It was a cold day in February. I can still remember that day.
It wasn't that busy at my job. Just another day of mostly waiting for feedback. So I took the liberty to surf around the internet for a bit. Like every day before, I checked DeviantArt. I had posted some art some while ago. I submitted it to some groups, but didn't quite get the response that I hoped for. Let alone; the feedback. It's hard to get feedback on your art. Nowadays most people just fave and run, or tell you that your work is awesome (which is sweet, of course) without any further explanation. Most of the art forums that I used to reside on, where either dead, or I'd outgrown the user-base so much that I was at the point that there weren't any more talented users that could give me feedback anymore. If I had to wrap it up in just one word: Frustrating. That's what is was.
Of course I had my idols on DeviantArt. Famous people like yuumei en sakimichan whose watchers hit those astronomical 5 numbers and never seemed short of feedback. But also smaller people like Ysa, neonoi, SeraphVenaticus (formerly SeraphLimonade), K-Koji, Suzanne-Helmigh, AishaxNekox (who later left the site), TotenVeloren (who also left), Flayu, CharlotteChambers or sionra (If some of you read this by any chance, because you're notified. Thanks a lot for the inspiration). People that probably had never seen me, or heard of me, because I mostly behaved as a silent lurker around their pages. I sometimes did reply to them. But as, over time, I never got a reply back, it just felt pointless commenting on their stuff. I couldn't say anything other than all those other people already said. And they must've heard they were amazing for over a million times already.
Yeah, I knew some of those 'famous' artist. One them being a girl that was on the same forum as me. Her drawings didn't look that much better than mine, yet she was insanely popular on the internet. When I asked her about the secret how she did it, she told me there was no such thing as a secret. She had been on DeviantArt for years, spend a lot of time in the chatboxes, and therefore gained a lot of friends. That her art was pretty decent did help her, yet it wasn't the reason why she accumulated so many followers. At that time, I didn't spend too much time thinking about it. I just accepted the fact that my art probably sucked and I needed to get better, and I went along with my practice. I sought some groups that were aimed to giving feedback to (beginning) artists, so I could at least get some feedback on how to improve, and just went on.
The turning point was that February day. I had just accumulated my 500th watcher. As a matter of fact; the counter hit 501 when I logged off that day. When I looked at the counter the next day, it fell back to 499.
Looking back now, the whole thing seems like a non-issue. I mean; there were people dying from hunger all over the world, the economy collapsed and left many people jobless, and I was worrying about a stupid counter. But back then, 1 watcher was one person less that could give me feedback. And I did already get so little feedback. Regardless all the effort I took in improving art, people chose to unwatch me. They weren't probably interested in my art anymore. And that was what bothered me.
Up until then, I never thought about what would make those so-called idols so popular. I always assumed that it was their art. They were good with art, I wasn't. That was why they were popular, and I wasn't. But when I became a bit better in art myself, and took a closer look, I would learn that after a certain amount, the number of watchers had little to do with the quality of their art. Of course, there was a certain quality standard that had to be met in order to be popular. A simple stick-man wouldn't just cut it. But the quality standard wasn't that damn high. You didn't need to be the next Da Vinci in order to get noticed. Not at all.
The next few things that came to mind were either luck or fanart. But my background in marketing learned that there was no such thing as sheer luck. From a marketing standpoint even fanart was just a well aimed product at a target group that was obviously represented on DeviantArt. And all that thinking brought me back to a social media workshop I had attended for my job a few months before that. A workshop in which the teachers explicitly told there was no such thing as good product or a bad product to market. But that marketing was all about targeting the right group of people and reminding them that you were there, a lot. A whole damn lot. Social media experts said that, in order to be active on a site like Facebook, you had to post at least twice a week, to remind your followers you were there. Yeah, I can hear you thinking... that's a whole damn lot.
From that point on, I decided that it would be fun to start some kind of social media experiment. I'm curious by nature. I've always been so. And I had indeed been feeling a bit bored lately.
The medium of my choice was DeviantArt. A site that I was already pretty familiar around, but was yet known little about by social media experts. The reason for that? Probably because DeviantArt has a very specific target group and therefore isn't that interesting to many big company's. Nevertheless, it was interesting to me. I was an artist.
The "product" was simple. It was something I had already been working on for years; my art. And more specifically, the art that revolved my project; Emion. Sure, I could've changed the subject. I could've made a lot of fanart in order to get a bigger target group (Regardless of what people say; DeviantArt is still aimed towards fanart -- all research shows that). But I wanted to stay true to myself. I never really enjoyed making fanart myself, so why would I do that now? I'd like to stay true to myself.
So I started following the "guidelines" as they were described by many social media experts all over the internet. Posting often -- not as often as 2 times a week, though. I didn't have the time, nor the inspiration, to produce 2 artworks a week while keeping quality consistent. I replied to people on forums, actively. Started posting at the right times, on which many people were online. I gave out llama's to many people. I wrote critiques and elaborate comments on artworks. I tried getting my works up and featured in journals and groups. I actively thanked every single new watcher. And gradually, I came to know many more people.
Half February, I reached 700 watchers. In just 2 weeks I had accumulated 200 more followers. More than I'd got in a year, before the whole marketing experiment. I was quite satisfied. But as curious as I was, I wanted to keep this up and see how far it would get me. Regardless of the results, something like that would be a great learning experience. And it honestly was.
Although I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the concept of marketing already, I could not have foreseen the madness that this one-man-show brought me.
And with madness I mean; madness. Literally.
I learned soon enough that when you draw a lot of attention to yourself, you have to phrase your words carefully. And that not everybody can appreciate the slightly provoking way of debate that's so normal here in the Netherlands. I learned about the journal portal in a painful way. I learned about journals going viral, about 10.000 people reading such a thing in less than 24 hours, and about the buzz it brings to the community. About articles that even spread to other social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. But I also learned those things are a great tool for uniting the community, for spreading love, starting discussions about important subjects, and giving unknown artists a chance to get their art out there. A chance they wouldn't have had otherwise. A chance that I would've loved to had when I was still struggling with getting feedback.
I learned that popularity isn't all fun, even though many people tell you you're awesome. That's it's hard expressing your opinion without getting massive hate. And that you shouldn't bother about every single person hating you, because the more people will know you, the more will hate you -- and some of those people will hate you for the stupidest reasons. I learned to stand up for myself and my opinion, even though my thoughts might be controversial. I learned how to have reasonable discussions in English, even though it's not my first language. But the most important thing that I learned is that those words... my very thoughts, that are so simple for me to write down, have the power to inspire many people out there.
In some way, I learned to see the other side. I can seriously imagine famous people going insane. Because the idea that you're in a glass cage and everybody is watching every step you do, is indeed quite suffocating. I'm only known for my art on the internet by a few people. I haven't got crowds of fans waiting for me everywhere I go. In real life I'm only a fairly known webdeveloper. And even I have experienced that suffocating feeling. I've gained a great deal of respect for famous people here, on DeviantArt, that are able to handle it, and are able to make their career out of it. Because I can honestly say that I wouldn't be able to do it. I don't have the same strength.
I can see the other side now, of those people not answering their messages. When I'm away for the weekend, I have about 2000 new messages pending. I now have automatic systems running that make a selection in the messages that I need to answer, to be able to handle the inbox flooding (Yeah... I should've hired someone. But I'm broke XD). And even then I sometimes completely forget some messages (I'm sorry T__T). From experience I can tell that, when you hit the 1000+ watchers, you won't be able to recognize them anymore. I often see icons popping up in my inbox from people that say they know me, but I have no idea who they were. Not because I don't care, but because I simply cannot remember all those faces. Imagine yourself. Can you remember 20.000 people by name? Hell... I work at a company with only 90 people and even there I don't know all people by name. So for the people that wonder "That popular artist hates me, because he does not reply to my message". He probably doesn't hate you. He either doesn't know you, or simply lacks time to respond to every individual message. It's sad, but it's something that comes naturally.
What is kinda disturbing on DeviantArt, is that the number of watchers does somehow determine the amount of respect you get on this website. I can still remember being my messages either being ignored or being seen as rather unimportant. While lately, what I say seem to make so much more of an impact than it did before. I've gotten into contact with popular artists, people working for Wacom, programmers that work for DeviantArt and senior members, who surprisingly take my input seriously. People that I would never have been able to reach before. Which is... pretty much insane, if you ask me. It's not like I've become an entirely different person over the last few months. I've just gotten a bit older (and wiser, hopefully).
It's been a year since then.
And over time, I've surpassed many of the old idols I had. It's not that I look down on them now. It's more that I came to an understanding. That being well known isn't always that fun as it seems from the outside, and that they probably had their reasons for not answering my messages. I'm nowadays getting the same "you are so awesome"-messages as I used to send to those idols, back in the days. If I have to believe those messages, then for some people I might've become the same kind of idol as those people were to me. Yet I've never been feeling more small and humble than now, because I realize the impact of the position that I'm in. And it's scaring me, sometimes.
The moral of this story?
Honestly, I don't know. I started writing this article to tell people about my experience and to thank them for sticking around with me. But it might be hopeful to many of you to know that there's no such thing as supernatural luck required to get out there. What you see here, is pure. It's a one-man-show. It's me, writing to you. I didn't spend tons of money on advertising. I didn't hire expensive marketeers to work for me and promote my project. Heck... I don't even have money for that! All the knowledge I used, whether it's about art, social media, marketing or writing software... I got it from articles on the internet. For free.
I was never promoted by DeviantArt's staff. I'm probably one of the few reasonably known DeviantArt members out there that was never rewarded a Daily Deviation, and was not even once mentioned at their Facebook page. And concluding from the unwillingness to solve my recent login issues, even after reporting many times, I can only say that they either dislike my approach or are completely apathetic to it. I am, to some account, just like many of you. A curious artist that wants to present her ideas to the world. I'm not rich, I wasn't born with any spectacular talent, and most of my knowledge comes from the internet. With enough patience and persistence, any of you would be able to do the exact same.
What I do want to say to you is; Thank you.
Thank you for sticking around for so long. For your kind words, your support, and replies. Even though I can't respond to every one of them, I certainly read them all. And even though you may think otherwise, I always enjoy reactions on my artworks, even though you might feel you have nothing new to say. Thank you for your continuous support on the Emion project, and for the feedback on the storylines and characters. Although this whole activity-thing was just started as a simple experiment to see if more interaction really helps on social media, I honestly enjoyed the experience, and I hope you'll stick around for much longer.