Gaining A Following

Growing a Social Following from Nothing (article) - Matthew Barby



Remember how I said marketing is all about attracting new supporters and maintaining existing ones? Well when you’re first starting out, your focus should be primarily on the former.

First, I want to talk about the different places and approaches you can take to increase your audience.


Avenues For Gaining Supporters

Social Media Platforms



Obviously social media has become a massively important avenue for artists to gain support for their work. Of course not all artists have a strong social media presence, myself included, but given the widespread influence of these platforms, I think it’s important to at least understand and consider the advantages and tools given by them before deciding what’s best for you.

First, some general tips for being successful on social media:

  • Participate in monthly and special writing/drawing events. Mermay, spooktober, 24h comic day, NaNoWriMo… monthly themes are always trendy on social media, and can be helpful for gaining new followers as people tend to browse the hashtags (so make sure to use them if you do participate).

  • Find out what platforms work for you, and stick to those. It’s easy to burn yourself out trying to run a whole handful of different social media platforms. If you ever feel like it’s becoming too much for you to manage, I encourage you to instead of trying to juggle all the platforms, focus your efforts on those that are already working well for you. It’s much easier to grow a pre-existing following than a brand new one.

  • Know what time of day to make your posts. Ideally you want to make your posts when the most of your followers are browsing social media so that you reach the maximum number of people. Obviously the time someone browses at will vary from person to person, but as a general rule, people are most active on social media right before they start work and right after they finish work. Presumably this is because it’s when people are in their daily commute. Most of my followers are US/Canada based, so I usually try to schedule my promotional posts for 9 am or 5 pm east coast time (EDT). Obviously you don’t have to schedule every single one of your posts to occur at the strike of 8:50 am, but knowing when your following is most active will help ensure high engagement.


Facebook

Facebook was very important for me when I first began promoting my comic.

Most of your Facebook contacts are probably your friends and family. Those are the exact people you want to target when first starting out because they’re the ones who are going to support you no matter what you create. They’ll be the easiest people to convince to join your audience. They’ll follow you for you, and not necessarily for your work itself, which is both good and bad. When I created my Facebook page for my comic, almost all of my initial followers were friends and family.

Facebook is great for:

  • Gaining an initial following. Make sure to invite your friends and family to come support you!

  • Sending updates to existing followers. While not the best, the average Facebook newsfeed is less crowded than other social media sites.

Quick Tips:

  • Facebook ranks posts based on engagement. Try to create posts that get your followers liking, commenting or sharing them. Ask questions to your audience, get them to vote on things with their “likes”, host contests where they can win something if they share your page…

  • Facebook ranks visual posts (photos, videos) higher than pure text posts. Spice up your basic text posts with an image to show up in more news feeds.

  • If you have a special event coming up, create a Facebook event for it through your page. Everyone who signs up will get notifications for it and will be able to follow it back to your main page.

  • If you have a website, add links to it on your main page and in the description of your profile and cover photos. You want people to have easy access to more info about your comic. Some creators add a “Click here for X” message to their cover photos to get people clicking on them so that it pops up the description that contains links to their site.

There are also quite a few Facebook pages dedicated to promoting comics:


Twitter

As my following grew a bit larger, I found that Facebook worked nicely for sending updates to existing followers but it was less helpful for gathering new supporters (your mileage may vary). This is where Twitter excels. I found Twitter to be one of the most useful platforms for gaining new followers and supporters that aren’t your direct friends and family.

The advantage Twitter has over Facebook is that it is far easier for new people to come across your stuff. This is simply because there’s just a lot more content on Twitter. The average person posts way more frequently on Twitter than they do on Facebook. Unfortunately, this results in news feeds that are absolutely crowded with content making it less likely that any given post gets seen by your existing followers.

Twitter is great for:

  • Picking up new followers. Like I said, people are more likely to share each others stuff on Twitter so you’re more likely to appear on other people’s newsfeeds

Quick Tips:

  • Follow and engage with people who tweet similar content to you. By commenting on someone’s tweets, you’ll help with their engagement, introduce yourself to their audience, and most importantly, potentially make you some friends in the industry. You really don’t want to force this though. Be genuine, and approach it with the intent of having positive engagements and making new connections. It’s really easy to spot the intentions of someone who’s chatting with you simply to increase their audience.

  • Don’t bulk follow random people. Following 10,000 randoms in the hope that they follow you back is a waste of time. Even if they do follow you back, unless their purpose aligns with your brand and purpose, they won’t ever be engaging with your content. Numbers mean nothing unless they’re actually going to show up and support you when the time comes. It’s also really obvious when you do that kind of stuff and makes you look like a bot. Be skeptical if you see an account that follows over 5k people.

  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Because Twitter is so crowded, people will often miss your posts. If you have important information to share, retweet it again the next day! Again, just don’t be obnoxious about it.

  • Use those hashtags! Using trending and long term hashtags like #indiecomics, #comics, #webcomics… will help your posts be discovered by more people. Avoid clogging up a tweet with them though, or Twitter might think you’re spamming and lower the score of your post.

  • Pin important posts to your page. Got a Kickstarter running or a new piece of art to sell? Pinning key posts will stick them to the top of your page, ensuring more people see them when they click on your profile. Many people use their pinned post as a mini portfolio, often linking to other social media accounts, or websites where people can buy their products.

  • Make polls. Twitter polls are a great way to engage with your audience since they take a low amount of effort to participate in.

  • Examine the posts of successful accounts. Accounts with thousands of followers have them for a reason. By looking into their posts, you can hopefully learn a few strategies that you can implement in your own posts. Also…

  • Examine the followers of those successful accounts. Twitter lets you see the followers of other people. Go to the pages of successful accounts that align with your brand and purpose. What’s common about their followers? How can you appeal to them as well?


Tumblr

I haven’t used Tumblr much (and I hear it’s been on the downhill lately) but I know a few creators who use it to post art or weekly strips. Some even use it to host their webcomics.


Instagram

Another platform I have little experience with. Instagram is (from what I’ve heard) one of the better social media platforms out there for artists. Instagram is heavily focused on visual art so is less useful for pure writers (unless you can get creative). That said, I have heard of a few writers having success there.


Reddit

Reddit is a giant message board with a bunch of sections (subreddits) designated to specific topics. There are tons of subreddits out there that you can use to promote your comics.

Reddit is also useful for finding more specific fandoms. If you’re making a western horror comic, be on the lookout for both and western subreddits who’s readers you can market to. The more specific subreddit you can find, the more likely the readers there will overlap with your ideal audience.


Twitch / YouTube

Many artists find success by streaming their work on Twitch and/or YouTube. While I’ve made a few videos, I consider myself more of a professional YouTube watcher than producer. Still, I’ve still picked up on a few techniques you can use.

  • Themed sessions. Speed draws, AMAs (ask me anything), suggestions from the audience, a “Draw This In Your Style” with popular characters… By giving your streams themes, you can add some variance to your sessions, and give your audience something to be interested in as opposed to the plain old “Art stream #73”

  • Host joint streams with other artists. Panels / Q&As, shared drawing sessions using platforms like Aggie.io, or even just hang outs or gaming sessions are useful ways to give you and your friends access to a wider audience by pooling your followings together.


Patreon

While I’ve never used it myself, Patreon is proving to be a fantastic platform for comic artists. The advantage it has over all other platforms is that it both acts as a social media platform to gain followers, but also as a funding source because those followers are paid subscribers to your feed. I unfortunately don’t have any advice for you on how to best use the platform, but I definitely encourage you to give it some consideration.


Comic Forums

  • Zwol: An old forum that has recently started regaining steam. Gets a solid amount of eyes.

  • Digital Webbing: Long lasting and still quite active comic forums for writers, artists, letterers and other creators. FANTASTIC for finding collaborators.

  • ComixCentral: A quite new digital comic publishing platform with their own dedicated forums.


Others

Wattpad: “The world’s largest community for readers and writers” (according to them at least).

DeviantArt: Not specific to comics but houses a massive collection of artists. Also has writers though they are less common.

Mastodon: Social media site with curated news feeds dedicated to a single topic like art or writing.


Ads



Many people have found success promoting their work via Google or social media ads. I’ve only run a handful of ads myself, some successful, some not, but I do know of others who swear by them.

Ads actually function largely in a similar way to any regular social media post would (especially so if you’re running an ad on a social media platform). The difference here is that while social media posts don’t need to have any specific focus or call to action, ads have the explicit goal of getting people to click on them, either to follow you or to buy your stuff. You can absolutely make regular social media posts that follow this structure, and so many of the tips here will apply to your standard posts as well.

Quick Tips:

  • Know the purpose of the ad. Are you trying to gain more followers? Get people to visit your store or back your Kickstarter? Buy a specific book? Your ads should have a clear, tangible goal in mind so that you can both design them to suit that purpose, and also so you can clearly measure the results afterwards.

  • You need a “Call to Action”. A call to action is the specific action you want the person who sees your ad to take. If I saw your ad and liked it, what do I do now? You want to make it super clear for the viewer to know what to do next, else you risk losing their attention. “Subscribe now to stay in the loop!” Quick, clear, actionable things that I can do. Your call to action should tie in directly with your ad’s purpose. If you want people to buy your book, call on them to “Buy the book now, before it’s gone!”

  • Add immediacy to your ads to make people click sooner. Someone might click away from your ad if they don’t feel an immediate need to respond to it. There’s two main ways of achieving this:

    • The first is by simply straight up telling the viewer to act now. “Subscribe today” has more urgency than a simple “subscribe”. Buy when? “Buy now”. It’s simple, but people are proven to respond better to requests with a specific time specified.

    • The second is by implying a limited time offer. People are often motivated by scarcity (curse you capitalism). If something has the potential to run out, it means it’s more valuable, and thus more desirable. It’s why so many tv ads say “Get it while supplies last.” It hooks people in and prevents them from thinking they can just check it out later.

  • Once the ad campaign has finished, measure the results. If your goal was to gain email list subscribers, how many did you get? If you wanted to make sales, did you earn more than you spent? If you wanted more people reading your webcomic (aka impressions), what was the cost of each new viewer? This may seem obvious, but if you don’t formally analyze the result of your ads, you won’t be able to assess their success. There’s no hard number to dictate whether or not the ads were “worth” it (though you could say they were if you at least broke even on sales), so you’re going to have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the effort to continue with ads. Most ads programs have a built in analytics system for you to track all this information, but you may need to get familiar with Google Analytics to track things more in depth.

  • Run multiple ads in parallel and compare their success. If your goal is to run ads for a longer period of time, you’ll want to be learning how to most effectively run them. A quick way to do this is by running two or more ads at the same time, each with different wording and images and then comparing the results of them after a period of time. Ask yourself which ones worked best, why, and then ask how you can replicate that in your future ads.


Email Lists



TBD


Blogs and Podcasts



I haven’t personally put a lot of effort into reaching out to blogs to schedule articles about my work, but some people find it a useful way to get attention for their upcoming stories.

Podcasts can be fun, especially if you click well with the hosts. Depending on the size of their listener base, you may get a few new people checking out your stuff, but personally I haven’t found them to be the most efficient way of gaining supporters. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do them, I just find they’re best for networking more than anything as you’ll probably get friendly with the hosts.

Quick Tips:

  • Build a press packet / press release. Blogs, especially the popular ones, get tons of requests for articles. They don’t have time to research each and every submission, so if you want a better shot at getting accepted, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to write about you. Link them to a few high res photos of your book mockup, preview art, or interior pages that they can use to accompany the article. Give them a brief pitch / write up of the book, a summary of your comics experience, the book release date, pull quotes, links to where people can get more information… The more info you can give them in advance, the less work they need to do to get the article made, which again makes them more willing to showcase your stuff. Because they’re so stretched for time, blogs will actually often publish your write ups word for word so make sure they’re formatted the way you want them to be presented.


Strategies For Increasing Your Audience



Okay, now that you know what your ideal audience is and where you can potentially find them, it’s time to actually start growing that following!

But how exactly do you go about doing that? Should you be posting pages from your story that you’re really proud of? Time lapses of your art? Comparisons of your thumbnails next to your final pages? Portraits of your characters? Fan art that has nothing to do with your story? There are many, many different ways you can engage with your audience online, and different people find success in each of them. Unfortunately there’s no magic technique that’s going to double your following overnight, but there are certain techniques you can take advantage of that will hopefully make the process a little easier for you.

The key here is to find fun and interesting ways of sharing your content with people that gets them excited enough in either you or your project to want to see more. Now, that’s not a revolutionary statement, and I promise I’ll do my best to cover some real, actionable things that you can do, but really everything I’m going to share just boils down to that.

Like I said, there are a lot of different techniques you can employ to engage with your audience. However, regardless of your approach, you always want your posts to both stand out from the crowd, and be immediately eye catching. Because of this, the more visually engaging you can make your posts, the better the response will be. Posting a colourful painting of your characters in action will almost always get you more engagement than a simple text Tweet about it. Because of the fast paced nature of social media, wall-of-text posts tend to get scrolled past unless the message is short and interesting. It’s why you see a lot of trending text posts are actually screen grabs. Visuals > text.

Also, vary your content when possible. While it is important to overly repeat yourself on social media, and maintaining a specific post style / brand can definitely be beneficial, posting that same promotional image over and over, day after day is probably going to annoy your audience. By mixing up the content you produce, you’ll be able to stay fresh as well as attract different people to your profile.

But I’m just starting out! I barely have any finished art yet!

Don’t worry.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Fortunately, not everything you post has to be a finished product. When I was first starting out in comics, I was posting pretty basic stuff like concept art, thumbnails and character designs for my first story. It wasn’t much, but people were still engaging with my posts, and my follower count was gradually increasing.

While you may think these things aren’t significant enough to post about, gathering a following takes time, so why not start interacting with people as early as you can? There are plenty of people out there who are genuinely interested in seeing the full comic making process, even the early, less impressive parts, and it’s a good opportunity to experiment with the different platforms and to learn about how best to navigate them. Worst case scenario people aren’t interested and simply don’t engage with your posts, so you might as well give it a shot.

Posting your incomplete work is also a nice way to take some pressure off yourself. It’s easy to burn yourself out on social media, seeing everyone’s amazing posts and thinking you need to make a post a day but simultaneously only allowing yourself to post fully rendered paintings or completed comic pages. That’s simply not true! Of course, quantity isn’t necessarily better than quality, and blasting out dozens of incomplete scribbles every day probably isn’t a great idea if you want to retain a consistent following, but do remember that some people like seeing the full process, so try not to worry too much about making every single one of your posts a perfect work of art.

You may prefer not to do this, but I also found that posting my rough work was a good opportunity to poll my supporters. I would do things like post multiple versions of my comic’s logo and get people to vote with their “likes” for their favourite design.

We’ll talk more about this later, but some of the best marketing campaigns focus on directly engaging the audience. By getting your followers involved in the process itself, they’ll start becoming more invested in your product because they feel like they played a part in its creation. It doesn’t matter how small the contribution, they’ll want to see your project succeed because they put effort into it themselves. It’s also a good way to get some extra feedback as to what works for your audience and what doesn’t, which is always a nice little bonus.


Fan Art. Yes or No?



Ah the age old question.

Following trends and what’s popular in the art community tends to be a quick and easy way to get more popular posts. This is both because people engage more with things they already know and love, and because art trends usually come along with hashtags that people can easily search through to find you. Even at conventions, in my experience, fan art sells significantly better than original art. So then is that the trade off? Do you need to sacrifice making your own, original content in favour of art trends if you want to have social media success?

Lets go over an example first.

Say you’re making a western webcomic called “Cowboy Steve”. You want to promote the comic somehow, so you post promo art and sample pages to Instagram in the hopes that people like it. To complement your comic, you also do fan art of famous cowboys like Woody, or John Marston, and post them to your Instagram as well. You also post that fan art to Toy Story and Red Dead Redemption fan pages and subreddits with links back to your Instagram. Your posts on those subreddits get tons of engagement because you’re posting the exact content that followers of those pages would appreciate, and that results in lots of people visiting your instagram and seeing your other posts about your comic, which in turn results in more readers for your comic.

It’s a pretty generic example, but hopefully illustrates the point that fan art and other art trends can be used as a tool to gather interest in your personal projects by hooking people in with something familiar to them.

Ultimately it’s up to you what you want to do with your social accounts. Yes, fan art does sell well, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it to find success. Many, many artists get by just fine without it. To me, the important takeaway here is once again to know the kind of person your content appeals to, and where/how to reach those people. If you can hook those people into your work somehow, the hope is that eventually they’ll become just as passionate about you and your story as they are about other similar ones. Fan art is just one avenue of achieving that.


Common Mistakes



Like I previously mentioned, don’t try and boost your follower numbers by going on Twitter and mass following a bunch of random people. While you may get some people following you back, those numbers won’t actually mean much. In fact, they could actually be detrimental to your campaign!

Lots of social media sites are now deciding what content shows up on people’s news feeds based on the “quality” of each post. The quality of a post is often determined by the number of people engaging with it relative to the number of followers you have. If you get a bunch of people following you simply because you followed them, and not because they find your content interesting, odds are they’re not going to “like” or share your posts very often. This would mean that your percentage of engagement would actually drop (more followers but little to no increase in engagement), resulting in your posts dropping in “quality” and thus showing up on fewer people’s feeds.

Ultimately you want to remember that your goal is to gain loyal supporters. The kind of people who will actually step up and support your project when the time comes.

While having an extra 1000 followers is great, getting another 50 loyal supporters is even better.