The power of authenticity in Social media marketing

8:30 AM


The power of authenticity in social marketing should never be ignored.

When I am not creating new designs and illustration or blogging, I am found either actively building my brand and audience on Instagram or answering questions of Quora about art, print on demand, and how to make sales. 

There has always been questions along those lines on Quora but what is a telltale sign of the times we live in is how much more of these questions about making money you find each and every day on the platform.
I answered quite a few specific to Redbubble and Society6 over the past few months alone. Sadly, too many seem to be under the impression it's a ticket to quick riches with minimal effort and that all you need is posting a few designs and call it a day, grab that drink and wait for the sales to roll in. 

Then there are the others who are figuring out how to crack the algorithm code to infinite sales, thinking that if they upload X amount of products in Y amount of time they will get the sales rolling in effortlessly. 

What most are missing entirely is the part where you cultivate and grow an audience, and those who have a vague idea about it, think it's all about having a huge amount of followers. There are no shortage of online classes and videos about building your brand identity on Instagram, having cohesive feeds, a color palette, how often you should post, and what you should do to be taken seriously. 

But few forget to tell newbies that it's ultimately all about being genuine and authentic in your branding. maybe because once you've been at it for a few years it feels so natural and obvious and it's easy to assume everyone know that bit. 

I on the other hand found that not everyone gets it and it's not as obvious as it seems. 

I've seen a lot of threads and questions that are all around the idea that if one does SEO and knows how to "crack the code" or outsmart the algorithm they can just sit back, relax and get the sales rolling in easily 


That is not how sales happen at all, and cracking the social media algorithm or a online shopping's site for that matter is not going to be your ticket's to anything. 
And sadly the good old advice of "strong keywords", good SEO, posting schedules, and "good content" will only take you that far. 

Why? Because everybody does it. When you are selling on print on demand websites for example (but certainly elsewhere too) you are in direct competitions with thousands of artists and designers who are all going to use quality keywords. Even in super niche design categories like the one my colourful little rickshaw in the picture above, I will not appear as the one an only design when you search for "Colorful Rickshaw" or even just "Rickshaw".

You need to let people know that what you are doing is cool and worth looking at, that's where digital and social marketing comes in. And this is where things can go wrong. 

You are unique, and that is what you need to show the world

When you are in a creative field, be it art, design, or content creation, you need to sell your product as much as you sell yourself. 
I once wrote on my IG stories : You are your work, and your work is you. 

You can't and should not dissociate yourself from the art you create, and to sell one you must sell the other. Why? Because in order for people to find out about your art, they must relate to it, and the story behind it. 
We all have a unique selling point, and to succeed, you must tap into your own. 

Building a brand identity

The first step of social media marketing is to decide what your audience is, what they are into, and where it intersect with who you are and what you do. That intersection becomes you brand identity starting point. 

For me, my audience is clearly one that like colors, according to my Instagram insights it's about 70% women, most of which are in the 20-45 age bracket. 
Judging by my most popular designs, it's also an audience that likes fun quirky artwork with an Indian touch without being traditional art. 
This intersect with my love of bold colors, fun modern, non traditional illustration style that takes inspiration of my daily life in India. 

My brand elevator pitch would sound like that : 

"I'm a surface designer and illustrator who creates fun, modern and colourful work inspired by my daily life in India."

This is the foundation of my brand, that's what I am, and the audience that will be attracted to it is the audience that relates to that. 

What to post and what not to post

Now that the brand identity foundation is laid, you need to decide what makes the cut as far as content on social media. 
I use Instagram as my primary social media handle because my work is visual and is pretty much made for that platform, so I will write from experience on this one. 

Instagram has several all separate content options : Picture feeds, IG TV, Reels and Instagram stories, so I advise anyone to tap in at least 2 of those and do specific content for each : feeds and IG Stories

- Feeds are the pictures that will stay forever, and need to speak the most about your brand and product. It's where, if you are into art and design, you will post what it is that you do, make and sell. 
In my case, this is where my artwork, work in progress videos, bullet journal pictures and product mockup go. 

- IG stories are pictures or video that will only be available to your audience for 24 hours and then will disappear forever (unless you turn them into a highlights)
If you are an artist, this is where you share your daily life, snippets of what you do that isn't really related to your product but is part of who you are. This is the place you want to be genuine, authentic and should not be afraid of being flawed. 
Believe it or not, these days I get more engagement from my IG stories than on my feed pictures, and that engagement has suddenly led to more followers. 

I think the IG algorithm is build in a way as to favour the content of those who present on IG stories or Reels more regularly, so tap into that strength. 

Now on what NOT to post, especially if you are an artist selling on a platform like Society6 or Redbubble. 
I've seen it way too many times, and I know from experience these type of picture do not spark much in terms of views, leave alone engagement : 

Taking product mockup pictures straight out of your Society6 or Redbubble shop, in this case, a art print mockup from my Orange paisley design.

You want your audience to know what new work you have in store, I get it, but you also want them to be amazed and entertained by it. 

What's more, you want to attract a bigger audience by using relevant hashtags where you are going to be just one of many pictures in a long endless feed. You want to get people's attention quick. 
That picture above is not bad, it's a product picture designed to show people what it looks like in the context of the Society6 website. People that are browsing Society6 are already potential buyers, they already know what they are there for, this picture is letting them decide which artwork they might like and nothing else. 

People on Instagram are no looking at buying an art print as such, they are probably just browsing home decor ideas, looking for cool pattern or a specific aesthetic. So get their attention by posting a better product mockup like this one : 

Which one do you think is more likely to grab the attention of a potential follower? The boring product catalogue picture, or the fun colorful one that shows them what my art is all about? 

If a person is browsing the hashtag #bohovibe they are already looking for pictures that will get them dreaming or feel inspired, some are browsing hashtags to get home decor ideas, by showing your work in a home decor setting, you maximise your chance of getting noticed and getting a new follower, which ultimately is what you should be aiming at. 

By the way, the picture above is a mockup, I do no own that frame, I did not print my pattern to fit that frame. It's purely digital, and if you hope to make it in surface design, this is one of the skills you'll need to learn. 

There are several free ready to use PSD mockups out there you can use, or you can learn to make your own, which is exactly what I did with the picture above. I took a free to use stock photo from Unsplash and turned it in a mockup file I can use over and over again inserting new artwork in it each time I do. 

Sometimes I also take one of my product picture from Society6, remove the background and insert it into a stock photo like I did here : 

I added the shadows to the pouch so it feel like it belongs to the pink background image but the pouch is one of Society6's product picture, I just made it more visually appealing ant more in line with my brand identity on the feed. 

Diversify the content

Even with using quality mockup pictures, you don't want your IG feeds to be saturated with these, because once again it will turn your feed into a product catalogue, and people aren't really following these long term or feel very connected to it. Social media marketing is a place to tell your story, build an audience, and sell feelings and emotions that may or may not translate into a product sale. 

My feed are a mix of product mockups, standalone artwork, work in progress shots and videos, bullet journal showcase pictures and actual shot of products that I own and snapped in real life. 
Most of my printable stickers which I sell on Etsy are printed at home and I stage them in a photoshoot. Or I take a original artwork of mine, stage it for a photo and share it on IG like this one : 

Ultimately, my feed is not about selling a specific product like a t-shirt or a mug, or a phone case, because let's face it, thousands of people are doing that. What I am selling to my audience is the idea that I am a colorful, versatile artist and illustrator with the added bonus that if you like what I do, you can bring it home on any product you like from any of my several shops. 

This is something I told to several of the people who contacted me after reading my answers on Quora : 

My job is to sell art, not the support it is printed on. 

My job is to make sure people come to my feed after seeing an eye catching picture on a hashtag feed, took a peek at what else I've got, maybe took time to read my fun, and often personal captions and decided to follow me because they want to see more of that. 
Then once they follow me, get hooked to my IG stories where they get to know my pets, and stuff about my daily life so that they can also relate to the person behind the fun art. 

IG story power

I've seen this one being super neglected by too many, and if you are the type who belong to that tribe, you are missing on a lot of untapped marketing power. 
IG stories disappear after 24 hours, so they are the perfect place to put the less curated content, and let yourself a bit loose. 
If you are an IG user, chances are you are watching several IG stories a day and let's be honest, the ones you find the most relatable and easy to connect with are the ones where the people do fun everyday stuff you can connect with. 
IG stories is where you get to be more personal, genuine and authentic because you aren't as tightly bound by your brand identity and feed aesthetic. 

You've got to give to receive 

Building an audience on social media platform isn't one sided, you can't expect to put content out, use relevant hashtags, and wait for people to find you out. Most will find you out that way, but if you want your posts to continue showing to enough of your followers, you will have to show Instagram that you are an actual human being with likes and dislikes and a penchant for watching and interacting with OTHER PEOPLE's content.

In short : don't post and ghost

Comment on the pictures of people you follow regularly, if you find a super awesome picture in one of your hashtag feed, like it and tell them how awesome it is in the comments. Reply to IG stories, share other people's posts and tag them, and last but not least : 

NEVER EVER EVER fall into that sick and lame practice of "follow for follow" or "Follow/unfollow", I've read recently that Instagram is now punishing people who engage in that practice by no longer showing those account as often in their follower's feed. 

Another big pet peeve of mine is being solicited to share people's posts in my stories, or to please please please follow them. So unless you have established a relationship with someone on Instagram, do not make such request. 

True story, I once unfollowed and blocked a person I was following because they would comment on each and every one of my pictures to "Please follow me and like my posts" the first few times I let him know politely that I was already following him, and after a while I told him that he had to stop asking in comments every time I posted something because it was started to feel that a) He didn't care about my work and b) that he was simply looking very spammy. 

Do it right from Day 1

Recently, a person who read several of my answers on Quora about Redbubble contacted me via Instagram to ask more questions and tips about how to make it happen. 
They then pointed out that they were surely going to implement my tips ONCE they have a solid audience. 

HUGE mistake! It's like saying "I'll only be happy once I have a big house, or a better paying job, or the latest designer shoes" 
You can't decide that certain marketing moves are only worth your time putting effort in once you have an audience, because the whole point of Instagram marketing is to gain an audience. If you don't do anything toward getting that audience in, it'll never come. 

Everybody starts at ground zero, we all started anything in life with zero followers, zero audience, zero customer and zero sales. That doesn't mean you need to passively wait for things to happen before acting. 

I started this blog under a much different name back in 2004, most of the old blog posts are now deleted, I switched the focus of said blog over the years, but when I started it 16 years ago, I was probably being read by 3-4 persons at the most. I still wrote it as if I had a much bigger audience and dedicated the amount of time I would dedicate to it with an eager fan base of thousands of people. I still do write it that way today. 
This is also how I approach Instagram, Patreon, YouTube and my several shops. 

When you are in a creative field, you need to do what you love doing, regardless of who is or isn't going to see it. 
Most of us do what we do because not doing it would make us feel miserable and dead inside. I could not conceive a world in which I don't write blog post, create art and work on creating social media content. It goes from as far as I can remember, I was that kid who would stage my toys and trinkets for imaginary photo shoots, who always looked at things in matter of aesthetic, drew and painted like there was no tomorrow and whose soul would die living in a poorly decorated home. 
It's this energy that need to be translated into everything you do in life to make it a success, this is that spirit you need to project in your Instagram feed if you want to build a connected audience. 

But ultimately, remember that you are doing it for yourself first and getting people to follow you for who you are is a happy side effect of it. 

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