Use Social Media Effectively in 2019

Using Social Media More Effectively in 2019

using social media to effectively market your art in 2019

Each week I write a new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take what has become my annual deep dive into using social media to effectively get your art seen. 

Regular readers will know that I frequently write about harnessing the power of social media to sell more art. Often I know it can be a dry subject and we are all looking for easier ways to manage our online lives but like anything else in the art world, nothing is ever very easy. Add in some technology and geek speak and the subject becomes less fun. I know, so I promise I will try and keep the geek speak out of this week’s article!

I totally get that social media is fun for five minutes but it can then become a bit of a drag filled with politics, fake news, drama where there really shouldn’t be drama, and memes. There’s a lot of noise that we like to tune out on social media and it’s this noise that makes the task of promoting our work even more difficult because we have to somehow break through it and we have to compete with hilarious cat videos.

As soon as anything gets too difficult to do people become more inclined to not bother with doing it at all, or they will look for short cuts. This isn’t just on social media, it happens with everything in life and just like water, people frequently take the path of least resistance, and because humans are inherently impatient, we don’t always want to expend a lot of effort and get so little in return especially when positive results either don’t happen or they take too long to start bearing fruit.

I know the feeling. Spend an hour on social media thinking up a clever post, then cross post it in multiple groups, and then spend the next hour checking its performance and before you know it and two hours later you might have ten likes and two comments. Let’s break that down, that’s the equivalent of a like every twelve minutes and a comment every sixty-minutes. Was that really worth spending two hours of your life on?

Well it could be if anyone had made a purchase or if the post contributes to an overall and longer-term social media strategy but often it’s just a post out on its own. I call these the silo posts, and there are a lot of them on social media. I also call these disposable posts because after those initial two hours or however long they happened to surface elsewhere, once the initial buzz is over they just sit on your timeline and then they become abandoned. 

The only time these posts will ever surface again is either when Facebook reminds you that the post was a disaster in a year or two on the posts anniversary, or when someone visits your page or timeline and spends hours trawling through everything that you have posted and makes a random like or comment. 

The difficulty for us artists is that there are two-billion people connected to the platform and a huge proportion are actively using it. That means that there are a lot of posts and a lot of noise that we have to cut through and having a really loud voice isn’t enough on its own to make that cut. It’s not all bad but we just have to understand a little about what makes the platform tick so that we can really start to harness its power and get results. 

social media algorithm

Under the hood…

I often hear that Facebook isn’t the free for all that it once was, organic reach has declined and that’s absolutely true. But the numbers of people using the platform went up dramatically which meant that the noise on the platform grew ever louder. It became a complicated monster of a machine so changes had to be made or we would never be seen or heard at all.

That’s what social media and not just Facebook has become, we might not like it but we really should be thankful. Imagine if we constantly saw the same posts in our timelines from everyone. Not only would it take forever to find anything new but our timelines would be jam packed with old content and if everything appeared we would never see anything from anyone we really care about. To figure out why we only see what we see on the platform we have to look under the hood.

Something or some kind of system or process has to be in place to sort out what’s relevant to you and to the other two-billion people on the platform who will all have their own version of what is relevant to them. This task would be impossible for a human or even an army of humans to do. So instead the platform does this sorting and selecting through the algorithm together with an army of humans which might not always be perfect but without either in place we would never see anything at all. 

Technically this really is as good as it gets at the moment, there are no magic buttons, but there are lots of bad actors who take advantage of any technical weakness. It often reminds me of the saying in the IT industry, it’s not the tech, it’s the people, or the problem exists between the keyboard and the chair.

The algorithm is a closely guarded secret or rather what it does and how it works is a closely guarded secret. Everyone knows it exists but no one really knows what it looks for with any certainty. Facebook do give out clues periodically, you just have to know where to look. 

The short cut that a lot of people take to find out how it works though is to keep an eye open for those posts that say something along the lines of: “Facebook now only shows your posts to 25 friends” and end with the words “copy and paste this status and leave an hi or an emoji”. That last line on any post is often the give-away that the post is really just a load of the proverbial otherwise known as spam. 

What we do know about the algorithm is that it definitely doesn’t work like that. It’s really not that clever, but it is clever enough to realise when it is being gamed. These posts are structured in a way to gain reactions and shares and the creators of these posts will know that more reactions and comments equate to more reach, and more shares reinforce people’s perceptions that something must be true or false because of something called social-proof. 

It happens with fake news stories which are structured in the same way or those posts that say if you don’t copy and paste and then share the post then a unicorn will die. This is the same way that fake news spreads and it is how scams gain traction. Add in social conditioning and you have the plot line of a best-selling thriller. 

It happens with other things in life outside of social media too, humans constantly look for social proof because it is hard-wired into our DNA to look for it. We look for things that we want to believe are true or that have some resonance with how we think as individuals. Anything that confirms our deep held belief, whether or not it’s true is something that provides us with validation. The posts are just the smoke and mirrors that take advantage of this little trait that we have. 

The only places that you will really get any insight into the inner workings of the algorithm are both places owned and maintained by Facebook themselves. The first place is the developer’s website which you can find here.  

It is here where you will find lots of technical information that is given to those who have an interest in developing applications for the platform. You will find some geeky references about SDKs which mean Service Development Kits and other stuff that most people don’t really need to know about, but occasionally there will be a nugget of information that gives you a better idea of how the platform works and what the algorithm will be looking for. This part of Facebook is geared towards those with a deeper technical understanding of the platform so some of it might not be relevant to you unless you are developing Facebook apps but it is still worth the occasional look.

The second place to find information, and this one is a lot easier to understand if you are not technical, is the official Facebook News Room which you can find right here.  

The most useful information is perhaps tucked away a little deeper in the product section of the news room and the information found there is very well written even for those who don’t have any technical skills in this area. You can find the product page right here. It is here where all of the major announcements are made and it will give you a much clearer idea of the new features Facebook are introducing.

While you are on that site it’s always worth taking a look at their community and social impact section. There’s a heap of bad news that always flows from media outlets around Facebook, some of it is warranted but other times the press really do only present a biased single sided view of the issues. 

I’m not one for sticking up for Facebook for Facebook’s sake, if they do silly or even seriously dubious things then I am usually first in line to call them out. But we do have to remember that for many people Facebook is their only means of communicating with the outside world and the platform often does good things too. So take a look at their community and social impact section right here, because it is here where they frequently call themselves out when they know that they did something that wasn’t quite right and they showcase the good work that goes on in communities. 

So now we have a better idea of just why that algorithm does what it does, what else do we know?

lifting the lid on social media

Spreading post reach…

The algorithm seems to work differently for everyone. If you select certain topics or people then it will be looking out for posts covering those topics and from those people. Great news because it means that your own timeline of other people’s posts is much tidier and more relevant, but not such great news if you need to promote your art via social media. 

So it’s worth knowing another couple of basic principles of the algorithm and how it works if we want to use it effectively. 

Ads on Facebook have a relevancy score. It’s a little like a credit reference check and it’s also one of the biggest reasons why spending twenty-bucks on running a Facebook ad campaign without knowing exactly what you are doing is just a waste of twenty-bucks. Google have a similar system in place via AdSense except they call their version of the score, a Quality Score. 

If we lived in a perfect world then the system would let us know what the relevancy or quality scores are and exactly how they correlate to whatever ad you are posting. That world doesn’t exist so it’s really difficult to wrap your head around something which is both so opaque and complex. In short though, these scores are the metrics that determine when and where your ad gets served. 

A relevance score of one means that your ad is not targeted to a relevant audience and will perform really badly. If the score was nearer 8 or 9 there is a better chance of your ad reaching the right audience and being served. There is a great blog from Wordstream that goes into much more detail about relevance scores which you can read right here.  

What we also know is that similar metrics are used for other posts on social media too, they’re sort of the same in that the principles of surfacing posts are similar but not quite. What we believe the algorithm does and based on a lot of information where Facebook have publicly stated that they are focussing on relevancy, is that those people who react and engage with your posts will see them more often than those who don’t.

This is good, but it’s also a bit not so good. It means that your Facebook friends who are your actual “friends” or the people who are most engaged with you are more likely to see your latest post than someone who has never heard of you, even if your post is set to public. Setting a post to public essentially means that the public can see it, but they don’t necessarily see it appear in their timelines and they will only see it if you post in say a public group or they actively search for it. 

So it’s bad in that unless your art buyers are your friends or unless you are a member of a public group with active buyers and an engaged community, it is really unlikely that too many people will ever get to see your post. 

But then it gets good again so don’t let the panic set in just yet but this is where it also gets a little complicated. When you first post that meme of say a cat, it will surface on your friend’s timelines. They have friends too, and if your friends share it with their friends then suddenly a set of your friends most engaged friends will then get to see it. If they then share your post, at that point their friends will start to see it. And yes, it’s a headache, but think of it this way.

The more engagement your post gets, the more it surfaces elsewhere and the more people will see it. It really is as simple as that. 

That’s why I have been saying that engagement is the key to Facebook and gaining reach. If no one is engaging with you, no one is sharing your posts, then what you have in Facebook is more like a digital diary. 

Now here’s where it gets really good and a little simpler still. Firstly you really shouldn’t be using a personal profile as a marketing tool because that goes against Facebook’s community standards. So this means that you have to have a Facebook page. We also call these fan pages, business pages and hard work. 

You can use these for marketing and they are infinitely more discoverable by the average person on Facebook who might also be your buyer and especially if you use them to provide value which could be as simple as sharing a life-hack or a recipe or anything that provides someone with a reason to want to take a look and hopefully engage.

Yes I hear what you are thinking, didn’t Facebook kill pages and stop supporting them or didn’t organic reach bottom out? Firstly, no. Facebook pages are still around and well and truly alive. Secondly yes, organic reach bottomed out and the big publishers took a huge hit when they started getting fewer likes and most of them complained. 

The point they missed entirely was that whilst they got fewer likes, it meant that the hundred likes they did get were arriving from people who were more engaged with what they had to say. The changes made things more difficult to reach new people and gain followers, but followers who follow a page today are more likely than they used to be to be engaged with the page. You do however have to work much harder at producing the type of content they want to engage with. 

If people are engaged they will like, love, wow and comment and if they are engaged enough they will share something that they find of value or that resonates with them, or they think that their friends should see. 

How do we create an engaging post every five minutes?

The answer to that is we don’t have to. You can spend an hour sharing a post across every group and then hope that enough people engage so that it surfaces on more timelines. This is quite literally a fishing trip, or you can go straight for the social jugular and create fewer but more engaging posts. This increases relevancy, hopefully people share it, and when they do the chances of finding new people to follow you and give you a like become increasingly more possible and probable. 

If you can create an engaging post every five minutes then there is no problem at all in doing that but think back to the credit score system of relevancy. If you are confident that’s what people want then go ahead and post away, there are no golden ratios of the number either minimum or maximum. What we do know though is that it will probably raise a few flags if you are acting in a way that imitates the actions of a spammer. You need to find your balance but then you need to be able to sustain it. 

There are publishers who have millions of followers who post only two or three times each day, and there are others who post once or twice each week and others who post on the hour. It really is about five things.

  1. How relevant your post is to your audience
  2. How much value it provides them
  3. How much they have some trust in you
  4. How engaged they are with what you do
  5. How often do they need to see it

Of course there are other factors too such as social proof, and when we look at how influencers use their social profiles we can determine that things like being authentic are important, but in reality it’s mostly all about ethical persuasion. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into that topic here anytime soon, but if you really want to begin to understand how to create really engaging content then you might want to take a read about the TARES test which you can do here

The TARES Test is an acronym that consists of the five principles of: Truthfulness (of the message), Authenticity (of the persuader), Respect (for the persuadee), Equity (of the persuasive appeal) and Social Responsibility (for the common good). That my friends is something that when applied to social media can have a huge impact and it’s something that good marketing people and social media super-stars and successful influencers will be aware of. 

Are there any shortcuts?

I have been involved with algorithms for years outside of my art. I have written about them, given keynotes on them and they evolve so quickly that they could all work very differently tomorrow or even in ten minutes time. 

The simple answer is that they are designed to do a specific or even multiple tasks very quickly and they can be produced so that people are less able to game them. They are increasingly using technologies such as machine learning to evolve and what we know from a computer-science perspective that machine-learning algorithms learn by testing and figuring out how people react to those tests. The machine is teaching the machine by learning from what you do. 

There are ways though that will make things better. Knowing who your audience should be is the obvious one and my advice to anyone who creates art with the intention of ever selling it is to do two things. 

  1. Figure out what your art is about
  2. Target the audience where your art has a fit

A lot of people swear by search engine optimisation (SEO), but like ads, unless you know what you are doing it really is better to focus on quality first and finding out where your people are. 

You can also create what I like to term as unicorn content. This is content that always does better than any other content you produce, and then you need to breed more unicorns. I call it unicorn content because it’s difficult to do and not very post you create will become the next unicorn. 

To get an idea about what might become your next unicorn post though you need to dig around the data that Facebook pages or any other business accounts on social media have about your posts. Pinterest have a great analytics platform which confirmed to me who I thought my audience might be. Facebook have Insights but this is not available on personal profiles, you have to have a page. 

With these analytics you can start to formulate a clearer picture of who is and isn’t engaging with your posts, but be mindful because just as posts need to be constantly created, your analytics need to be constantly checked. Again, no immediate short cuts here but having the data to base future posts on will save you heaps of wasted time and it will make any relevancy scores increase because what you produce is more likely to be more relevant. 

So now we have the quality posts, we also have some data, and we have a page. What else do we need to do?

Build the engagement…

Building engagement on your page is critical in this process. It’s also a catch-22 because you can’t get engagement until you build relevant content and you can’t get engagement if you don’t engage back. You can’t do this bit on your own because you can’t really have a conversation with yourself on social media. Oh wait, it already feels like we do sometimes. 

So you have to engage with the people who take a second to like, love and wow, and you have to do the social bit of social media. When this happens the relevancy of your post increases and off it goes on its own little journey to get surfaced in front of other people. I call this initial engagement part of the post, the wave. We wave it on to bring back more engagement, in short it means engage with someone the minute someone engages with you and try to avoid using the same generic responses. Remember we have no real idea how this machine learns but there’s a chance it is looking out for generic terms.  

It is at this point that the post will start reaching the next set of people and when they click on a reaction or engage with your post it becomes another go for the jugular moment. On business pages you have the ability to reach out to people you don’t know and send them an invitation to like your page if they have had any engagement with it at all. Some will, some won’t, but it’s a whole lot more than we had five minutes ago. In my experience it translates to around a 10-20% acceptance rate if you can do it quickly enough. If someone logs out before you send the invite that acceptance rate could go down if they don’t remember your post. 

Did I mention that social media is a long game? You have to be patient because what you are really trying to do is to build a community. The problem starts to appear when we think of a social community as something where thousands of eager buyers sign up to a page and sit and wait for your next product or artwork to be released and then the expectation is that they will just go out and buy it. 

Usually people don’t do this.  What we have to do is demonstrate how we are different, how our art is different, and how it will provide a value and benefit so that hopefully people will remember who you are and chose your artwork over the print they saw in a discount store. Once we understand this bit, we can start to communicate more effectively and provide the exact type of content those people expect to see. 

supporting each other in art

Help Each Other…

Social media. We consume media all the time on social media platforms but we often forget that there is a word before media and that is social. Humans are social creatures who really don’t like to be all that social, but that’s the real secret of social media. We have to become more social. 

Regular readers will be familiar with the term I have been using a lot lately and that is find your people instead of finding your target market or your demographic or the other hundred business buzzwords we attach to “people.” Building a community of people with similar interests and shared goals is really at the very core of social media. As artists we should already be each other’s people, so it makes sense to work together. 

I don’t know of any artist who has the budget to set up a marketing team that is as effective as say a brand such as Coca Cola or Pepsi, so following their leads will just move us even further away from where we need to be. But collectively I do think that we have a pretty powerful voice between us, we just have to be a little smarter in how we use it.  

So here’s what we can do for each other.…

Whenever an artist posts from their business page, don’t ignore it and only click on like when they shared it across to their personal profile. Engage with your friends through their business pages instead because this is going to help that page become more relevant. Think of your business page as a communications channel for the business of your art. Keep your personal profile for everything else.

Like your friends business pages. This shows that you support them and also helps with the social proof that people need. If a page only has two likes then it’s going to be really hard for that page to get any kind of reach at all and fewer people will want to follow a page with only a couple of likes. 

One of my future planned articles will be to provide the links to as many artist business pages as I can on this site and our group The Artists Directory was always intended to give artists a channel to showcase their pages. Frequently though people do try to post exactly the opposite of what the group rules ask and those posts don’t get through the moderators.

But when people do post their pages and then support each of the other artists in the group, there shouldn’t be any reason at all why any pages shouldn’t get a thousand or more likes. There are more than 4000 members in that group alone, and it would take seconds to help an artist turn their page fortune around and for their page to become much more relevant to the algorithm and provide some social proof. 

Share the work of other artists. Not all of the people who like your page will necessarily buy your art. They might buy the work of other artists because we all have very different tastes, and when posts are shared, there may be people on other artists timelines who will buy your art. Other artists are only your competition if you are copying them.

It also keeps your own timeline relevant and fresh with content that you then don’t have to worry too much about creating. 

Share ideas. If we find a secret way that brings more success then we all have this tendency to not want to share it, but collectively this means that everyone loses out. If there are certain keywords that you have used in your marketing that have been helpful or there are certain business skills that you find useful, share them! Others will see a value in this and will share them too. Again, The Artists Directory group would be a great forum for this kind of shared resource but sadly what we tend to get are drive-by posts and only a handful of engaged people. 

Sometimes we can’t always be around. Just the other week I had to go into hospital for a day and had to leave social media entirely during that time while I came around from the anaesthetic. So if you know of someone who can’t post their work or share their links because they are unwell, or maybe they have been affected by natural disasters and have no internet connections, consider post-sitting for them just to make sure they stay relevant while they can’t be online because one day you might need that kind of support too. 

One of the most valuable gifts you can give an artist other than buying their work or sharing their posts is to make a point of actually visiting their business page from time to time. This might not seem too important but it is more than likely one of the key metrics that determine a pages relevancy because it is one of the most consistent things page owners are notified about. X number of people visited your page this week, and X number of people are talking about this page. So go ahead, remember to tag your favourite pages into conversations if it is relevant to the conversation.

Complete the basics of your page…

When I carried out the research for this article and the many others I have written about using social media more effectively, something I have been constantly doing for the past decade or more, one of the biggest things I have noticed that really has a huge impact on whether someone likes your page or not is whether or not the basics had been completed.

The about me section, the website links, the bit that tells buyers that your art is for sale and you are open for business and importantly, the bit that lets people know how to get in touch, hadn’t been completed at all. 

This happens a lot and not just on Facebook. When I looked at some business websites a few weeks ago many of these details were missing on them too, or at least it wasn’t at all obvious where to buy or who to contact. Some of these sites were from some very well-known people and even brands too. Never hide the how to buy bit from a buyer.  

Ask friends to go through your page as a viewer and point out anything that is missing, even ask me and I will take a look for you, but make sure that the basics are covered because not having complete profile information is another metric that can be used to down-rank your visibility. 

Most people will only ever visit your page once. The rest of the time they will rely on their newsfeeds to feed them with your content. That’s not ideal because the only guaranteed way of seeing everything is to revisit the page, it’s also the same with Facebook Groups too. If your friends can visit it as I mentioned earlier that’s a great way to drive relevancy but you also have to make your page inviting to those who are yet to give it a like. 

That also means that your profile picture and cover photo have to be clear and inviting. This is something I am planning to redo when I take a week off from the day job. The image size needs to be 851 by 315 pixels. The resolution can be 72 pixels per inch if you want to get really geeky and having this information starts to take out the guesswork of thinking about whether or not the image will fit on Facebook.

Once you have changed your cover image you are welcome to post it in the comments underneath the link to this article on my Facebook business page, and add a link to your business page there too. 

Think carefully about how you apply your design skills to what is going to essentially become your social media storefront. It needs to be engaging enough to make people want to click on like because whenever someone visits your business page, this is what they will be seeing first. 

Using well established design principles, plenty of space in between lettering, and clear fonts, along with colour combinations that are harmonious can never be understated. Yet when I did my research for this post one of the things I noticed was that a few (even big name artists) on the web had picked colour palettes for their graphics that they would have never have used in their works. 

To get a better idea of what does work take a look at Adobe’s Colour CC website and click on the explore tab which you can find right here. This will present you with a range of colour swatches which you can even download and use in Adobe products such as Photoshop. 

Simplicity is really hard to do well. But if you use social media a lot you will know just how busy and often just how over-stimulating it can be. Minimal design is often the escape that people are scrolling for on social media and in a few A/B tests I carried out on my own page recently, the most minimal posts gained the most engagement, and posts that had blue or orange in them seemed to also do a lot better.

Look out for trends too. The links to the official Facebook pages I provided you with earlier are the absolute essential sources of real information and it is here that you will get to find out about what is coming next to the platform. 

Last year video was the focus although I have a feeling that whilst it is a really useful thing to do, I know how difficult video can be to do well. If there is one thing we know about video is that we need to up the quality of video to have any real impact and again, it is something that you do need to sustain once you start. Remember, with video you are competing with Netflix.

Summing up…

Yes that was a deep-dive and no, there are no real short cuts to anything we do when it comes to social media but perhaps the short cut is really about doing less and doing it smarter, and for us to have more collaborative engagement with each other. 

I think over 2019 there will be some significant changes to the algorithm and things will become even more difficult for any publishers who haven’t quite got a handle on this stuff yet. We also know that Google+ is about to close down this April and there are many people who are currently only active on that platform. In comparison to Facebook it is only a small percentage of the overall account numbers but some of those people might start to engage with Facebook more than they have so there is potentially more scope to find more of our people. 

Facebook business pages won’t die. They will though become more relevant to small businesses and brands and there is a high probability that we will start to see another advance towards a future pay to play model. I don’t think that organic reach will become impossible anytime soon but right now is probably going to the one of the best and almost final shots we have to start getting it right and to start building up real and engaged communities without having to pay. 

There are some big expenses looming over Facebook as they start to see 2019 as the year of having to make more investments and ad revenue on the platform isn’t what it was. Don’t feel too bad though because in one estimate, Instagram which is also owned by Facebook, generated $9 billion in revenue. My advice to anyone thinking of dropping twenty-bucks on ad-spend right now would be to look at Instagram and drop it there instead. Just remember that you still need to know about relevancy scores and who your target market are!

So let’s see if we can all raise our profiles throughout 2019 and remember that this site really is about supporting independent visual artists. It doesn’t earn me anything at all but I really believe in people who are making art happen independently.  If there is anything you want me to cover, whether it is your art or your business of art, or even your next show, please do let me know and let other artists know we are here too.

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here:   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at 

You can also follow me on Facebook at: where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at 

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here  The cost of a cup of coffee helps to support this site for a day!


Popular Posts