When I first started building an audience for my cosplay work five years ago, my cousin Ian gave me some advice: Start building an email list. I was skeptical. My Facebook page was growing rapidly, and more young people are on Facebook every day than checking their email, right? But Ian warned me, if Facebook decided they didn't want me to have access to my followers, there would be nothing I could do. Without their emails, I would have no direct way to contact my followers.
Stupidly, I ignored him. For years, I worked hard to build a Facebook audience. These days, I'm lucky if one of my posts reaches 1% (yes, one) of my 30,000+ fans on Facebook. All my hard work building that audience was taken away on Facebook's whim as they started restricting organic reach to encourage paid advertising (just last week, Zuckerberg delivered a new blow in this ongoing battle). It was exactly what Ian had warned me about.
But even as I watch my peers discussing the horrors of managing a Facebook page these days, it seems most of us haven't learned our lesson. I see cosplayer after cosplayer recommending replacement platforms — Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Cosplay Amino, Patreon. How long will those platforms do us the courtesy of allowing us to reach our followers? It's time we learned our lesson. And that lesson is...
don't build your castle in someone else's sandbox.
Or, more directly: Don't channel all your effort into building an audience on a platform you don't have complete control over. Which begs the question: Which platforms do you have complete control over? The two key ones are your personal website (if you have one) and email.
making your site a hub
I hear a lot of cosplayers ask if it's worthwhile to have a website, which is a larger question and one for another day. But if you do have a website or are thinking of building one, it's important to think of it as an active, constantly changing space, just like your social media. Too many people build a Wix gallery, never touch it again, and then wonder what use websites are.
Unlike your social media, your website is completely within your control. Whatever you want your site to do, you can create. Blogs, tutorials, a shop, embedded video, a "members only" password protected space? Anything is possible. And unlike your other platforms, you can direct your visitors' focus any way you like.
Of course, also unlike other social media, you will have to do more legwork to get people to visit your website. Here are a few quick suggestions for getting eyes on your website:
- SEO — Read up on search engine optimization to learn the best ways to ensure your website turns up in search results when people are googling relevant terms.
- Shareable content — Get your readers to do the sharing by creating content that people want to spread. This might be a tutorial, or maybe an opinion piece on a popular subject.
- Make it easy to follow — If people want to visit your website regularly, you should do everything you can do to help remind them. Enable subscriptions to your website, tweet new blog posts or pages, use Instagram stories... whatever it takes to remind people of the content on your site.
- Offer something exclusive — Facebook, Instagram, etc. are part of people's daily routines, and getting them to leave those sites for your website is challenging. If your website only offers what your social media does, there's no motivation to leave those comfortable spaces. Instead, make sure there are things that can only be accessed on your website.
There are a million ways to use a website as a cosplayer and content creator. If you dedicate some consistent time to your site, you have the opportunity to build a place that your followers love visiting — and maybe even prefer to your social media.
building email lists
In my opinion, there is broader appeal for cosplayers in an email list than a website. You don't need to spend any money to send emails, and 89% of Americans check their email at least once a day. You can be there, in their inbox, even if Facebook doesn't want to put your posts on their newsfeed.
There are two parts of email marketing: List building, and the emails themselves.
List building is, of course, step one — or you'll have no one to send emails to! There are plenty of ways to build a list, but here are some of the simplest ones:
- Ask — Chances are, lots of your followers would love to keep up with your work via email list. Make sure they know that's an option! Make it easy to sign up, and remind followers regularly on your social media that they can sign up for emails.
- Make a bargain — Some people are pretty particular about who they give their email address to! If you give them something (a cosplay tutorial, high res desktop wallpapers, etc.) in exchange, more people will be willing to sign up.
- Look for emails you already have — You might already have some email addresses, like from people who have purchased from your store or signed up for your Patreon. Those who have already engaged with your work might be more likely to enjoy other emails as well.
But what exactly are you sending them? You can have the biggest email list in the world and you still won't achieve anything if you send the wrong emails. Remember that your emails should be...
- ...valuable. Does your email offer something of value to the recipient? If not, why should they want it in their inbox?
- ...consistently paced. If you only email once in a blue moon, people will forget who you are and why they signed up. But if you email too often, people will get annoyed and unsubscribe. Strike that careful balance and you'll keep your audience happy!
- ...easy to unsubscribe from. The last thing you want is for someone to get annoyed with your emails and have no recourse. Make sure it's super easy to opt out.
- ...attractive and readable. Sites like Mailchimp make it easy to create attractive emails that are easily readable on both mobile and desktop.
A good place to start might be with monthly emails that recap on your work in the past few weeks, or emails that come out whenever you release a new cosplay. Think about the highlights reel of your work, and the best way to deliver those highlights to the followers who care the most about what you do.
is social media useless?
After all this, you might be thinking... is social media useless? Don't worry — those followers you've worked so hard to build up are still important! Just because you don't want to build your castle in someone else's sandbox doesn't mean it isn't fun to play there sometimes. Social media is a great, easy way to connect with your followers in the places where they already hang out. The key is just recognizing that social media is a means, not an end, to meaningful, long-term connection with your audience. Ultimately, you should always be thinking about social media as a tool with which to direct your followers to a more controllable platform, be that your website, your email lists, or something else.
...speaking of email lists! If you're interested in learning more about how to effectively market your cosplay and reach a wider audience, make sure to sign up for my cosplay marketing email list! Whenever I post new blogs, videos, or instructional content, you'll be the first to know.