Building A Tribe Around Your Art; One Lovely Person At A Time

Staring into the vast ocean of possible social media interactions can leave an artist lost, bewildered and paralyzed. The options are endless and the fluctuations of social media tools changes rapidly with new IPOs, acquisitions and site overhauls. Millions and millions of conversations are happening every moment on countless platforms- so how do you even scratch the surface of placing your voice in this endless echo-chamber?

Seth Godin made the concept of building a movement by connecting like minds and leading people through connection, culture and commitment in his book, Tribes. Take a moment to watch his TED talk regarding Tribes and you’ll see how this concept can connect you with a movement surrounding your art.

Before we tackle the HOW of building your Tribe of loyal art lovers, we need to address the WHY.

Your Story and Why It Matters

Building Your Own Tribe

Artists need to take their audiences to greater heights by personally interacting and touching them on a deep level. Building a community around artwork that is personal and meaningful will help create a strong and interesting Tribe.

Let’s assume the obvious that lead you to this article. You have an online presence for your art-based business or art career, but you’re not feeling the connection between your web site, blog and various social media outlets. You know artists and art lovers exist in this great, vast ocean of online interaction- but you’re not sure how to bring them into your online world.

Do you have a story? Of course you have a story- everyone has one! A better question is have you clearly defined your story for your audience in a way that shows who you are as an artist, what drives your work and why it’s relevant to them? Your story is what connects a person to your work and puts them closer to becoming a champion of your art, your passion and your movement.

Take a moment and think of your favorite brand or online personality. Can you see their story in your mind right now? Do you find yourself raving about a brand or product and telling their story in conversation as you recommend them to a friend or colleague? Think of Apple, we all know their story.

Gary Vaynerchuk took the wine industry and turned it on it’s head- and created a loyal tribe in the process.

Instant brand recognition and association of that brand’s story made you a part of their movement. The moment you excitedly shared another brand’s story as an endorsement to your friends or colleagues, you became a member of their Tribe.

An amazing resource for artists building careers in the online space is Chris Guilleabeau’s e-book Art + Money. In this book, he describes your Tribe in the following terms,

“These are the people who want to be connected with you, with each other, with your work, and with what your work stands for. These are your fans.”

Go Beyond ‘About Me’ Page

Building Your Own Tribe

Chris Guillebeau, creator of a massive Tribe surrounding his work at his site, The Art of Non-Conformity, took a bold step when launching his first print book based on his website. He visited every state and each Canadian province so that he could meet his Tribe in person. He talked about his book, signed copies, mingled and then congregated at a local coffeeshop or bar after each event so that he and those who connect with his work could meet and grow as a community

Take a moment to build your story beyond the expected artist’s bio or About Me page on your site. Look at the following online artists and notice how they’ve built their stories and intertwined them throughout their online presences.

Kesha Bruce is an artist and art marketing consultant with a strong presence on Twitter. She keeps her passions aligned with her art throughout her online presence and her story helps lead others in the art world.

John T. Unger is a metal sculptor who creates these large installations and is completely unconventional as an artist. His presence in person matches his online story perfectly and his Twitter interactions help reinforce his story and connect his Tribe.

Ken Kaminesky is a travel photographer with a strong following on both his blog and his Twitter feed. Notice his use of graphics and design to help better tell his story and connect people- visually- with his art.

A simple truth to building a relevant audience is that when your story resonates with the right people, your tribe has begun to form. If your story is authentic and a direct reflection of what drives you and your art, people will be attracted to you by your story. These people will become your audience and they will return to learn more about you and your journey through this world. Your story will inspire them and will create a connection that will nourish all those involved.

And then you lead this movement of people- this Tribe- towards something profound using your art and your passion.

Presenting Your Story and Building Your Tribe

Building Your Own Tribe

An artist’s Tribes come in all different sizes and find them in a multitude of ways. Live performers build their Tribes using their artwork and an intricate network of communication channels- both online and face to face networks.

We previously tackled the topic of Tribe building for artists and took a more theoretical approach to creating a movement around your art work. A movement of loyal and engaged fans who connect with you and your story on a deep and meaningful level. Building a Tribe is more than just finding followers on Twitter and Fans on Facebook- it’s about being a leader of a group of people who look to your for connection, culture and change.

Once you’ve worked on refining your story, it’s time to weave it throughout your online presence. Be sure your story is placed in prominent locations on your website, blog and social media sites. If you have the time and resources, work with a designer or brand specialist to help refine your story and intertwine it with your site graphics, logos and other visual representations of your business. This step isn’t a necessity, but does help in making a cohesive story of you and your work that flows throughout your online presence.

If your art business has been around for some time or you are at a midway point in your career, hiring someone with brand expertise or a strong copywriter can add the outside perspective that is necessary for solid brand storytelling. Stepping back and looking at your work objectively, without emotion, in order to focus your story and tell it properly is difficult to do when you’ve been creating art on your own for many years.

Another major consideration in spreading your story is to be sure that your social media interactions, online writings and podcasts or videocasts also support the story behind your work. In sticking to your overall strategy of attracting like minded people to your Tribe, be sure that the voice you are using to represent yourself online reflects your story.

For example, if your story speaks to the many years of bartending and your art reflects the rough edges you acquired in your previous life as a master of the martini- speak in the same tone as you might behind that bar. Anthony Bourdain has built a massive Tribe- and a vast body of work- based strongly on the rough and raw voice that he acquired working in kitchens for many decades. For him to sugar-coat this form of his identity to try and expand his audience be being a nice guy would come across as unnatural and would actually turn his true fans away.

Make your story visual and accessible in a variety of platforms. For example, tell your story through a video production or by creating a visual CV or info-graphic based resume and placing them on your website and blog. Or you can use an About.Me page to give a quick summary of your story and then link your blog, website, visual CV, Pinterest page or Twitter account.

The possibilities are limitless when it comes to presenting your story online, just be sure the content you produce to tell your story is clear, professional and compelling and that the platform you choose supports your strengths.

Choosing The Right One For Your Tribe

So, with all the social platforms in existence, how do you choose the right one for spreading your story and finding your Tribe? Honestly, this answer could fill an entire library.

So, let’s just look at some basic theories for finding your tribe.

A Step-By-Step Guide On How To Find Your Targeted Audiences

First, you must identify your ideal audience.

Get specific here- who will connect most with your artwork?

Are you a novelist specializing in teen vampire love stories? Just go to the latest screening of a Twilight movie or a blog dedicated to this teen phenomenon and you’ll see how and where your audience is socializing. Are you a mother by day and a knitting fiend at night? Hit the mommy blogs and find women with similar daily juggling acts as yourself. You’ll not only have more women to share your stories with, you’ll have a direct ear into what your target market wants from hand-knitted goods.

Make a list of the main demographic that you feel will connect with your story. List their ages, average income, gender (if relevant), types of places they would socialize in person and online, unique attributes specific to the art you produce, etc.

Create a list of keywords that reflect some of the traits listed in your demographic list.

Go to Google’s Blog Search and begin typing in the keywords you created. Follow the links to these blogs and find several that reflect your target audience best. Add these blogs to your RSS readers, subscribe to their newsletters or bookmark the sites. Study the best blogs for the types of conversations that are relevant to your work and scan the comment section to see how people are interacting around this topic. Begin to look for problems that you might help solve with your specific knowledge or other way you can be of help to this community.

Go to the Twitter search function and repeat the same process for entering keywords in the blog search. Add a #hashtag before the keyword to help make the search more specific. If a person has added a #hashtag to a keyword, they want other people outside of their followers to notice the topic and engage. When you find someone who might fit your desired demographic, click through to their profile page and scan their information. Visit their website if one exists. If this person is a match, begin following them and add them to a special list that helps you categorize this connection. You might want to keep this list private since you’re using it for business purposes, but that’s a personal preference.

You can repeat these steps with other social media platforms as well. Simply seek out people who fall within your desired demographic and who look as though they would engage with your artwork and your story. Seek people who have something interesting to say and who are active in conversations within their chosen social media platform.

Begin engaging people in relevant conversations using these platforms. Look for people asking real questions and provide useful answers- related or not to your artwork. Be a genuine person here and dive into a conversation. Provide answers, advice or simply make a lovely comment and begin to build strong relationships with people over time.

Listen to your conversations closely and begin providing resources or articles that helps your target audience address a problem or provides entertainment. Create free e-books or manifestos that provide valuable information related to your story in some fashion. Our knitting mommy can create an e-book of knitting tips for newbie knitters. The vampire-obsessed novelist can provide short stories for free as a Kindle book and place weekly teasers about the plot on her blog.

The possibilities are endless for connecting your audience with your artwork. Get creative and provide something of value that people can engage with on a deep level. Creating community and connection will build a solid Tribe who believes in your art work and will create a meaningful online world for you to work within.

Authenticity and genuinely caring about others truly is the best approach towards building your Tribe and supporting your story in the online world. It only takes one person to truly connect with your artwork and you’ve created a fan. Continue to build these relationships and you’ll have an engaging and meaningful online community- and a Tribe of devoted fans.

Image Credit: All images by Crystal Street.

Jerry’s side note: If you like this article, be sure to read Crystal’s followup-article on How To Build A Long-Term Successful Social Media Campaign.