Indy residents strolling down the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple this summer may see a man on his front lawn in a white T-shirt covered in paint (one could argue getting it on your Hanes V-neck is much safer than eating it, like I did as a child — and I prefer blues, thanks for asking). This painter is Etna Green (Kosciusko County) native Justin Vining. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you might be one of his many, many fans on Facebook.
Vining, a graduate of Purdue and Valparaiso University’s law school, has built such a huge fan base — largely using social media — that he recently quit his job as a corporate head hunter to become a full-time painter. He credits his newfound autonomy to his ability to take the utmost advantage of marketing tools on Facebook.
"Before the suggest-a-(fan page) button was launched on Facebook (in 2009), I had around 500 fans," he says. "Then I just hit up my friends (to suggest him to others) and would incentivize people as well with either free paintings or even money.
"I don’t think it’s as effective as it once was, so part of the trick was using that tool right when it came out. That kind of goes to the overall gist of social media; be in tune with what’s happening today and how to best utilize the changes that occur so frequently."
He notes that giving away paintings to those who recommended him was quite useful in building recognition and rapport.
"It’s such an invasive thing to do — to ask people to endorse something they may not know a whole lot about, so for me the trick was giving away something of big value," Vining explains. "That made them willing to do something a little more personal."
Vining also credits targeted advertising through Facebook to art gallery owners, professional artists, art teachers, etc.
"But that was when you could advertise on Facebook for pennies on the dollar; now it’s a lot more expensive," he contends. "It’s not that cost effective anymore."
In the span of two years, Vining’s Facebook fan base has jumped from around 500 to over 10,100. He places the source breakdown of his Facebook fans as follows:
- 6,000 – 7,000 from the suggest-a-fan page button from Facebook
- 1,000 – 1,500 from targeted advertising on Facebook
- 500 – 1,000 from organic growth
- 500 from Twitter
"Part of it is also about engaging the fans," Vining says. "Pretty much anybody that leaves a comment — positive or negative — I try to respond to. It takes probably 30 minutes to an hour each day to do that. But just this morning, I was responding to this guy and — since you can now see your message history on Facebook — I realized I’d actually sent him a note two years ago. So I was able to thank him for his continued support."
He adds, "I have a 3% interaction rate — but with 10,000 people, that’s a lot."
When addressing the effectiveness of social media, Vining relays that he’s yet to find much benefit from LinkedIn, with Facebook and Twitter being his core focus.
"Twitter and Facebook are quite different," he says. "I’ll post something on Twitter and I won’t get much interaction at all, but it seems like the bit of interaction I get is like bits of gold. But on Facebook, I’ll post the same things and get tons of interaction, but it’s more surface level. It’s weird. But following up with all those people is fun and can lead to some really cool conversations — and through that I’ve found that there are some pretty established artists who have been following my work for years."
Vining, who indicated all but several of his current paintings are sold or spoken for, typically paints 24 X 48-inch arcylic work (both color and black & white), normally running $500. He also offers 16 X 22-inch marker drawings for $40.
His work can be found at www.justinvining.com; www.facebook.com/justinvining; and on Twitter @justinvining. He’s also offered business advice for other artists at Northwest Indiana Creative.