastery to maintain a professional presence. The community needs to see complete buy-in. It's their home stomping grounds already. They didn't join half-assed, and neither should you.
Be respectful of existing experts by asking for advice and making yourself useful by curating information. What this means is collecting resources that others have created and by creating your own. This is by far the fastest and easiest way to master a platform technically, and a great way to get noticed by existing influential users.
For example, here on deviantArt I first wanted to master the deviation submission process. I posted two of my stories and watched what people did. If they connected with me, I connected with them. I asked questions. I paid attention to the really complete profiles and tried to re-create the cool stuff I saw. Then, when I was ready, I began posting my own resources. This group is an extension of that original desire, but its use to me is multifaceted: not only am I providing information, I'm getting information. When the people here answer a poll about what topic to write about next, it makes it easier for me to write. When most people answered the recent poll that they wanted to know more about getting exposure to new fans and clients, this series was a no-brainer because I had it already written up. But in many cases, I'm also learning as I go through research and interviews. That makes it fun for me, because there's nothing that I love more than learning new things.
Don't want to create how-to's? That's fine. Talk about your art, your process, how you got started, your journey and your story. Do this in your own voice and in your own art. These people are just getting to know you, so they need to hear your story. Tell it, enjoy the stories of others, and share their work in turn. Give your time selflessly.
If you're at a loss for what to create, collect those that others have made and present them attractively, then share. It saves work for others who are getting started and makes them aware of two things: 1) you care, and 2) you share. Be aware that you may have to get permission before referencing someone else's work. This is another opportunity to size up people's level of participation. Those who are very possessive with their work may not be willing to share and build community with you. Check out their profiles to see if they have social proof of wanting relationships, or if they are just there to push their message.
By the end of this three-week period, you should have created at least a few interesting pieces and shared them, made your first few friends and completed your profile. You haven't approached world domination potential just yet, but you're on your way.
Next week we step beyond the technical, practical aspect of things and talk about the human part of it. This is the most important part, because no matter the platform, there are human beings behind it and human behavior is driving its evolution.
Check Out Part 2...
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