A.K.A. "Ballin' on no Budget"
I wrote this piece a few months ago but never got around to posting it. Updated images to be more accurate.
Hi! My name's Michael Son, Director of Content at Tapastic, BUT formally social media manager and intern! Brian Orlando started our Facebook page with Min Kim and Katherine Xu a few years ago, but I was brought on board to really scale it out. Then after about a year and half, Lisa took the reigns and experimented a lot. More recently, I've taken over the social media side again.
I thought it'd be fun to share with everyone some insights of growing out a social media presence without spending any money.
Disclaimer: it's a lot easier to grow out your social media presence if you spend money... haha.
Part 1: Tools of the Trade
There are tons of free services for you to utilize when it comes to building your social media presence.
This is a free-to-use platform that allows you to schedule posts out in advance. So if you have some time over the weekend, you can set aside a few hours to schedule out posts for the upcoming week. This is super helpful if you don't have time to post everyday or if you're like me and are forgetful.
Not only that, but they also utilize ow.ly links which keep track of engagement.
You can utilize Hootsuite for Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Wordpress, and LinkedIn. Currently, Tumblr does not have an api, which means you'll have to use Tumblr's own schedule post mechanisms.
I can't recommend Bitly enough. Sure, you can use Ow.ly links via Hootsuite, but Bitly presents data is a much cleaner way. You can look at how engagement looks like throughout the different hours of a day which allows you to make better informed decisions of when you should post (hours, day, etc).
Not only that but searching for old links is super easy.
I know, I know. Spreadsheets are BORING, but they're super helpful when it comes to recognizing trends and keeping track of experiments. The whole point of social media is to experiment and see what works and slowly refine your posts to optimize engagement and reach.
Here's a snippet of my spreadsheet from 2 years ago:
And I'll save you the trouble of linking to the curiously titled "My Penis is a Goat." You're welcome.
There are a ton of other free services that you should take advantage of, but for now, I'd recommend starting off with these three in conjunction with one another.
Part 2: The Cold Start Problem (A.K.A. "The Friends and Family Plan")
Starting off is the most difficult part of the process. Day 01, you're going to have 1 fan, which should be yourself. I know this sounds weird, but you have to be your biggest fan! Is it slightly embarrassing to like and share your own posts? Definitely. But you have to start somewhere.
Before I joined, we held a Halloween Contest whereby you could submit comics and vote on which was your favorite. We gave out prizes and what not - but the results were really lackluster (which is why we never tried it again).
After I joined, I decided to invite every single one of my friends on Facebook to like and share the page. I created an Event and asked for favors all the while drawing little "thank-you" notes to whoever posted in the Event page. We got 50 new likes that way. YAY.
I know a lot of people are reluctant to tap into this resource but it's really important to start with something and build that out. When trying to grow your initial readership, it's important to work within the ecosystem you're trying to thrive in. For instance, if you're building out a Facebook fan page, then you should market yourself via Facebook.
I understand that it might be embarrassing for your family and friends to know you're doing webcomics, or that you might not be comfortable with them knowing about it (webcomics is a pretty personal endeavor). But if at all possible, invite those you trust. Even if it's just 3 people, it's a start.
After that, start interacting with every single person who LIKES or COMMENTS on your posts. If it's a simple LIKE on a post, comment on the post and thank them personally. This isn't scalable in the long run, but when you're first starting out, you need to do things that aren't scalable. Draw a celebratory post when you hit your first 10 likes, your first 100, 1000, etc. Get to know your first handful of fans on a first name basis because they're going to be the ones who are going to like, comment and share your work most frequently. This also applies to your Tapastic series - when it comes to engagement, personal interactions go a long way.
It's important in the beginning to create good user behavior. I think that's where I went most wrong when first starting on the Tapastic Facebook Page. You'll notice from the spreadsheet snippet that we weren't getting a whole ton of comments. The page wasn't super interactive... it was more like a casual page where you'd see our posts pop up on your newsfeed and think "oh that's cute" or "oh that's clever" and you MIGHT click on like.
I wish I could have injected more personality into the page from the get-go and make people look forward to not only seeing the posts but also looking forward to interacting with us.
Basically... put yourself out there. Even if you're not comfortable socializing in person (ME), you can create an online persona that's full of confidence or snarky witticisms.
Part 3: Link vs Image Posting (A.K.A. Grow vs Growth)
Featured above is a pretty typical post by us on Facebook. Proportionately, we get a healthy number of engagement relative to the number of likes on the page. It's an image based post with a bitly link.
And here, we have a link based post (which also happens to be shared from the HJ Story Facebook page, who you should definitely check out because he's seriously doing some amazing work with social media).
So, first thing you'll notice is that image based posts tend to see a much higher reach and overall more engagement. The post by Dami Lee got 325+ likes opposed to HJ Story's post which got 25+ likes. But notice the ratio between likes+shares+comments to reach. With a fraction of the engagement of Dami Lee's post, HJ Story is able to garner proportionately more reach (and although it's not displayed, a much higher click through conversion).
Okay. So you might be wondering why wouldn't we simply stick to link based post to drive more traffic to the site??
If you look through the Tapastic facebook page, you'll notice almost 98% of our posts are image based.
Link based marketing is great if you want to drive traffic to the site and is an important behavior to get your readership used to. But notice that the HJ Story post didn't get any shares. That's right, 0 shares. Meaning that a vast majority of the 4.7k people reached are organically already likely to be following our Facebook page.
This is opposed to the Dami Lee post which has 63 shares. Of those 9.4k people reached, there's a higher probability that they weren't already following us. And the end results? Dami Lee's post netted us a total of 72 new likes while HJ Story's netted us only 2. This is net gain, meaning there were a few people that unfollowed us for those posts (yeah... it happens).
So the image based approach is really important for reach and growth.
Disclaimer: This is a not-so-humble brag.
For organic growth, you always have to find that fine line between driving traffic to your own site or your Tapastic page and growing out your presence on those social media platforms. It's very difficult and incredibly time consuming.
But if you're patient and stay with it, every once in a while you get these runaway successes. We were able to convert 10k click through (still proportionately less than link based posts), but were able to net 2,000 new likes for the Facebook page. The long term benefits? Higher click through for subsequent posts.
Image based posts that are able to go viral or just increase your reach in general will have long term benefits for your link based posts.
So you have to diversify your posts. If you are updating weekly with comics, you should definitely have those as link posts, but build separate image based posts around it throughout the week.
Part 4: Scaling Growth (A.K.A. "Growth Hacking is a Silly Term")
One of the many dangers of running a social media presence is spending way too much time on it. This is part of the reason why I think so many creators feel like it's not worth the investment or how sometimes I hear that artists feel overwhelmed.
I think the amount of time you spend on branding/social media presence should be a lot at the beginning and slowly become less and less as time goes on. If you consistently update and see a healthy % of engagement that means as time goes on, you'll start to grow in terms of reach, engagement and overall likes on the page. Basically, in the long run, you should be spending less time while seeing better results. Conversely, in the beginning you should be spending lots of time and seeing little results... haha.
It is what it is.
I limited myself to spending around 2 hours on the weekend finding and figuring out what kind of content I'd be posting for the week ahead. During the week, I spent around 10 minutes a day filling out the spreadsheet, and responding to comments. So in total, I was spending roughly 3 hours a week on social media, which is pretty low.
At first, we were shotgunning out content. Posting twice a day with a wide variety of things like drawings of sushi, random infographics, inspirational quotes from Neil Gaiman, pictures of my face (no.....), etc. It's this weird balance between finding out what your readers enjoy, and what you personally enjoy posting. While it's strange to recommend comprising yourself, you really need to be open to figuring out what works best.
We found out that pictures of my face perform very poorly. So, we stopped that. You're welcome.
Oh, people don't really like random info about coffee? Scrap that.
Inspiration quotes and feel good comics are performing well? Interesting. Let's double down on that and see if that trend continues!
Even if the content doesn't directly come from you, you should try sharing stuff that you think is cool and is tangentially related. Are you doing a fantasy comic? Post a link to that reference blog of medieval swords that you use (here you go, in case you were wondering). Or maybe, you're reading a cool comic that you think your fans would also enjoy? Post that too!
I think the problem with a lot of guides for social media marketing are so vague and open ended that it pretty much overwhelms you with options. You have to remember that people are following your page because they either like you, or like your content, so don't be afraid of showcasing your personality and personal tastes. If they unfollow or unlike your page, they probably weren't going to engage with your posts anyway (I tell myself this every night as I cry myself to sleep).
So post process photos, what your work space looks like, draw cut outs of your characters and post them in random spots around your city, go redacted (Tapastic does not advocate vandalism), draw your OCs hanging out with other OCs, DO FANART, draw some of your fans hanging out with your OCs, draw MY otps (what..).
Other "helpful" topics I've made:
-Why No One Likes Your Art
-How Do You Make Money Off Of Your Art?
-Where Have My Nipples Gone?