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The internet’s a funny way to get to know people, isn’t it?

After all, we can never REALLY be sure if people are who they say they are online. Are they being authentic, or playing a role? Where do they live? What’s their background?

There are millions of little bits of information that people keep from sharing over the internet—often for good reason—but all this “not knowing” makes it harder for us to trust them, and for them to trust us.

It can actually be a big problem for artists who are trying to sell their art or develop positive business relationships online.

We want to show ourselves as trustworthy to everyone who comes across our website, Facebook page, or Twitter profile, because we want people to feel comfortable purchasing from us. . . but how do we do that?

The truth is, earning trust online is completely different than earning it in real life, and some cases it may even seem a bit too “easy” or superficial.

For example, the first few methods I’m going to suggest have absolutely nothing to do with your character at all. Unfair? Perhaps. Read on. . .

1. Surround yourself with socially acceptable design

I would have said “good” design, but “good” isn’t really the point. The point is that if you have a well-designed website, people will trust you more because your website looks familiar—it will have the same feel to it as other websites that they already trust.

If your website is shoddy and ugly, people will hesitate to put their credit card anywhere near it. Its poor design might even make them question you, and your motives. (Really, it will.)

Just look at it from their point of view—if your website shows a lack of care, isn’t it likely that your artwork will show a lack of care, too?

The great thing is, you don’t always have to shell out thousands to get a socially acceptable design. Joining Facebook or Twitter does the same thing—both of these social networks will start you off on the right foot, design-wise, and you can build up from there with your own website later on.

2. Mention those who mention you

Recommendations mean a lot, especially on the internet where trust is hard to earn. So if a local newspaper publishes a story about your art, make sure to mention it on your website so visitors can see that you’ve been noticed by a trusted source.

And of course, it doesn’t have to be a newspaper. It could be a popular website, a magazine, another artist’s blog, a book, or even an ebook.

One blogger in particular who I’ve noticed does this very well is Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-conformity. In the bottom-right corner of his home page, he’s included a list of publications that have mentioned his website.

Now, Chris does a lot of interesting things (he’s currently working on traveling to every country in the world) so he’s gotten noticed by some big publications including, among others, The New York Times, LifeHacker and Slate Magazine.

But don’t worry if your list isn’t that impressive. It really doesn’t have to be. Newspaper clippings, awards, mentions from other bloggers. . . all of these things will help to raise your level of trust, and in time, bigger things may come your way too.

2. Get your website to show up first in search results

Wow, this is a tough one, right?

But compare the number of times you click on the first search result to the number of times you click on the tenth—that first result is a much more appealing target for your mouse, isn’t it?

We’ve been taught to trust that first result the most, so the higher up the search results your website (or blog) appears, the more trust you’ll be given right away.

Improving your website’s search results rankings isn’t easy, but I believe it’s worth it. The first step is to learn a bit about SEO, or search engine optimization, and then start making some changes to your website.

I’ve written a lot about SEO for artists in the past, so I’ll just link to those articles rather than reiterate them here.

3. Pay attention to the little details

What are the little details?

Having good spelling, getting your facts straight, linking out to other websites when you mention them. . . things like that.

For example, it’s hard for me to put my full trust in someone when their blog has a lot of misspelled words. I know—spelling doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s moral character—but that’s just what happens. It’s in my gut, and it’s how I feel.

I have to admit, I just cringed a bit while thinking of all the spelling mistakes there must be on EmptyEasel. I try my best, but with all the articles on here, I know there are probably a lot more than I’d like.

Still, if you try your best, people will pick up on that—and hopefully they’ll forgive the occasional error. :)

4. Stick around for (at least) a few years

How interested would you be in a blog that has a grand total of two posts, both from 2006? Not at all, right? Just from a quick glance you know that no one’s there, and hasn’t been for several years.

So if you want to be trusted, be visible! Stick around! You gain a lot of trust online by being available month after month, year after year.

I’m always extremely impressed by blogs that just keep on ticking. Charley Parker’s Lines and Colors has been up since August of 2005, with new, in-depth blog posts multiple times each week. It’s really amazing.

He’s a great example of how you earn trust over time.

5. Be consistent in who you are, from day one

Consistency is key. If you change things around too often, or start and stop projects, or even switch sides on a debate, your level of trust will suffer.

After all, we don’t change ourselves completely in real life, do we? People know us as a certain set of actions, ideals, mannerisms, etc. So why would we do that online?

We shouldn’t. And it’s easier to stay consistent if we just start out by being ourselves.

I’ve been reading a lot of Chris Brogan’s blog recently, and I really like how he approaches this topic. (He’s big into social media, by the way, so you won’t find much art-related stuff if you visit his blog.)

But I think he walks what he talks, and he’s got a lot of good advice if you’re interested in how to market yourself online in a way that’s consistent with how you live offline.

6. Become a contributor to trusted sources

You know the old saying that goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”?

Well, if you want to gain a lot of trust online but you don’t have a lot of time to spare, one great way to do it is to start contributing to a website, blog, or newspaper publication that already HAS trust.

As a contributor, your name will appear in the byline next to the article or artwork (or whatever you contributed). You’ll immediately become linked with that trusted source.

If you choose the right publication, you can easily become their “art expert” or “art liaison”—not a bad way to gain trust with an entirely new circle of people.

A great example of this is Natasha Wescoat.

Natasha was already an active art blogger and Twitter user, but when she began writing for Mashable.com—one of the biggest social media websites in the world—I’m sure it boosted her visibility and reputation even more.

7. Respond to every email

When you answer an email you get the unique opportunity to prove you’re a real, breathing, human being.

Maybe you have a unique sense of humor that only comes out when you’re interacting one-on-one with someone. Or maybe you have a funny email signature. It doesn’t really matter—emails are more personal, and you’ll immediately build trust by responding to, rather than ignoring, your emails.

I’m sorry to say, I’ve fallen short in this area many times. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that I respond to about 80% of my emails. I feel horrible about the other 20% and it’s something I’m always working on.

Even though I’m not the best one to give advice, what’s helped me (at least somewhat) is putting my emails into two categories—the first group is made up of emails that are easy to answer, and the second group has all the emails that will take a bit longer.

I try to answer any email that’s really simple right away, and I work on the tougher ones once or twice a week in big batches.

8. Always give more than you get

This last one’s my favorite—if you’re wondering what’s the best way to prove that you’re trustworthy, I’d have to say “going the extra mile.”

What can you do online to help your fellow artist? Or non-artist? Can you teach? Be an example? Volunteer to moderate a forum? Contribute to open-source software? Give away art for free? Start a movement?

We may think that we’re online just to sell our art, but if we get too focused on that, we’ll actually miss out on opportunities to give, and help, and encourage. And that’s too bad, because people who do those things naturally gain trust.

There are many artists online who fit that description, but I have to say, Katherine Tyrrell of Making a Mark has always amazed me in this regard. The hours she seems to put into her blog, with all its advice and help for artists, is just incredible. If you’re looking for a good example, look there first.

Now for a challenge

Sometime this week, I’d like to encourage you to take a look at your online persona. Pretend that you’re someone else seeing it for the first time, and really look at it.

Ask yourself—who are you online? What does your website, blog, Twitter profile, or Facebook page say about you?

Are you trustworthy?

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

If you've already found the first article in this series (and have done some research and a little soul-searching) and you've decided that teaching art to kids is a path you want to pursue, then keep on reading!

There are a lot of additional decisions you'll need to make before you can start. . . read more

If you're looking for something else. . .
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