Foundation U: How & Where Should I Invest My Time in Digital Marketing Efforts?
foundation | April 5, 2016
We have created a new system to bring our business education and training efforts to you. As part of Tamarack Foundation U, we will dive deep into a topic for three months – covering a wide variety of angles through blog posts, webinars, Q&A’s with experts, articles added to our Resource Library, and more.
Our training efforts will be summarized alongside new market and presentation opportunities in our monthly Tamarack Foundation U Dispatch. Keep up with these efforts by signing up for our email list as an “Artist and Arts Organization.”
Our first Tamarack Foundation U topic will be the A to Z of Websites.
Read on for the first blog post in our Tamarack Foundation U series, an article by our Program Director Emma Fisher about where and how to organize your digital marketing efforts – starting with your website as the backbone of your strategy.
Most of us are now on the digital bandwagon – we understand that activities like website-building and social media are important, but they exist in the kind of theoretical “must do” category that can give rise to a lot of tension. We know these tools are important because they carry the potential to greatly expand our audience, but we lack knowledge to describe if or how each of these tools may play a valuable role in our creative practice. They fall on our “must do” list, but without an understanding of why the must be there.
I hear this tension with most every artist I speak to in West Virginia. When our time and energy resources are scarce, assessing the value of these tools becomes essential to our success. Because understanding why these tools are valuable allows us to make crucial decisions about how to invest our scarce resources.
So, why? Why should we care enough to invest time? And how should we choose to invest our time? Let’s break it down.
Big Picture: Understanding Digital Marketing
“Digital marketing” describes all of your promotional efforts in the online realm – including things like creating and adding information to your website, updating a blog, creating and sending a marketing email, posting updates to a social media account, or other efforts invested through the Web.
These marketing activities create a pipeline to grow visibility for your creative practice. In the traditional business world, that pipeline looks like this:
In our creative practice, we may want to adjust the language of these efforts a bit, but the goals remain the same:
- We spread the word about what we do; in order to…
- Engage new people and remind people familiar with our work about our ongoing efforts; in order to…
- Meet objectives like generating new income for or interest in our work.
- And repeat.
Ideally, all of your promotional efforts – online and off – work together as a system to move people through this pipeline.
In West Virginia, where we face a challenging economic environment and are sometimes located far away from viable market opportunities, the ability to leverage digital marketing becomes essential. Digital marketing activities are relatively low cost and carry the potential to reach people outside of our local markets.
Using a Website as the Backbone of Your Digital Marketing Efforts
Each type of online marketing activity has an associated piece of “content” – for example: a piece of writing, a photograph, a video, etc. Collectively, all of the pieces of content generated about your work – by you and by others such as members of the press – tell the story of your business.
Telling the story of your business, through writing, photography, and video, is the best way to engage new and returning audience members with your work. Engagement by an audience member in your story represents a better chance of winning an emotional investment in you – and, by extension, increases the potential for interest in your work.
It’s ideal to have a “home base” on the Web to gather all of the content about your work in one place so you may form a complete story for an audience member to engage with and understand. A website is the perfect home base to tell your story because it has the capacity to pull together all of these different pieces of content, and present them in one, easily digestible package. Unlike with a social media account, you have complete control over how the package looks and what it communicates to the world.
If done well, this package will become the best ambassador for your work (second only to you!). It will be present and available 24 hours a day, 365 days each year – and take some of the weight off of your own shoulders in communicating your value to audiences.
Because it presents a complete story of you and your work, a website is the communications platform where you are most likely to convert someone from a “no” to a “yes” when it comes to your business objectives – whether that is making a sale, getting someone to come out for an exhibition opening, or even just educating someone about your work.
Ideally, all of your other digital marketing activities – sending emails, creating social media posts – encourage people to visit your best ambassador, your website, to learn the full story of what you do. With a social media post, we’re only able to communicate a snippet of our story. But when that social media post directs people to our website, we unlock the potential of engaging someone in the complete picture.
Here is what a basic, balanced digital marketing strategy looks like in action. All of the marketing activities form a system, and the arrows represent the flow of audience traffic. Emails and social media posts drive traffic to your website – the place where your complete story is told and, following, where you have the most likely chance of winning people over to your objectives.
A blog is a unique asset to consider because it provides an additional platform to publish content that is more timely in nature (such as progress updates on creative projects and announcements for new exhibitions), whereas the majority of content available on websites is intended to be static (such as an “about” statement or contact information).
This kind of content is often a top generator of new traffic to a website because it provides the exact kind of information that audiences on email and social media are looking for – timely, engaging bits of content. In analyzing the data coming from our Google Analytics account for the first month of the Tamarack Foundation’s new website – 5 out of the top 10 pages responsible for engaging new audience traffic to our website are blog posts:
Focusing Your Efforts to Maximize Your Time
In the diagram of a digital marketing strategy above, the communications platforms (website + blog, email, social media) are presented in a hierarchy to represent where you will find the greatest return on your time investment. Your website is at the top of this hierarchy, email is second, and social media is last.
Your website represents the platform where you are most likely to win someone over to your objectives (i.e. make a sale, earn interest, turn someone out for an event), email is the second most likely platform, and social media is the least likely place to make that win. We can translate this hierarchy into a priorities list of how we should focus our efforts and spend our time.
Email is a superior platform because the people on your email list are more likely to be actively engaged in your work than a social media audience. Email represents the opportunity to correspond with people who you know are already familiar with you work in a setting where they are more likely to devote time to your message. While social media has the potential to reach large numbers of people, the audiences tend to be more fickle.
Blog posts, emails and social media efforts are an important part of this system because they are drivers of new and returning visitors to your website, but a well-designed website that tells the complete story of your business is the most important marketing asset in your toolbox.
You will want to pair your website with at least two traffic drivers – whether that be marketing emails, social media accounts, or a blog. A perfect trio to kick start your efforts is: website + blog, emails, and 1 social media account (See my step-by-step “Bringing it All Together” list below for more information.).
Avoiding Using a Social Media Account as Your Home Base (A.K.A. The Pitfalls of Digital Sharecropping)
Building the home base of your business on a social media platform carries the potential for serious disadvantages when it comes to long-term sustainability.
Sharecropping refers to the system where a landowner employs tenants to work the land in return for a share of their profits. Digital sharecropping is when individual businesses use “rented” land on social media platforms, like Facebook or Instagram, to promote their work. We all become digital sharecroppers when we sign up for a social media profile. The key is in the level of importance we place on that social media account in terms of meeting our objectives, like driving revenue or interest in our creative practice.
As digital sharecroppers, we put ourselves at the mercy of the objectives of the parent social media business. For example, in the olden days of Facebook (!), whenever you posted something to your account – all of your friends or followers would see it (assuming they signed into Facebook). Over the years, Facebook began to employ the use of mathematical formulas, known as algorithms, to decide which posts would be seen by social media followers. Then, they began to intentionally suppress the number of times a post published by a business account would be viewed by the page’s followers in order to force the business to invest in advertising dollars to “boost” their views. This change significantly damaged businesses who relied heavily on visibility through Facebook to sell or promote their products. Starting in March 2016, Instagram also shifted to this model.
When our own, independent website is used as the backbone of our online marketing strategy, we help to reduce this risk. Our content is under our control and will always be ready and available for anyone who would like to see it (provided we use our traffic drivers to get people there!).
Bringing It All Together – Creating a Digital Marketing System that Works for You
Here are my top tips for starting your own digital marketing system:
- Begin with creating or maintaining a website that ascribes to modern best practices. Remember – websites need to be evaluated and updated over time. A poorly designed website may work against your business brand. See this 10-point Checklist for an Awesome Artist Website to evaluate your site.
- Use your website as the “home base” of information about your creative practice including areas to share information about: you and your work; where and how to buy your work; as well as a blog/news section where you may provide timely updates on what you’re doing. Caveat: a “blog post” can be a single image, an inspirational quote or video, or something else very basic. Just remember to always put it into context – why is this video or image meaningful to you?
- Gather email addresses at every opportunity – in every personal interaction, at every exhibit or presentation of your work, through your website and social media accounts… Even if you’re not ready to start sending marketing emails, begin gathering email addresses!
- Start small with email – You can send updates about your work through Tiny Letter (a very basic email marketing platform that functions similarly to your personal email) and, once you’re ready to graduate to something more complicated, I recommend using Mailchimp.
- Pick 1 social media platform to tackle. Consider what your comfort level is with social media and also where your target audience resides. The most common “entry” platform is Facebook, but you may want to consider tackling something different based on your target audience. See this Pew Research article for demographic information on differing social media platforms.
- Publish new updates on your website, and then “push out” those updates through your traffic drivers, like email and social media accounts, to drive people back to your website.