NOTE: This post was originally released in November of 2012.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but recent events have really pressed me to write about this topic. I’ve been super busy running Mayim.
But it’s getting cooler outside, fall is here, and Christmas is around the corner! Time for some pumpkin flavored coffee and a jacket!
Okay, so I want to discuss a key feature of growing a web audience. I basically want to talk about one crucial aspect of running a webcomic in today’s social media climate.
I’ve got a website, a story, and I post regularly. Why can’t I get more followers?
I seek out webcomics on a regular basis. I love reading new stories and new content, and love to see the angles that some comics take on subjects like dinosaurs, time travel and science fiction. Some of the content is great, and the art is usually fantastic.
But something always seems to be missing with the majority of webcomic sites I visit or subscribe to.
Social Media presence.
Now, before you stop me and say “I already have a facebook page/twitter account/Google Plus page/reddit/etcetc”, I want to point out that simply occupying space in the social media sphere is the same as buying land and just sitting on a box in the middle of it.
The existence of a social media account does not equal a social media presence.
(A little info for you: I’ve had Candrai Comics running since 2007 with a recent reboot, and Gem of Atlantis is a little over a year old. Just in case you think I’m a n00b.)
I’ve come across more and more comic artists lately who want to have strong content, but lack the social skills to be able to successfully maintain and grow their brand.
Think of it this way, your personal social skills are the foundation to a social media presence. Unfortunately, if you have social skill issues, (while they may be ovelooked by your friends and family in real life) they become magnified 1000% for all to see when you’re online.
If this makes you a little paranoid, it might not be a bad thing. It isn’t a bad thing to be a little cautious about your tweets, likes and shares when you understand that it’s the equivalent of standing in public, shouting something for anyone to hear.
So when you tweet, make sure that you think about what you say. Your brand can be hurt instantly by an angry tweet against a politician, people group or individual.
But I have political beliefs and I’m thumping for my candidate!
Politicians are polarizing. That’s the point. That’s their brand. But that polarization could irreparably hurt YOUR brand if you want to appeal to the masses and go overboard with your support.
A good rule of thumb is this: The more expansive you want your comic brand to be, the less political and opinionated you should probably become about polarizing issues. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opinion, but just don’t be hateful about it or ultra-polarizing (such as “If you hate ______ then you aren’t human.) Also be aware that ANY polarizing opinion you have will alienate a portion of your readers. Just be aware of that.
That said, if you’re intent is to be polarizing, you have little to fear. This blog post, though, is mostly intended for people who have a more expansive vista in mind for their brand.
Cliques and Clubs and Ignoring other webcomic artists
Before you stop me again and say “Oh man he’s just angry about being rejected so he’s ranting.” I want to say that I work in a fairly polarizing climate. I’m the Senior Web Designer of a newspaper, and have worked in the Publication Industry for almost 10 years.
Publications, by nature, are polarizing. I am fully aware of rejection and acceptance that comes with working in this industry. I have a very thick skin because of it. First and foremost I am a professional, and handle situations as such.
Please be aware that the following instances are not to share pain or complain, but to use these experiences as examples of proper and improper use of social media.
This leads us into the section that I have hesitated to write about for about a year now, but feel that its time has come.
My bad experiences, and my good experiences.
First, the bad
The following experiences are from interacting with other comic artists on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
In no way do I harbor anger or bitterness towards these people. These experiences will be presented as fact-only.
There was once an instance where I tweeted to several comic artists who were having a conversation/conversations over the course of a week or two. I made an effort of tweeting a record of 12-13 times to them, and not one reply whatsoever. Two weeks, and no reply.
At that point, I realized that they were only interested in communicating amongst themselves, so I stopped tweeting to them. I considered this a business decision, because I really need to save my tweets for interacting with people on twitter in a constructive manner, and no longer felt that tweeting to these guys was worth the time I was taking away from tweeting with those who were wanting interaction from other webcomic artists.
ADDENDUM: I want to make sure this is said about a circle of trust: A circle of trust is not a clique. Circles of trust are usually held privately by individuals. Members of someone’s circle of trust will not wear nametags designating them so. Cliques are out in the open, with name badges and public meeting times.
Consider your tweets as investments in others. If those investments yield no results or even harm your brand, move your assets to another arena in which they will create a return. Invest in people who will talk to you, about you, and spread your information as you do the same for them.
Look for the healthy exchange, and run from bad investments.
The anthology experience
In another experience a few years ago, I was invited to a group of webcomic artists who were participating in a comic anthology. I was excited to join, but after a few weeks of announcements, (including providing my own story and getting feedback from other artists in the group) something happened.
One morning I tried to log in, only to find I was ‘Banned for Life’ from their boards (seriously that was the message on the login screen), without warning. It took about two days to finally get ahold of someone who would tell me why, and it was explained that I didn’t have the ‘star power’ that they were looking for for the anthology. I was offered no apology and sent on my way.
(Now honestly, if they wanted more popular artists for the first anthology, I would have understood completely. My webcomic was in hiatus and ready for a relaunch, and I was beginning to write Gem of Atlantis. I would have understood had that been communicated to me. However the situation was, in my opinion, handled poorly.)
Other times I have been confronted by people on Twitter and Facebook for whatever supposed political belief I have had. (I am very careful to not voice political or polarizing statements on social media platforms, as that is not my brand.)
I strongly encourage any political or personal issue to be handled out of the public limelight if possible, and the other person make themselves available for communication. Otherwise it is better to drop the issue and move on.
I am using these experiences both as an example of what to NEVER do to another webcomic artist or digital artist, and because I am sure that if you are reading this, you have had a similar experience in some way. In fact, if you are a webcomic artist, I am sure you must have experienced some form of derision/hate/rejection if you’ve been online for more than a year.
A rule of thumb for interacting with other webcomic artists is this: Always treat other webcomic artists as allies, unless they prove to be otherwise. Even then, remember that you are professional.
We’re a community, not rock-stars.
Some webcomic artists form small groups and sometimes act like stars, which is fine if they have a movie or TV show from their work or work for a comic company.
However if they rarely tweet and interact, and just have a webcomic, inevitably they won’t see and increase in readership and will eventually lose the audience they currently have to some degree.
If you aren’t moving forward, you’re stagnating. Or worse, you’re sliding backwards.
Social Media is… well, social.
Social Media is communal by nature. We need to remember this. The wonderful thing about connecting with other webcomic artists is that if they retweet our work, their audience sees OUR webcomic, and vice versa.
Community is essential to webcomic survival.
We are not lone wolves, and unless we work for Disney, people will not know about our work until we begin sharing it. We must not assume our reputation will be automatic. We must work for it.
Okay, now for the fun part!
My GOOD Experiences
I wanted to get the bad experiences out of the way, before I deal with the good ones. The reason for this is because my bad experiences were just that, but the good experiences are what have kept me engaged and going. I will also totally name names in this section. 🙂
I have been friends with some wonderful artists such as Carsten Bradley, Ursula Dorada, Jules Rivera, Jim Gallo, Carlo Ostrout, Mike Perry, Ajay Young, Kevin Scarborough, David Contreras, Michelle Papadopulous, The Illopond Anthology people (and the exact opposite of the first webcomic group I told you about. I love them), Chris Oatley, AJ Nazzarro, Brandon Carr, Guy Wolek, Claire Whitmore, The amazing Inkd App people Benedict Jones, Justin Salsburey, Lynn Andrews, and so so many more. Seriously just follow my Super Awesomes group on twitter. They’re all there and worth a follow.
These amazing friends have made what I do worth it all. Every time I have a negative experience, these guys are there to help and I’m there to help them. We’re all professionals, but we are all invested in each other, and I wouldn’t trade those friendships for the world.
Build a network and a circle of trust!
I strongly recommend that you build a network of people you can invest in and trust. Social media is as organic as the humans who make it. And you can’t grow readers and a network in a bottle, or in a clique. A clique is to a network as a cancer cell is to the human body. One is a natural being, the other causes death and grows unnaturally and causes destruction.
Building a network takes time, and commitment. However it will feel like no time has gone by and won’t feel like a commitment if you approach people as people, instead of numbers and potential resources.
People are people are people.
Okay I need to know how to build a network of people I trust, how do I start? I don’t have a lot of time and I have a real life!
How to stay social without killing yourself
1. Tweet. This is the first step. Tweet about your day. Tweet about lunch, a movie you’re watching. Let people in on your activities. I’ve made fast friends with people over seemingly mundane tweets. Every tweet is an investment in yourself and your brand.
2. Follow people. Be proactive, and follow those people who look interesting to you. Tweet to them, engage them. They’re real people, and if they’re on social media, they want to chat! Don’t wait for people to follow you!
3. Be positive. Always. It isn’t wrong to talk about bad things, but to be consistent with that is a very bad idea and will cause you to lose readers, followers and friends. Be positive and encouraging. Karma happens, and what you put out will come back to you!
(Side note, unless asked, we need to keep criticism to ourselves. Unless the person knows us, critiques or comments come across as jerkiness. Always always always. They have their circle of trust, and if we haven’t been invited, we don’t need to act like we have been.)
4. Tweet back to everyone. If someone who doesn’t follow you sends you a tweet and they’re a real person, tweet back! That usually means they want to talk to you! If we only talk to our followers, we’re in danger of the rock star mentality. The problem with the rock start mentality is that for every 1,000 who have it, only one is really a rock star. The more humility and compassion we show to others, the more we’ll connect with them. We need to remember that most accounts are manned by real people.
5. Be aware of other people’s comfort levels with you. Lora Innes once said in the PaperWings Podcast that we cannot control other people’s comfort level with us. This has been ringing like a gong in my spirit ever since I heard that. There is so much truth there. We need to be aware that if we are very kind or nice or honest, that it doesn’t mean others will be comfortable with us. The more aware we become of others tweeting habits and comfort levels with people, the more wisdom we will gain in interacting with them.
6. If rejected, shake it off and move on. When I dealt with the rejection from the webcomic artist anthology group, my amazing friend Carsten (whom I had just met at that time) pointed me in the direction of Illopond, another comic anthology group. The experience with these people was one of the most healing I have ever had. The kindness, generosity and encouragement from that group was better than any treatment I had from the first. Rejection is sometimes a way of directing us down a path that is better for us. Whenever I’ve had any of the bas experiences listed above, they have always led to some of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. We need to be careful to not allow rejection to stop us from doing what we love, and opening ourselves to others. You never know when the amazing thing you’ve been waiting for is just around the corner!
I hope that my experiences help you if you’ve gone through anything similarly. I think Dori from Finding Nemo said it best, “Just keep swimming!” and I’d like to add “You never know when you might come across treasure!”
And yes, the treasure is people! 😀