Flax Art & Design is a Bay Area institution and a local art supply staple for over 80 years. Flax Art has two stores, one in Oakland, California and the other San Francisco. In addition to a broad selection of art supplies and a framing station, they also specialize in fine art papers, pens and gifts, with a comprehensive e-commerce site as well. Their San Francisco store recently relocated to a space in historic Fort Mason, right on the water between the city’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf and a neighborhood known as “The Marina.”
Social media can grow business, foster relationships and add an interactive element to your digital presence. After doing a story on a summer event known as Kidsfest, it was clear from a little googling, Instagramming and Facebooking that whoever navigates Flax’s social media channels is committed, and doing well. Their blog is updated weekly with new products and features celebrating local artists; their Instagram has a range of posts with striking visuals, captions, comments… and conversations, a major sign of engagement.
I happened to visit Flax Art on a Monday morning having learned from a recent post that they were “going live” at noon for a live demo; a weekly exploration and collaboration between Manager Kayli Harig and Digital Content Administrator Carrie Mendle-Smith known as Maybe Mondays.
“Going Live” & Other Intimidating Social Media Terminology
Before I dive into Maybe Mondays, the weekly social media exercise that has been instrumental in building Flax Art’s presence online and nurturing a thriving in-store community, let’s back up a minute. While Instagram is a very popular social media channel for visuals, it is also a great place to post videos and give your customers a feel for what is going on in your store. Live video content is all the rage and an excellent way to engage with new people, too.
“Going live” on Instagram is also known as “Instagram Live.” Instagram Live is a kind of video, or “story” that stays on your page for one day; your followers can press on your circular profile picture, which will have a glowing circle and a play button on it, to watch (and, if you leave the comments on, people who tune in while you are live can wave, comment, ask questions and suggest ideas). Since the content disappears within 24 hours, Instagram Live allows you to create exclusive content that needs to be seen ASAP, try out a new idea and get comfortable in front of the camera—no matter how imperfect your filming skills or shaky your on-camera voice.
“Maybe It’ll Work”
Maybe Mondays, a weekly live video stream of art supplies in action, has upped Flax’s Instagram viewership by 400% in under six months, built relationships and brought business in. On average Carrie and Kayli, Flax Art’s social media duo, have about 50 viewers per live video session; they leave comments “on” and respond to questions and suggestions during the video.
They came up with the initial idea at MacPherson’s Dealer Workshop. “Dealer Workshop was so fun—we were mad inspired.” Kayli explained. “Seeing all the demos, we thought…people should see the products in action! The point of Maybe Mondays started as how we can push products in ways they’re not supposed to be used. Instead of trying to follow all the rules, we said to ourselves, Maybe it’ll work! and Maybe Mondays was born.”
In addition to pushing products to their limits, Maybe Mondays are also about pairing unlikely products together, trying new things and making art less scary. Carrie and Kayli want to show their customers that while the act of creating can be an intimidating process, it doesn’t have to be. It can be fun, messy, surprising and rewarding. “You don’t have to be afraid to use art products,” Carrie urges. “People can go out of their comfort zones—watercolorists can experiment with acrylic, etc.”
Inspirations From 6 Months of Maybe Mondays
Kayli and Carrie have put together quite the Monday ritual; a practice that has resulted in a social media “portfolio” lush with content and inspiration. In hopes of sharing their methods with our community, we’ve put together a list of tips gleaned from Maybe Mondays for when you are ready to take the plunge and press record! The following tips are organized into three categories that work together in tandem: Choice Content, Practical Tips and Organic Engagement.
Three types of quality content that are easy and fun to film without reinventing the wheel:
Tip #1: Use Dealer Workshop Resources
This Maybe Monday was directly inspired another trick they learned in Las Vegas at MacPherson’s Dealer Workshop: using Stabilo Pen 68s as paint markers. Since they are water-soluble, you can re-constitute the ink and paint with them. It was during this Maybe Monday video that one of their followers said she was on her lunch break and that watching this video was way more fun than eating!
Tip #2: Pick Projects That Are Fun To Watch
Pouring, bubbling, vibrant colors, sprays and glitter grab the attention of your followers! This Maybe Monday featured a technique Carrie and Kayli learned from Royal Talens’ Art Education Director Jeff Olson at a Dealer Workshop demonstration. Combining Ecoline Inks with dish detergent and blowing bubbles. Good clean fun.
Tip #3: Show Off New Colors
When a new line of colors comes out, make a buzz about it and show them off! Kayli and Carrie had learned about Golden’s Silkscreen Medium at Dealer Workshop and rushed back to the store to try it; they included new Golden colors in their demo to generate even more conversation.
The Practical Stuff
I learned a lot from Kayli and Carrie’s process; especially the practical, logistical side of things. How much to post? When? What does filming actually entail? What do you do with the content after it “disappears?”
First: Invite People
Help your followers who might be new to Instagram Live understand how and when to tune in. Keep them interested with sneak peeks and teasers; promoting your live video a few days before or a day beforehand is crucial to clue people in. Kayli and Carrie add the date, time and important info to an Instagram post; add-on apps allow you add elements like text to a post.
Then: Post Reminders
A timely, intriguing reminder gives people enough time to take their lunch break (many of their followers watch this at work on lunch breaks), put down what they are doing and get ready for the video. Carrie and Kayli consistently remind their audience at least ten minutes before airing; here’s how to post these kinds of reminders to your Instagram story.
If You Can, Get a Co-Host
Kayli and Carrie make a great team. When Maybe Mondays is in action, one of them will use the product while the other asks clarifying questions, makes suggestions and responds to comments verbally. A second person also means more precise camera work; they can zoom in on what you are doing, get different angles and react in the moment. It’s also more fun for the viewer to watch two people banter, converse and react to the experiment.
Aside from co-hosting Maybe Mondays, Kayli and Carrie work together every day. On Mondays they get together to plan for the week; Carrie manages the website, writes for the blog and posts to Facebook. They both post, comment and link on Instagram. Both agreed that having two people on a social media team is motivating and really helpful. “If I don’t answer a message, you do,” Carrie motioned towards Kayli. “When I was doing it on my own, before Kayli joined, I felt kind of lost. Now, with two of us, we have a clear vision and it’s easy and fun.” (Sound familiar? Learn about another social media duo in the industry!) “We are just trying to have fun and it shows. People latch on to it, share the experience. The live stream brings people into the store.”
Don’t Hide From The Limelight
Doing a live video doesn’t have to happen in a back room. Engage with curious customers, include them, invite them to watch or even join in. When I visited the store for my first in-person Maybe Monday, customers streamed in and out, watching the demo and taking part.
Turn Commenting On, Especially With 2 Hosts
With comments, questions and suggestions rolling in, you can welcome people to the live stream and answer questions as you read them. This feature is particularly useful if you can do a live stream with two staff members; this way one can focus on the demo and the other can field questions and pepper in key information. A tricky feat for some teams, but well worth it if you can time the stream during a lull when you can spare two team members for 10—30 minutes.
“We always make a point to respond to comments, ask questions and invite them into the store,” Kayli says. During a Maybe Monday that featured stamps, a customer tuned in and asked if he could come join them for the next week; he actually showed up the following week and made art with them.
Post Pictures of the Finished Project
Follow up on a live video session with a post detailing what you did, how you did it and a beautiful picture of the result. People who saw the video will have a tangible image to reference, people who missed the video will make sure to catch the next one and people who have no idea what you are referring to will be drawn in to learn more.
Finally, Display Finished Experiments In Your Store
Maybe Mondays are not just about experimenting, gaining followers on social media or getting more comfortable in front of the camera—though that is a happy effect—every time they do one, Kayli and Carrie end up with another conversation piece. “We put stuff we’ve made out on the floor and people ask questions about them.” Kayli also points out mixed media Strathmore cards (which have the materials used written like a recipe on the inside) and a paper mache penguin in the Kid’s Corner sporting fabulous colors, courtesy of a Maybe Monday paint-pouring excursion.
Showing up once a week and engaging actively with your followers—who are customers, local artists, community members and colleagues in the industry—increases the likelihood that you’ll make on-the-fly connections that result in unique, spontaneous opportunities to collaborate and build a relationship… a.k.a. organic engagement! Four Maybe Monday strategies we noticed:
Tip #1: Showcase A Coworker
Include fellow coworkers in this process. The head of the Flax Fine Pens Department, Jane Andreasen, is knowledgeable about many things, from Fountain Pens to watercolors. She also happens to know a thing or two about bullet journaling and has multiple notebooks of her own for various purposes; Carrie and Kayli did a live video with her on Bullet Journaling at their Oakland store.
Tip #2: Turn a Follower Into A Guest Artist
“It was kind of perfect, the way Tesia came about being our guest on a Maybe Monday. She was actually watching one of our videos. We are always inviting our customers to send in ideas or even come visit and play with materials with us; Tesia commented: “That looks like fun, I’d love to join you”, and we couldn’t believe it! So I got her contact info and emailed her to see if she really was interested; she was.”
Tesia likes to mix mediums that don’t traditionally go together so her proposed topics really worked well for Maybe Mondays. She showed Carrie and Kayli how to use pastels and colored pencils on Golden Pastel Ground and Fine Pumice; she also did a piece using General’s Sketch Wash on Golden Fine Pumice.
Tip #3: Go On A Field Trip
Kayli and Carrie explain: “We can take Maybe Monday’s anywhere. It’s just a phone!”
Where might your live stream take you? Carrie and Kayli make a point of discovering and celebrating local artists; entrepreneurs fall into that category as well. Flax Art recently started carrying handmade watercolor pans made by Limn Colors, a local paint-maker based in Berkeley, CA. They spent a Maybe Monday taking a tour of the Limn Colors studio. “We were so inspired by Amanda Hinton. She taught us how each pigment has a different personality.” The studio tour was a great way to generate conversation and buzz for an upcoming workshop with Limn Colors at Flax Art that same month, which filled up quickly after they aired on Monday.
Tip #4: Try Something That’s New For You
If your live stream is all about trying new things, make sure you are actually trying supplies and techniques that are new to you. It’s intriguing to watch two art store staff, who the viewers understand need to be well-versed in every medium, go out of their own comfort zones, live on Instagram. “We did a live stream on air dry clay, and I am not a 3D kind of person,” Kayli admitted. “Maybe Mondays has pushed me to try new things that I’m not comfortable with. We show people that they can make cool stuff even if they initially think “That medium is not what I do.”
The Next Plunge: YouTube
Instagram Live is great for impromptu demos, experiments and announcements. The 24-hour lifespan is freeing, and the regulars who tune in every time – “Flax Friends” – are an encouraging community. Instagram Live can also be a stepping stone towards creating quality content for your website, blog or YouTube page. Carrie elaborates:
“I feel like Maybe Mondays are the prep for YouTube. We’ve built an audience and gotten the “let-me-run-and-get-that” out of the way. We are much more prepared now.” Six months of weekly videos has them comfortable in front of the camera, and they now have time carved out in their schedules for social media on Mondays, time that they could use to create YouTube videos. Learning from others in our art industry community is a great strategy, too. “We learned a lot from YouTube videos done by Wet Paint. It doesn’t have to be polished or edited perfectly; that takes time we just don’t have. It can be more raw.”
The dream? To create a unified experience of the store, the website, the blog and the social media profiles. Every week they get one step closer. Tune in next Monday at 12pm Pacific Time to see them in action and say hello!
Questions or comments about how Instagram Live can grow your business? Are you already making regular appearances on YouTube? Are you the “video person” on staff who films demos? We’d love to learn more about your work with video and how it impacts your business. Comment below or share your story with us at Artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com.