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deviantART: The social network you know but really don’t [Interview]

In a world of one-billion plus Facebook users, or 250-million plus Google+ users it’s easy to forget the little (and not so little) guys and focus on the larger social networks. Any good strategist will tell you that can be a mistake. With 19-million plus active users or “deviants” (over three-million in the UK alone) spending more than 10 minutes a month a prime example of this could be said to be deviantART.

Except it’s no overnight success… it’s been going for over 10 years now. With big news coming in the next seven days and an army of today’s most influential minds in comic art, illustration, photography, fine art, and digital art, I grabbed a little time with deviantART’s CEO Angelo Sotira to talk about the last (and next) ten years…

Paul Armstrong: Most people don’t realise you’ve been going for +10 years. In layman’s terms, what is dA and why did you start it?

Angelo Sotira: DeviantART is the world’s largest online community for artists and art enthusiasts with more than 20-million registered users and 49-million unique visitors coming to the site each month. It was created to inspire, entertain and empower artists and art lovers, and features an extensive and evolving platform used to exhibit, promote and discover art and interact with members. The site allows members to publish original art and news content, collaborate with peers, build a fan base and connect with third-party social networks to further promote content of interest.

PA: Tell me about the community

AS: DeviantART members, or “deviants” as we call them, offer one another constructive feedback and critique, which inspires them to create more – that is the main value of this community. Reciprocity is the key to our thriving membership [and we] are dedicated to providing a productive environment for anyone from the amateur to the professional artist. Our community ranges from amateur to professional artists.

We want the world to know that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor should you have to pay an entrance fee to be inspired, but rather it’s free to anyone with a deviantART account. We hope to continue to shine the light on up-and-coming artists and reinforce our vast network of professional artists. Anyone with computer/internet access can come to the site to view virtually any type of art spanning from fine art, digital, comic, literature, anime, manga, flash, visual narratives and more. Artists can display their work to the millions of people on the site and promote their art to the world.

PA: How do people make money? How do you make money?

AS: Artists who volunteer to participate in deviantART’s Fine Art Prints program earn royalty payments on the sales of their content reproduced in a variety of mediums (wrapped canvas, giclée photo paper) as well as art gifts (calendars, mugs, post cards). Artists can also earn money by participating in creative contests on the site sponsored both by deviantART and third-party advertisers. A contest typically involves creating content based on a theme with winning entries receiving both cash and non-cash prizes.

Informally, artists and art enthusiasts leverage the site’s communication platform (forums, notes, comments) to interact directly with artists they like and oftentimes these transactions result in one-on-one transactions for commission based work; work ranges from avatar creation, Twitter backgrounds and traditional works, to name a few. DeviantART makes money from three distinct channels: advertising sales, which includes sponsored site integrations as well as traditional online advertising placements; virtual goods sales, the flagship product of this offering being deviantART’s subscription offering; and lastly, retail product sales, consisting of physical print sales, art gifts, apparel and gear.

PA: How should brands and companies be using dA?

AS: A variety of top-tier brands have enlisted deviantART’s help in launching unique, creative campaigns to help broaden their reach by connecting with the multidimensional audience that deviantART offers. DeviantART has partnered on creative campaigns with some of today’s top brands including Microsoft (Gears of War), Dr Pepper, Red Bull, Mazda, and Toshiba. Collaborating with like-minded brands on creative campaigns and contests gives us an opportunity to shine the spotlight on our community, and recognize them for their immense talents, also exposing brands to the unique vision an artistic community can provide.

Companies should not stand idly by while the creative landscape of the internet is in constant flux. I believe that by embracing online communities, companies and brands can drive awareness, loyalty and value to their identity by monitoring trends and paying closer attention to creative communities like deviantART. I would encourage any brand or company to embrace online communities if they are not already doing so.

PA: dA is highly active on Google+ — talk a bit about your strategy, why you joined etc. What are you trying to achieve?

AS: On Google+, we promote our artists’ work and their accomplishments, keep people up-to-date about site announcements and events, and engage artists in discussions about art. The art community on Google+ is pretty big — especially photography — so there’s a lot of opportunity to promote our artists and the deviantART community as a whole. A number of deviantART members already have Google+ profiles, and we often see people sharing artwork from deviantART, so we feel like we’re fitting right in.

PA: What’s most shocked you about dA recently?

AS: Recently, we released Sta.sh, deviantART’s new upload and submitting platform that allows members to store, share and organize their deviations and other multimedia files all in one place, and while it was still in public beta 360,000 unique accounts were created. This sort of enthusiastic early adoption of a product is pretty shocking and equally as exciting because it reinforces that deviantART as a tech company always has, and will continue to be focused on releasing properties with the creative community in mind.

PA: What do the next ten years hold for dA?

AS: In 2012, deviantART was positioned to solve many more complex problems that affect the creative community, art education, and monetisation, to name a few. Today the arts are not efficient. It pains me when I talk to parents who don’t support their kids’ pursuing the arts because they don’t see a bright financial future in it. Yet in parallel, there is a high demand for artists because they are the ones who design and aestheticize our lives.

Life has changed because of technology and in a way, technology has put people into cookie cutter boxes, everyone has the same everything (same phone, iPod, etc.) and it is artists that will differentiate us all.

It is our responsibility as a company to refactor the current system so that ten years from now parents are actually encouraging their kids to pursue a career in the arts because there is better organization, infrastructure and a well-defined path for success. We may have taken a longer route than most but in ten years as a company our team has become exceptionally well-trained in community management, able to recognize patterns within online communities better than most.

The next ten years represent an opportunity to use what we have learned to help artists to fulfil their dreams. In order to do that we will continue to distil these issues to their simplest form and then leverage our experience to create resources that matter the most to artists, and we have the knowledge and experience to make a difference.

PA: What media do you consume on a regular basis?

AS: There is so much good content out there, just not enough time to consume as much as I would like. But when I do, some of my go-to’s are: We Are Different (WAD), Bleeding Cool, Boing Boing, Art Forum, Mashable, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and ARTnews.

PA: What should I have asked you that I haven’t? Then answer it

AS: You definitely should have asked me if deviantART has an office mascot. To which I would have replied, yes, his name is Bentley. He’s my dog. And he’s awesome.

This article by Paul Armstrong originally appeared on paularmstrong.net and is republished with permission.

Image: deviantArt.

Author | Paul Armstrong

Paul Armstrong
Paul Armstrong runs HERE/FORTH an advisory that helps business leaders decide how to best use rapidly changing and emerging technologies. More
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