Building a community of art & history lovers

Behind-the-scenes of Smart Art

A little more than half-a-year has passed since the day I launched my experimental Smart Art group on Facebook in early December 2019.

Don’t get me wrong with this tricky word experimental. Back then I simply didn’t know almost anything of how to manage the community or what to do to make it growing, and, most importantly, engaged.

All that I had back then — is a strong and irresistible desire to spread my passion about art and art history and make this part of the international heritage of mankind more accessible to a wider audience of art lovers across the globe.

In the end of the day I made it growing up to almost 3 thousands of highly engaged and supporting group members by trial and error [and not a single marketing $ spend].

☝️ Update August 2020: I have added an important lesson learned at the end of the article.

Part I. Who is a dear Smart Art-er? Or is there any at all?

If you perhaps follow me here or happen to know me by my other art-related projects you would guess that almost all of them were quite far away [put it simply — of zero to none interest] from a normal person who simply loves admiring art as hobby and would like to take some inspiration from a brief art escape, online or offline, from time to time.

The more I was getting into art and plunging into its boundless history myself, the more I realised what a great pleasure and a never-ending source of power and inspiration it is that recharges me and makes this everyday life way more bearable than it sometimes seems to be.

This Fountain of Youth [ha-ha] should be more accessible to people no matter if they are lucky enough to have any special knowledge to get some water from it or not.

I guess you might have heard the talks how art history is generally perceived as a super elitist discipline and could perfectly imagine some academic scholar keeping the stiff upper lip resisting to anything that could make some old master art more touchy-feely for a larger crowd.

There are already tons of content online seeming perfect to feed any appetite in art:

  • popular museum Instagrams with millions of followers [was happy to testify an over a million follower base for Sotheby’s here — read my blog why action houses are no worse than best art museums here];
  • hundreds of personal or commercial art blogs on every platform [Instagram being the leader again since, surprise-surprise, art is all things visual first];
  • even on Facebook there are numerous groups and pages with tens of thousands members and followers who share tons of art for all tastes daily.

But, wait a minute, is there a true connection taking place? Does that really bring art, old master and modern, closer to art lovers?

Being a member of many groups like that myself and following a huge lot of art insta accounts, I quite quicky came to a feeling that these colourful images suddenly start looking like blank noise.

Since

  • either they just post in an image-only mode [name of the artist, title, year don’t count]
  • or contain a rather long boring wall of text or external links [that even if you read the one it leaves no taste in your mouth, or the one you couldn’t remember what it was about five minutes after you read it].

Does this really help me to know the way around in arts and culture, to better understand why it all happened that way and what actually this artwork means, symbolises or talks about? How does all that relate to me today?

Well, if some are keen on fishing, they would eventually want to learn more about the thing and even try themselves, and are less likely to be satisfied with just looking at random images of various fish daily, right?

There had to be a better way — the perfect place for this evergreen motto of any tireless soul of entrepreneur 👩‍🔬👩‍💻🕵️‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Part II. Stats and facts. Smart Art group at a glance

So, I decided to prove this theory right or wrong and create Smart Art group on Facebook, and then see if I would find anyone really sympathetic to the concept.

Each day I pick one great piece of art [hi-res image is a must] and accompany it with a short [less than 1500 characters] curious story about it that I try to write in a witty and conversational tone to make it relatable to any art enthusiast.

The stories are about the artwork background, its symbolism or hidden messages, styles and genres, or the artist who made it and the circumstances of life that provoked it.

I got the ball rolling in late November 2019 and by June 2020 the group grew 100% organically and word-of-mouth to 2.8k members!

So, today it’s my special pleasure to show the behind-the-scenes of our community and share some curious statistics, facts and figures so far.

  1. Well, first of all, the total count — it was growing immensely in the pre-COVID months and then it all slowed down a bit. No wonder, there is a lot of content on Facebook and a huge competition to make your own post to be shown in your reader’s feed.

2. Secondly , this is the community activity — oh, it’s great that people found the content me and other members produce valuable and actively engage with it!

3. Thing that makes me happy is the engagement rate (comments, reactions, active members) month over month, that keeps growing inspite of the fewer posts [I started with two posts daily by myself and then limited to 1 daily + posts by our active members].

Well, comments and active and meaningful discussions — that’s what I find to be a good metric for any community, art history thematic is no exception.

For the majority of cases on social media, posting art images sometimes provokes no discussion at all or simply gets auto-generated comments with kitschy gifs. That’s why I cherish each and every community member who takes a moment to wright something from the heart as a comment to the story — this way I understand that the content I make is interesting and engaging.

Since there are almost no honest benchmarks for this stuff available online, I really hope this could be of any help to anyone trying to build a community.

  • Another good thing is this welcome post that gained over 600 comments by newcomers, introducing themselves to other community members! This just huge!
  • I mean, of course, I try to answer each and every welcome comment, so easily cut this numer by two. And still it means that some 300 people out of 3k group took time to write something about themselves and the art they love. 10% of super-engaged people who care that much! That’s something I really cherish.

Now let’s look at some fun facts like where our members come from and who they are.

Almost 50:50 gender ratio! And it was like that starting from day 1, unbelievable! And it’s super cool to see that the age range is also very balanced.

To art all ages yield surrender…

And here is the top-10 countries our members come from [the official language of all the posts is English].

To wrap it up, I’ll get back to the overall headcount number yet again. Could it be way bigger?

Could some of the much longer existing art groups of tens of thousands members be a role model?

Perhaps.

Though what I honestly find the most important is not the number of people who opted in, though that of members who stay active and engaged.

Quality over quantity, as simple as that.

As it is allowed by the Facebook group functionality, I have set up 2 basic questions [plus “rules read and accepted” tick] a prospective community member is asked upon his application to join.

Majority of people do care to answer briefly, some eventually don’t. Some profiles seem real [like, belong to real people], some are clearly fradulent spam bots who just make reposts of no matter what crap every 2 minutes.

The core thing here was to prevent such bots from being accepted and keep the community a safe place for those who really care.

You see that almost 50% of now total headcount was declined on application.

That brings us to the 65% acceptance rate, phew! :-)

☝️ There is really a ton of spam bot accounts at Facebook crawling pages and invading groups, gradually getting their engagement down and a group quality lower.

So, that basically means that I could’ve get 4500 members in 6 months and that would certainly look prettier on paper, though that would never be a really valuable and living community.

Part III. Feedback and What’s next?

Numbers are always interesting and won’t lie, however real people’s feedback written in their own words truly means the world.

You may have noticed a screenshot of a comment from reddit (at the bottom left of the picture above).

I did posts some of my stories there too (r/ArtHistory is really cool!) and got lots amount of love from folks there [and I enjoyed reading their sometimes hilarious comments!].

I grew my carma to almost 11k (I’m u/marinavia there), which is rather impressive, but didn’t achieve that sense of a real community, I guess.

Now, looking back to these 7 months, could I say that I managed to prove my initial idea that art history could be made more open and accessible to people and they do really need that?

I guess I did.

Could it grow to become something bigger and bring more value and joy to art lovers than a close community on Facebook does?

I believe yes.

to be continued…

Update August 2020

A month after the release of this blog Facebook have unexpectedly shut down the group for no apparent reason (like, there were some Community Rules violations detected, which they didn’t specify). This did come out of the blue and I immediately contacted the Facebook human reviewers to correct that mistake. Unfortunately, the group has been “in review process” ever since.

The main lesson I learned here is that one should always carefully analyse all the risks of creating something at a third-party resource. It turns out we do really have no control of the communities we build there.

I might have been deeply discouraged and devastated by this unfortunate event. I was at first.

I then concentrated all my efforts on bringing Smart Art back to life in our own iOS app and couldn’t be more content to see what we managed to make out if it. Welcome to check it out!

My name is Marina Viatkina and I am an art collector, researcher and art advisor. You may read my other art-related articles, watch videos or reach out to discuss this blog and address your art enquiries here or on my website marinaviatkina.com.

Entrepreneur, artist, researcher and art collector → marinaviatkina.com

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