The great advantage of social networks as venues to promote your art is (surprise!) their social nature. While a personal website, attractive is it may be, is basically a static location which people can visit, in social networks you can become a part of a dynamic interaction in which you can spread the word about your work to a much wider circle.
Social networks have some great and obvious advantages:
Popularity. Major social networks have tens of thousands of users, and interesting items spread through them extremely quickly. Thus, while your personal online portfolio (while very important in itself) might attract a limited amount of traffic from people who look for it specifically or click on links from related sites, a re-post or even a ‘like’ by a well-connected follower may instantly expose thousands of people to your work, just through your item appearing in their feed. The audience here is both wider and more diverse.
Immediate exposure. Once you have a base of followers on your chosen network, you can use your profile to advertise new projects or events you will be participating in. The news can instantly reach your followers without their having to seek out updates actively by visiting on your site. Also, by constantly updating your activities you keep a high level of attention on and interest in you and your art.
It’s free. While setting up an exhibition, online and offline advertisement or even designing a nice website can cost quite a bit, setting up and maintaining a professional social profile costs nothing but some time.
As is the case with blogs, it’s very important to stay up-to-date: networks are based on constant stream of new data, and if you don’t update on a more-or-less regular basis, your page might seem dormant. Even worse – followers might forget you exist.
Each social network offers slightly different pros and cons regarding audience, format and interactions. Facebook is the quintessential network, which can give you the widest potential audience, and is great for a wide range of updates, from photos of you in your studio to links to recent articles about you or your work. Pinterest and Instagram tend to attract a more “artsy” crowd which might be particularly interested in what you have to offer, and their visual nature goes well with art, so use these for photos of your work in progress, completed, and as part of exhibitions. Even Twitter, which is less suitable for showcasing your works, can be great as an update tool, to let followers share in the day-to-day aspect of being an artist. There are many others but whichever you choose, remember to consider its advantages for your own medium and style of art – visually (are the pictures I upload presented in a format which compliments my work?), demographically (do the users of this network tend to be interested in what I have to offer?) and socially (is it popular enough with the right audience to be worth my time?).
Having said all that, don’t rely on social networks alone for professional promotion. A popular Facebook page is great, and can get new people interested in your work; but it should be used to introduce a new audience to your works and to update existing followers about your activities, not as your one and only promotional tool. It can give a decent push to your commercial activities, but should always link back to your personal website for more in-depth information.