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Chapter: Internet Venues for Marketing Your Work
Your Own Website
Should you have your own website? Hopefully nobody is bothering to ask that question any more. A website has become like a business card once was. It legitimizes you in the eyes of your customers. A website also assists in recognition of your work through repetition (the customer sees your work on display and then sees it again online–you are gaining a foothold in the viewer’s consciousness.) If you are marketing your own artwork, one would assume that you want people to find it/you, and a website is almost a necessity for such visibility these days.
The website doesn’t have to be extensive, and you don’t need a full e-commerce setup complete with shopping carts to get started. At minimum a quality website will have your contact information so that potential customers can find you, along with your bio and samples of your work.
A well designed website can open doors beyond your wildest expectations. Once your site is properly optimized for search and found (indexed) by the search engines, your potential customer base is limitless. You may be treated to requests for commissions, large orders, wholesale inquiries, and the like. Building site traffic takes time, so the sooner you start the better. If you’ve never had a website, the following information on the subject will be helpful on how to proceed:
Design Your Own Website from Scratch
If you have the coding skills to design a website yourself, great. If not, you may have a family member or friend who can help out. This will give you the most control over your site. However, if you are unfamiliar with website design, and decide to plunge in to “save the money,” I would highly recommended you think twice about this approach. A poorly designed site can be worse than useless, and can actually hurt you when it comes to marketing and sales. Not to mention that a poorly design site may not even load properly into the ever-expanding list of browsers out there. Website design is a highly specialized area, and generally not for the do-it-yourselfer. If you MUST do your own site, and don’t have proper coding abilities, I would suggest one of the latest “build your own site” websites now available (more info coming up!)
Hiring a Web Designer
In most cases, you will want to hire someone to design a website for you. Although this is easily a virtual business (you could hire someone cross country or even globally), I find that finding a local person to do the work is very helpful. It is nice to be able to sit face to face with another human on such an important endeavor.
Your goal is a simple, easy to navigate site with great optimization for search. Ask your site designer if he/she is familiar with SEO (search engine optimization.) It does little good to pay for a pretty website design only to find the search engines don’t pick it up or rank it well.
Domain Name (www.yoursitename.com)
Domain names are leased from domain name companies and cost around $10-$20/year. Generally you lease a name for 1-3 years, and then you can renew it indefinitely. Many of the catchy names are leased, but chances are you can get a site with your own name. If you find that your name is already taken, try including “Artist” or “Paintings by” or some other words with the name. (i.e. www.ArtistJaneDoe.com) Registration of a domain name is easy and you can do this yourself online well before your website is constructed. And you DO want to do this yourself–make sure that the domain name is registered in your name or your business name ... not the designer’s name. You want to be able to control future renewals of the domain name.
If you are hiring a website designer, he or she will likely handle this part for you (again–just make sure that the hosting is in YOUR name, not the designer’s). However it will be helpful if you understand the concept of a hosting company.
In order for your website to be seen 24/7, the files need to reside on a server computer. Hosting companies provide this service. Hosting packages generally start at around $5/month and are billed to your credit card. If you have a site designer working on your site, he or she can help you to secure hosting. Personally, I prefer to secure my own hosting in my own business name. Design companies usually offer bundled packages (including site design work and hosting), and your hosting fees are then paid to the design company. If that company goes out of business, well, you could be in for a load of headaches getting your site re-activated with another service. Select a large, global hosting service and put your site hosting in your own name.
A note about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). When you search for something on the internet, say through Google, you get a list of sites that most aptly fit your search criteria. The sites that show up at the top are the best matches for your search words. Optimizing a site for search simply means getting that site into the indexes of the major search engines and ranked highly on searches for given search word combinations. This topic is quite large, and there have been entire books, seminars and courses devoted to SEO. If you build/create your own website, make sure that you read at least one book or take at least one seminar on this topic first! (Lynda.com is an excellent source for such a topic.) If you hire a designer, make sure to ask if he/she is able to provide SEO services inclusive with site design.
Yet another note about SEO: There are two types of optimization for search engines: onsite and offsite optimization. Onsite optimization includes anything used on the site itself, including the written copy, pictures or graphics, and the behind-the-scenes structure of the website (the source code). Design and navigation of the site should also be considered, as a poorly built site will not receive high ranking by the search engines.
Offsite optimization has become increasingly important in recent years as competition for search engine ranking has increased. Offsite methods including quality inbound links from other sites. (A link from another website to your website is an “inbound link.”) The emphasis here is on quality. A bunch of blacklisted sites that link to your site can actually harm your ranking, so don’t fall for one of those offers promising you 100’s of inbound links for a fee. The best inbound links are gained organically over time. Other offiste optimization factors include social media chatter about you and your work, especially Facebook and Twitter. Forum comments about your work that include links to your site are especially valuable.
Build Your Own Website Platforms
Want to build your own site but don’t have the coding skills to get the job done? Well, you are in luck. Thanks to rather recent advances in technology, many website now offer “build your own website packages. These packages typically include domain name registration and hosting service for your convenience (and their profit!) The price of such services is amazingly low, and they are offering more bells & whistles by the day. At webs.com for instance you can setup a full-featured website that includes both a blog and e-Commerce (Shopping Carts). They even offer tutorials in SEO and custom editing to enhance your site’s over all optimization for search.
Start a Blog
If you don’t have the funds for a full-fledged website, and are not yet ready to attempt building your own site through an existing platform, then consider starting a blog. They are free! Short for Web Log, a blog is a chronological listing of text entries/posts and pictures. You can place contact information and an active email link at the top of the page. This is a great alternative to having a website, as modern blogs even allow you to have multiple pages and be setup similar to a website. (And when you are ready for a site, you can keep the blog and link it to your site.) A blog allows you to announce new works of art, exhibits, shows, and tell the world more about you and your creations.
A blog can also be part of a comprehensive website–essentially becoming a “page” of the site. There are no hard fast rules, you can proceed with having a blog onsite or offsite as it suits you.
Add Some More (Free!) Sites
Making yourself visible on the worldwide web these days is becoming more and more of a challenge. A single website often gets drowned out by a gazillion other sites. One way to increase your odds of being found is to have more than one website. “Egads!” you say–“That is too much work–one site is enough to maintain.” And for the most part you are probably right. However, there are multiple ways to get a “free” website now. You can set up several freebie sites, with just you primary information, and have those sites link to your primary site. Don’t worry about adding this site names to your marketing materials or about telling your customers about them. The purpose of these sites is to give you more of a foothold in the web-world and give you some of those valuable in-bound links that internet marketers talk about all the time. In short–you want other sites to link to your main site. This is one of the ways that search engines decide if a site is important enough to rank highly–if a lot of other sites link to it. You might also ask friends and customers to give you a link to your site. And you can link to their websites as well as outbound links help too!
Most free websites come with paid advertising on them, which probably isn’t desirable to an artist. But again, you won’t be promoting these sites to your customers–they are primarily for internet visibility and catching the eyes of the search engines. The Resources section at the end of this book has several great links to places where you can build free websites.
Existing Sales Platforms for Selling
Though numerous online auction sites are now available, this section will focus on the most popular platform: selling on ebay.
As a venue for selling art, ebay is a much debated issue. Some artists say that ebay devalues an artist’s work and that one should never sell their work on ebay. This is certainly a valid opinion as a large percentage of ebay buyers are looking for bargains. That being said, here is another way to look at it: selling work on ebay offers exposure to a large audience and is a method of advertising of one’s work, along with making sales. Let’s face it, there is no way to get around the fact that millions of people visit ebay everyday with the express intent of shopping. It is unlikely that any other online site for marketing artwork will generate that volume of traffic. Your potential buyer could be just about anybody: a museum director, a gift shop owner looking for new work, a collector, etc.
Several years ago, before many artists entered the ebay marketplace, competition was light and making money on ebay was easy. As of this writing, ebay has grown to the point where jumping in and making a living selling your art exclusively on ebay would be challenging at best. If you can approach ebay as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, as opposed to “putting all of your eggs in one basket,” the ebay experience can be quite valuable.
As far as selling prices go, yes, often times ebay auction prices are below the prices of other markets. If this potential bothers you, keep reading. Ebay introduced the “Buy-it-Now” option a number of years ago as an alternate means of selling items on ebay. Listing your items as “Buy-it-Now” gives you the ability to dictate your price up front. It also allows you to list items for an ongoing period of time, and in multiple quantities. The fee schedule vary according to the price of the work. The listing price is minimal, usually around 50 cents. The selling price when someone buys your item is based upon the cost of the item. Just go to ebay.com and search for selling fees to find the current rate structure.
You will need a PayPal account if you plan to sell on ebay, as that is the way you get paid on ebay. So you’ll want to factor in the amount that PayPal deducts as a transaction fee on the funds to find out what your total cost of selling on ebay will be. Generally speaking, listing, selling and PayPal transaction fees add up to around 10-15% per item. (This does not take into account the cost of listing items that don’t sell.)
The actual listing of items on ebay is rather straight-forward, though time-consuming the first few times you do it. After that, you’ll start to breeze through the listing process. There is no need for a how-to lesson here, as every aspect of the ebay selling process is explained through onsite links to additional information. Any questions you have about fees, guidelines, etc. can be found right on ebay with a little patience on your part.
The philosophy of your approach is up to you. I will suggest some guidelines for making ebay part of your over-all marketing plan:
If you already have your own website, or plan to start one, great. Ebay can be used as a method for getting people to your main site. While you can’t advertise your website on an auction page due to the selling terms of ebay, you can certainly mention your own name numerous time, add in your bio with each listing, etc. Anyone who sees your work on bay and enjoys it will likely do a web search for your name and find your website.
You can also open an ebay store. Stores have a monthly fee associated with them, but offer you perks like lower listing fees and reporting. Ebay stores give you the ability to have a true online store without a website if you desire, though having a primary website is still the best approach. Use ebay, in whatever form you choose to apply it, as a means of expanding your web presence.
It probably goes without saying that you will need to post a picture of your artwork for sale, and that image quality is very important. Try to avoid sitting your painting or sculpture on the sofa and just snapping a picture. Well-displayed and well-lit images will help a great deal. Downsize the images to 72 or 96 ppi and a reasonable size, say 6"x8" before uploading them to ebay. Most ebay listings are improved by posting several pictures instead of just one. So if your artwork can be viewed well from multiple angles, upload 3-4 images. With a 2D image you might consider uploading the image itself, and then another image showing the art in presentation (i.e. matted/framed.)
Some artist like to include a watermark over their images to “protect” them. This practice is somewhat controversial. As the images you upload to a place like ebay will be relatively small and low-res, the worry over having them stolen is misplaced. Also, anything that interferes with with a clear view of your artwork will likely work against you.
You will need to consider how you plan to ship art before listing it. Ebay will require you to enter shipping options and pricing that you plan to offer to the winning bidder. You will also need to decide if you are willing to ship internationally or to US-only destinations. Include any shipping information you wish in the description area of the listing. More information is better than less, as customers will often wander off if they are left with too many questions about a listing. Information you might wish to include would be: number of days for shipping after payment is received, shipping service to be used, packaging to be used (so the customer knows whether to expect a tube, box, etc.), whether delivery confirmation or tracking is included, etc. If you check out other artist’s listings on ebay you will get a feel for the type of information that is desirable.
If you (hopefully) find yourself shipping a lot of packages, look into signing up for a stamps.com service. This allows you to pre-print your postage at home, and includes special services such as delivery confirmation and insurance. The service has a small monthly fee, though they do give a slight discount on the rates you receive at the post office. And you can conveniently track all of your shipments online through the account. I turned my back on this service for years, until a friend told me how much she liked it. When I calculated how much time I had spent standing in line at the post office each month and multiplied that by what I feel my time is worth, well, the online service became an instant no-brainer!
A final note on listing your items, whether at auction, fixed-price (buy-it-now) or in an ebay store: remember to chose quality keywords in your listings. This is most important in the title line of your item. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Few people are looking for “pretty view of flowers in a vase.” A much better title, littered with popular search words, might be: “Floral Painting, Still Life, Art Print, Limited Edition Print by Artist Jane Doe.” Ebay provides a list of popular keywords to assist in your homework.
One great way to prepare yourself for entering the ebay market is to buy something on ebay. In this case, try buying a piece of art. This will give you experience from the shopper’s perspective on searching, bidding and winning an item. You can use your likes and dislikes of the experience to create a plan all your own!
Etsy.com is a place to sell handmade or vintage items and mostly targets the craft market. However, many fine artists and photographers are selling their prints on etsy these days. Etsy has a lovely user interface (easy to use, easy to sell and easy to buy!) There is also an extensive social community on easy for exchanging ideas about marketing, creativity, supply sources, etc. Listing and selling fees tend to be lower on etsy than on competing platforms, so setting up a store won’t cost you an arm and a leg. As with ebay, the best way to get a feel for etsy is to purchase something from etsy. See what other sellers are doing in terms of presentation, pricing, bios, etc.
The Amazon.com marketplace allows you to sell your work directly through Amazon.com. Now just think about it, if there was ever a gigantic shopping venue, Amazon.com is it! Selling on Amazon tends to be a bit more complicated than ebay or etsy, so get ready to pull a few hairs out if you go this route. The monthly fees with Amazon are higher than other venues, but may be worth it to you when you consider such a large, buying audience is at play.
EXTRA TIP: If you can’t find the fee structure, FAQs or other information you need on one of these specialty sites, just go to Google and search the subject there. (i.e. “ebay selling fees” as a search) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had trouble finding basic information on a website, and was able to find a link to it in 5 seconds using Google Search.
Print on demand: Products, Books, Fine Art
If you create the type of images that would look good on products, why not consider printing and selling them on t-shirts, mugs and other items? There are a couple of ways to go about this. If you don’t mind hefty up front costs and managing an inventory, you can go the traditional route by checking with a promotional products vendor and inquiring about the costs of printing these items in bulk. You will have to order dozens, or possibly hundreds of items at a time. Your markup for the selling price would be a personal decision, though it would be helpful to consider how long you may have to inventory the items and the potential tax implications of maintaining such an inventory.
Traditional printing in quantity is a viable option if you know you have an outlet for a large quantity of product. If you are to be a featured artist at an important festival or event, taking a stack of shirts imprinted with your artwork can be a great income opportunity. Or you may obtain a secure with a catalog company and be required to supply a quantity of items on demand.
If you don’t want to print/inventory a large quantity of prints, a great option for printing your images on products is the red-hot print on demand industry. (See the Resources chapter for several popular site links.) With print on demand, you upload your image(s) to a specially-designed website, and that site enables you to apply each image to shirts, mugs and other items. There is a base price to print these items and they are only printed when ordered, thus the “print on demand” designation. You apply a markup amount to the base price and then you are paid this markup (royalty) whenever an item with your image sells. Typically these “royalty payments” are made to you by the print-on-demand vendor once a month.
Print-on-Demand sites allow you to create an entire online storefront, usually at a very low cost. In this store you “stock” products with your images printed on them. The print on demand site that manages the storefront handles all printing, inventory, sales, sales taxes, returns and customer inquiries. You simply collect the markup amounts! While somewhat time-consuming to set up, this is a great way to get ongoing income from your art. Once you have the store set up with items in it, you can collect on sales for years to come.
You can even set up a specialty print-on-demand store that focuses on fine art prints. This is a great way to go if you don’t want to print your own prints and inventory them locally. Websites like Fine Art America (FAA) allow you to upload your images, specify the sizes at which the image will sell, your price markup, etc. Many offer shoppers multiple matting and framing options, and canvas prints too. Most emerging artists couldn’t begin to offer this level of service on their own, so a specialty fine art prints store like FAA, may be just the start-up solution for you. Fine Art America has another perk: they offer an email marketing solution that is part of the premium store subscription, which is only $30/year at this writing.
One important piece of advice: either get an experienced graphics person to do your image preparation, or take a course or two in Adobe Photoshop. The quality of these images is extremely important. There is more to preparing optimal images for products than scanning and saving. Also, once you have your images and products set up, make sure to purchase at least one of each product category for yourself. (One shirt, one mug, etc.) You want to know how your images look on the products before customers start buying them. Consider adding a tagline to each of your images that includes either your name and/or website address in small print. Then people who purchase these items can find you later to purchase more artwork.
A slightly different type of print-on-demand is the self-publishing arena used for books and journals. Ever thought of publishing a book? Even if you don’t have a subject you want to write about, you could publish a “picture book” of your work. That way customers who love your work can purchase a book with numerous images, and hopefully stories about you, your creation process, etc. Again, the advantage to doing this is that once the book is available for sale online, it can generate income for years to come with no extra work on your part. LuLu.com is a great source for publishing your own print-on-demand books.
While most people are familiar with this very popular search engine, many do not realize that Google offers an array of other services, most of them for free. These include: image searches, specialized shopping searches, news wire searches, specific alerts, maps, videos, site tracking & analytics, site maps, and of course, Google Earth. I will talk about a few of these specialized services here, as they can be advantageous to your overall marketing plan. These services are accessed through links on the main page of Google.
Google Alerts allow you to create ongoing searches that cause Google to notify you via email any time it finds a new listing with your search terms in it. Set up a Google Alert for your name and other alerts with key phrases about your work. While I haven’t found hard evidence that this helps with search engine ranking, it can’t hurt to have Google let you know when it has found your site or another site that has linked to yours. It can also help you track down anyone who is using your name or work without permission (you can report such sites to google.)
This is a great way to do image research. If you are looking for reference pictures or doing marketing research on other artwork, why weed through a long list of text entries? Just go to Google Images and search with your desired phrases there. You will get pages and pages of pictures, all of which link to their pertinent websites.
Ideally your own artwork will start showing up on image searches one day.
Properly named and tagged images have the best chance of showing up in a Google Images search return. The images on these search returns link back to their host sites. So, someone who finds your work through a Google Images search will have an automatic doorway to your website.
This is a free website tracking service that allows you to monitor your site traffic. It involves a behind-the-scenes code that is added to your site pages. Your site designer can help you with that. Google Analytics acts like a sophisticated counter. Not only do you see how much traffic your site is getting, but also where the traffic is coming from and what words they used to find you. Google Analytics can also be added to blogs and print on demand storefronts.
This popular blog hosting platform is now owned by Google. Blooger.com provides easy-to-use templates and plenty of helpful links to get you started. You can set up a blog for free–start marketing your work and networking with others today!
Social Media Marketing
Social Media is all the rage these days, and advancing faster than most people can track. As of this writing, Facebook is barely 8 years old, and at the end of 2011 already had over 500 million users. Expect the social media platforms to continue their rapid evolution. If you haven’t already, there is no time like the present to start getting involved with the most popular social media platforms. They are not going away anytime soon, and the numbers involved should make them an obvious choice for your marketing.
I hear many people say “I don’t have time for social media.” Well, I didn’t either. But when hunger strikes, and there is a giant buffet sitting right in front of me, it’s a little hard to turn around and drive back to the same old grocery store! Take the time to get some basic social media sites set up–with links to your website. Once you get a feel for each, you can decide how best to spend your time (if any) on them so that you can use these venues to your advantage.
And I do mean use them to your advantage! It is easy to get lost in the fun and interactivity of these platforms. That indeed can be a time waster if you had planned to use them for business. You want to stick to your business goals, and leave the addictions to check “recent activity” to the people who have time for that.
While some people like to use social media as a direct means of interacting with their customers, I use another approach. My time as an artist is limited–I need to reserve some of it for actually creating! So, I don’t attempt to engage my customers at the various social media venues. (Of course if they contact me I respond!) I use the social media outlets to drive traffic to my website, which is where I want people to go. That’s where my shopping cart resides, that’s where they can see samples and pricing of custom portraits, etc. So, as I go through the most popular social media sites next, the discussion will be focused on using them to bring traffic to your website, as opposed to using them as an end result.
Facebook.com is probably the most well known social media platform. It is now used by individuals, groups and businesses worldwide. For the purposes of Art Marketing topic, I will be talking specifically about using Facebook to promote your artwork. To cover Facebook completely would require an entire book unto itself. And such a book would likely be quickly outdated. Facebook is re-invented each year, and instructions that applied last year no longer apply this year. The best thing to do is to dive in, get your feet wet, and then you can absorb the changes/updates as they are rolled out.
The main concept to understand about Facebook is that, for the most part, personal accounts are for your personal use, and “Facebook Pages” are for business use. So you will want to have a Facebook PAGE for your art marketing use. The easiest way to create a Page is to start a personal account first. Then the page is linked to the personal account. You will then be able to post updates about your work to your personal account (which hopefully will end up with some friends on it!) and your business page. Facebook has a wide variety of privacy settings, and it probably goes without saying that you want your page to be as public and visible as possible if you are going to use it for marketing. Locking down all of your privacy settings can give you a sense of insulation, but it sure doesn’t help much from a marketing standpoint.
Post updates about your work daily if you can (it’s okay to repeat some posts) and upload small/low-res images to the Photos area so that people can see your work. You can then “like” other pages and join groups from your page–and post the same art updates on those pages. This is how information spreads via social media.
Unless you are using your Facebook page as an alternative to a website, all of your posts should include a link to your website. The ultimate goal here is to direct traffic to your primary source of revenue or information & contact, not to create a second job of spending time on Facebook. Your goal is to get as many followers as possible and start spending 5-10 minutes a day posting a note about your work and links to your website on other pages and groups. Get the word out! You can also use Facebook Ads, where are a fee-based service, but why not utilize all of the free power you have at your disposal here first?
Lastly, you might have noticed the cumbersome url of the Facebook page you created. How about changing that to your business name or something similar? Just go to the “edit info” link about the photo banner at the top of the page. You will see an field labeled “Username.” This is where you can select your nice Facebook url name. Think carefully about what you want before changing it though–Facebook only lets you do this process once. So you’ll have to live with your selection as long as you keep thepage.
And don’t forget to add your Facebook page link to your website and your emails.
You can create your own YouTube.com channel and upload videos of your work for free. Add both information about your work and a website link to the profile page. You say you don’t have video’s of your work to put on YouTube? No problem! You can use iPhoto or one of many online websites to create a free slideshow or two with music. (Please check the license on the music you select and make sure that you have rights to distribute it with your slideshow. It probably goes without saying that you can’t just attach a Beatles tune to your slideshow and expect to get away with it for long!) iPhoto and slideshow-creator websites allow you to export or save the slide show in a format this acceptable to YouTube.
Here’s where the fun comes in. Once you upload a few videos to YouTube, you can add your YouTube Channel as one of the social media links on your website and in your emails. AND–you can “embed” these same slideshow videos right on your own website. Just go to the video on youtube and you will see a “share” button somewhere below the video area. Click that, and you will then see and “embed” button right underneath. Click the “embed” button and you will be presented with a chunk of code to add to your website or blog. You can even pick the size at which the video will show.
YouTube has a “feed” area on the Channel pages. There you can list updates about your work, just like you do on Facebook. There are other great video-sharing sites as well. Vimeo.com is worth your time if the concept of uploading videos becomes comfortable for you.
LinkedIn.com has become known as the “Professional” social media venue. This site is more geared to setting up online resume’s, job seeking, and connecting with others in the business realm. While you can pay for varying levels of account service, the basic account is free. Sign up, set up your basic profile including links to your website, blog and other contact information. Once you have your basic profile setup, you can use it to promote your business. Post to your LinkedIn profile daily, just like you do on Facebook. Also, joined groups–lots of them! Each of those groups gives you a place to post information about you and your work. And as always–your website link belongs in each and every post.
You may wonder to yourself, “What if nobody reads those posts?” The answer is: “Don’t worry about it.” As long as your website link is in every post, you are marketing your work. Those posts are searched by web crawlers, and can help with building your presence on the web. Just make sure that your website link is always in the post.
If you enjoy LinkedIn and feel like starting your own group–go for it! You can do this easily. The benefits are many. You can add your own site link to the profile of the group. You can send weekly messages to all members of the group, etc. As the group creator you get to administrate the posts, so if anyone posts spam or info unworthy of that forum, you can delete it.
While very popular, Twitter is probably the toughest of the social media sites to grasp. I think this is partly because it is so utterly simple in its concept. On Twitter you post a message up to 140 characters long. The people who see this message are primarily the people who “follow” you. Another twitter user can repeat (or “re-tweet”) your message, and then it is seen by all of his or her followers. While there is more to it, that is basically how it works.
Signing up for a Twitter is free. As with other like other social media, you get to create a Profile page complete with a link to your website. You then proceed to start “following” other twitter users. These can be people you already know who use Twitter, or people/businesses you find that you like as you look around Twitter. Other people start to “follow” you and your posts (tweets), and the follow/follower count builds over time. This is how messages or posts spread. While anyone who has a Twitter account can see your posts (unless you sign up for “protected” Tweets), the people most likely to see your messages are the ones who follow you. Thus the quest to get more followers. People who follow one another can also send each other DM’s or Direct Messages. These are more or less like email messages as they are not broadcast publicly.
There are a couple of features about Twitter posts that are unique to Twitter. One is a concept known as hashtags (#). If you see a word in a post that has a hashtag in front of it, that means it is a popular or trending topic. Let’s say that you post something on the topic of fair trade. If you add “#hashtag” to your post, people who are searching Twitter for that topic will likely find your post amongst the millions, and you are likely to end up with new followers. There is a great list of current hashtags at hashtags.org.
This leads us to the other unique feature about Twitter. It makes a great search engine! If you are looking for just about anything, and in particular very new/current information or news, Twitter is the place to go. News about an earthquake in Japan will hit the Twitter feeds long before it makes it to Google or even CNN. Twitter is also a great place to search for feedback on products and services. If people are having great difficulty with a company, product or service, you can bet there will be plenty of Twitter chatter about it. (This one of the great benefits of the social media–the consumer is once again being heard. Companies have turned around lousy customer service and changed transaction policies due to “bad press” on social media.) Look up hastags that pertain to topics about your work or the subjects you want to research and try a Twitter Search for them - you’ll be amazed at what you find!
That’s about as much as I am going to say about Twitter. Unless you have the time to devote to maintaining conversations on Twitter, I’d suggest the route that many single-person businesses have taken: Set up a Twitter account, “prime” it by following some people and getting a few followers, then set it up for automated posts so that you minimize any time you actually spend on Twitter. I know that Twitter Lovers will probably hate this advice, and to them I apologize. However I can’t honestly recommend Twitter as a first choice time investment as other social media outlets have a much higher rate of return for the average user. See the next section for information on how to automate your Twitter posts.
Over time you will notice that more people will start to “follow” you on twitter. (You’ll get email notices for each new follower if you set up your Twitter account for notifications.) The best practice is to follow each one back, unless of course the Twitterer appears to be a spammer (anyone who follows you that does not have a description on their profile, or whose posts appear to be x-rated should be suspect–you can block those accounts and you certainly don’t want to follow them). Remember–you want your posts to be seen by as many people as possible, and even “re-tweeted” by those other people for a larger audience.
So by now you may be overwhelmed at the prospect of “posting” stuff in all these social media outlets. One great time-saver solution is to automate your posts. Using a service like Hootsuite, you can post to your Facebook personal account, your Facebook business page, your LinkedIn account and your Twitter Account simultaneously! You simply signup for the service, Hootsuite in this case, and then link your various social media profiles to it. (This is very easy, and Hootsuite walks you through it.) Then, you create a post and select the social media profiles to which you would like the post to go. It is almost instantaneous. AND, you can schedule future posts too! I usually decide on at least a daily post for each day of the upcoming week, and schedule them all on Sunday. That way, if I’m too busy to post in groups or feeds or forums, at least I’m still getting the word (and my website link) out there to my own social media profiles daily.
EXTRA TIP: Anything you don’t’ know–google it! Some of you may already do this, but I’m always surprised at how many people struggle with finding information on the internet. I no longer go to instructions or user manuals for information these days. It’s more likely that I will find an answer just buy using a search engine. Can’t remember my printer cartridge type? I look at the model on the front of the printer and go to google with a search like this: “brother printer DCP-7040 cartridge.” If I can’t remember how to do something on Facebook, I immediately go to Google and ask: “how to edit banner pictures on Facebook page”. You can even go to YouTube to find videos on how to make or fix just about anything. I recently went to YouTube and search for “green smoothie” and found a 5 minute how-to video to make the best tasting green smoothie I’ve ever had. Never waste more the 5-10 minus trying to figure something out yourself–more than likely the answer is a short web-search-step away.
Organizing your social media accounts
Some people like to keep all of their social media accounts separate somehow. It can prove helpful from an organizational and time management standpoint. A suggestion in this regard is to use a separate email for your social media accounts. That way all of those notifications go to another email box and won’t distract you from other priorities. You dedicate a time slots a week to deal with social media, and then it doesn’t become a “time-vacuum.”
A note on passwords–it’s a good idea to create a different password for each site. Using the same password across multiple platforms opens you up to some serious hacking if your account at one site is hacked. If you are having trouble organizing your passwords for online work (it’s a common problem!), there are many helpful articles published on the subject. Just search the net for “organize passwords” and you will be treated to some very helpful information.
Once your website and social media are in place,submit your site to some of the free online directories that are available. (see Resources for a few suggestions.) These directories give people searching the web information about your business, your contact info, and that ever-so-valuable website link. Some of these sites, like yelp.com, include a “review” section where you can review other businesses. Consider contacting your customers and asking them to leave a review for you! This is one of those little tips that takes a few minutes, and will help your website traffic over time.