Why You Need an Online Presence as an Artist

I have seen some discussions on Twitter lately about having a website or a social media account with a lot of followers. People were worried that, due to their lack of online presence, they would have less chances to get an agent or a contract. Others told them that they didn’t need to worry at all, that talent only mattered.

Well… I don’t agree. While talent is important, more and more key people in artistic industries look at the big picture before taking you on board. Last October, I went to a conference where a publisher put it bluntly: if she had to choose between 2 books that were equally good, she would choose the author that had the biggest social media presence.

So today I want to talk about why it is important to build your online presence. But more importantly, I want to give you a strategy to build a large following, even if you start from zero!

Talent vs Merit

An actor I know once told me how appalled she was that a casting director asked her how many Twitter and Instagram followers she had at the end of an audition. She felt that she was unfairly treated, and that the role should be cast on merit only.

While I agree that talent should always be the first criteria to judge an artist, I think that “merit” is not JUST “talent”. It’s much more than that. It is everything you do to advance your career. It’s the hard work you put in, it’s the extra mile you go to that others don’t, and therefore it includes all the efforts you make to build an online presence.

While I completely agree that artists should not be chosen/hired JUST because of their online presence, I think it is a valid question to ask to see if the artist takes their career seriously. To an agent/publisher/curator/”big deal person”, an artist without at least a basic website or social media profile is more and more seen as not putting enough efforts. And you don’t want them to believe that about you!

Think of it this way: having a serious online presence is the same thing as having a polished resume. It doesn’t change the substance of who you are and what experience you have, but it is more inviting and shows the recruiter (or agent or casting director) that you mean business.

Marketing Is Hard!

In most industries now it is expected of the artist to do part of the job that used to be reserved to agents or producers. The artist is now almost as important as their art, and often they are expected to do their part of marketing. It is how most industries function, and even more so if you work with smaller players (a small publishing house or a less known producer for example).

If you don’t go the traditional route for your particular art, it is even more important to be visible online. As a writer, I decided to self-publish my first book, and I would not be able to market it if I didn’t have a respectable online presence. It is exactly the same if you try to crowdfund for a project, or if you need an audience for a show.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have that type of projects yet, as it might come in the future. I am convinced that you should not wait until you need it to build your online presence, because it will be too late. For example, I started building my Twitter profile in 2017, long before I had the idea for The Part-Time Artist. I just knew that it was going to be helpful in the future.

Marketing a project is hard as it is. Give yourself a head start!

How to Increase Your Online Presence

Strategy for an online presence
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Now I hope that I have convinced you that spending some time to build your online presence is worth it, and that you want to give it a try. But perhaps you have already tried and felt overwhelmed by it? I totally understand that, because it is easy to get caught up in the details, waste a lot of time, and end up not doing the important things required by your art.

So here’s a simple strategy that you can follow. I am going to assume that you have no presence at all in the following paragraphs. Feel free to skip a step if you have already done it!

1. Build a Website

It should be the first thing that you build online: your website. It doesn’t matter if you are a complete beginner and have no project to show on the website, it is still important for two reasons:

  • You need to secure your preferred domain name, before it becomes unavailable (companies scour social media and search for domain names that could possibly interest people, they buy it and it becomes very expensive to get it back!)
  • It will be the base of everything else: your colour scheme, your favourite picture, the way you present yourself

Building a website can seem terrifying, but it is actually very simple! There are countless of tools that you can use and hosting solutions, from free to expensive. I know a lot of people started with Wix, because they didn’t need to be technology experts to be able to set their website up. I use OVH (with WordPress integrated) to build my websites, which is a solution that I like and that is not too expensive (domain names are around £10 per year, and their cheapest hosting is £25 per year).

Most people worry about what they will write in their website. Honestly, it doesn’t matter much at the beginning of your career. A simple “About” page, and a “contact” page is enough when you start. If you have projects to show, you can add them. The more experienced you will be, the more you’ll be able to add.

Many people also get stuck on the design. Quite honestly, again, it doesn’t matter as much as you think. Look at this website, for example. It’s as simple as it gets! Don’t waste too much time agonising about your design, just pick one and run with it. And don’t hesitate to get inspiration from other artists!

2. Start With ONE Social Media Platform

Once you have a basic website, you can start building your social presence. I recommend that you start with one platform only, to avoid wasting too much time. The platform that you choose will depend on which industry you are in.

I am very active on Twitter because the writing community there is huge. Illustrators might prefer deviantART or Instagram. Filmmakers would probably be on Youtube. There are loads of platforms, and if you don’t know which one to use, take some time to research each one. At the end of the day, you will spend a lot of time of this platform, so make sure that you enjoy using it!

Once you have chosen which platform, read and research about the best ways to increase your network. I’ve previously written an article about increasing your followers on Twitter, if you are interested. The best way to avoid letting this step consume all your life is to allocate a certain time of the day for social media. Avoid having it always open on your desktop, and deactivate the notifications if you can (I for example don’t receive any notification from Twitter, Facebook or Instagram on my phone – I only check them if I feel like it).

Give yourself a goal to reach, and assess your progress every month. You will not grow quickly at first, but typically social media growth is exponential. Once you get a little attention, it will snowball quickly. Make sure you don’t spend all your time self-promoting, because chances are that your network with get bored. Aim at genuine conversations and interactions.

Once that profile starts to take off, you can invest time on other platforms.

3. Separate Personal and Professional

This is especially true on Facebook: make sure you don’t mix your personal presence with your professional (or artistic) one. I don’t recommend using your personal profile on Facebook. Instead, create a page, that will help you separate both.

Separating accounts is just the first step. You also have to understand that what you can’t share everything on your social media platform and your website. Most of the time, your private life should be completely off limits.

Basically, the idea is that you need to create a “persona” online, and to know exactly where the line is. Think of your online presence as a magazine that showcases who you are. You need to be your own editor and make sure you never deviate from the editorial line.

4. Build an Industry Profile

This might not apply to you, depending on your industry, but sometimes it is worth investing in an industry-specialised platform. For example Spotlight for actors, or Behance for graphic designers.

I have recently started to build my presence on Goodreads, which is a massive platform for book readers and writers. Nowadays, a lot of readers use it to choose what they are going to read next, and trust the reviews posted there. I’ve also built my profile on Amazon, as a self-published author.

5. Stay Coherent

Let’s say you have five different profiles: Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Goodreads. Make sure you use the same profile picture in each and that you show the same persona everywhere. It helps people identifying you online, because there will be some overlapping in your audience. In other words: people will follow you on more than one platform, so make their life easier!

That said, you don’t necessarily have to share exactly the same thing on all platforms. I post more “fun” things on Twitter, while my LinkedIn is only about professional updates. It incentivises people to follow you on more than one platform if you can offer different (but complementary) entertainment on each of them.

6. Consider Blogging

A blog can be a valuable extension of your website. It can show more of your personality and advertise your projects. I love blogging, because it allows me to talk about stuff in a longer setting (compared to Twitter). You don’t have to be as prolific as me, but a blog well managed can help your website rank better on Google and bring you a dedicated audience.

What you talk about in your blog should be in line with your editorial strategy, but I tend to think that a blog post has more leeway because you have more time to explain what you mean. It is also a good way to mix different media, photos, writing, and why not some recording!

7. Automatise

If you have followed all the previous steps, you will start to notice that this online presence business is taking quite a lot of time. Now, we want to avoid it taking all your time, because you are probably busy as it is and don’t want to spend all your free time on social media.

Fortunately, many tools and resources exist to make your life easier. For example, if you have a blog, you can automatise the posting of each article on social media. You can use social media managers to post status on a regular basis, without having to be in front of the screen. You can use tools to clean your friends lists and avoid spams.

Bottom line: you don’t have to do everything yourself. Use tools to help you and save time!

Online Presence is Becoming Unavoidable

I believe that the requirement to have an online presence is only going to grow in the future. Being “off the grid” is not going to be an option anymore in many art forms, and those who couldn’t adapt will have a much harder time being noticed.

The positive aspect of this is that it forces you to come in contact with many more artists than you would have naturally. It exposes you to more diversity, and allows people from all around the world to show what they can do.

So don’t hesitate, and start building your profile now!

As usual, if you have any question or concern, let me know below! If you have specific issues, for example about Twitter or building your website, feel free to contact me!

And if you found my article useful, have a look at my book, The Part-Time Artist to find more strategies for your artistic career!