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In the Mix: Meet the brother-sister duo creating a flourishing community for over 7,700 artists
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Artsnacks Mix
Launched April 2017
Launched on Mighty Networks in 2017, ArtSnacks Mix is a free community for subscribers of ArtSnacks, an art supply subscription box.
The Spark: Once ArtSnacks found success as a service, artists Lee and Sarah Rubenstein knew they needed a community for their passionate subscribers to take on challenges and share their work. A Mighty Network was an obvious choice.
Their Mighty Moment: “The bread and butter of our business is selling art supply subscription boxes. But the Mix community has given us so much more–the opportunity to experiment, to engage with our customers, and to give them an experience they can’t really get on Instagram or anywhere else.”
Brother and sister artists Lee and Sarah Rubenstein hadn’t expected ArtSnacks—their art supply subscription box—to take off as quickly as it did. But as their number of subscribers grew, they found themselves looking for ways to bring their new artists together.
Inspired by one of their customers, the siblings started a monthly ArtSnacks Challenge, inviting people to share their creations on Instagram with the #artsnackschallenge hashtag. It was fun, but something was missing:
“Instagram is great for showcasing your super polished final pieces. But it’s not necessarily a great place for connecting around the work. And we wanted to give our people a central location where they could hang out, share their progress, and get feedback.”
With their subscribers scattered across social platforms, Lee and Sarah started looking for a community they could call their own. Lee came across Mighty Networks in doing his research (remembering Gina and Ning from his past work):
“With mobile apps and a super easy setup, we quickly started thinking that Mighty Networks could be the solution we had been searching for.”
With a Mighty Network, Lee and Sarah could bring all of their subscribers together into a dedicated community, away from the noise and clutter of traditional social media. Plus, on a Mighty Network, their members wouldn’t be limited to just sharing their final works. They would also be able to meet and connect with like-minded artists, ask questions, and get feedback on their works-in-progress.
The fact it would be under the ArtSnacks brand, and instantly available on both the web and native mobile apps was more than a bonus. They knew it would help extend the ArtSnacks subscriptions of those artists who truly engaged in the community.
With the decision made, Lee and Sarah got to work.
The “cool art room in high school” online community
Lee and Sarah quickly decided on the vibe for their brand new community space, ArtSnacks Mix:
“We knew we’d have a lot of people with a lot of different skill levels, and a lot of different backgrounds. So we wanted it to be a chill space, like the cool art room in high school where everyone hangs out instead of going to lunch.”
To start, they made their Mighty Network invite-only. Access became a perk of being an ArtSnacks subscriber. They recruited heavily for their initial set of members by utilizing a drip email campaign for existing members and including information about the community in monthly boxes for new subscribers.
The siblings also promoted their new venture on social media by instilling a bit of FOMO—fear of missing out—in some of their followers:
“We tend to broadcast on Facebook Live and Instagram Live, then funnel people back to the ArtSnacks Mix Mighty Network. We’ll say, ‘Hey if you want to see how I finished this piece, I’m going to post it on Mix. Not on Mix? It’s totally free, join with the link below.’ And it kind of just sucks them in.”
Thanks to rolling collaborations with product partners for paid placement in the community—from product reviews to sponsored posts—Lee and Sarah were able to make the private network free to access. They saw spectacular growth: In just eight months, ArtSnacks Mix became home to over 3,000 members.
But a few of those members started expressing concerns. They wondered whether they would get kicked out of the community if they couldn’t subscribe to the ArtSnacks box anymore. Lee and Sarah started thinking about making the group public. But Sarah expressed some concerns of her own:
“We had worked hard to make the community feel exclusive. And the fact that it was invite-only, that it was a safe space, that it wasn’t Facebook or Instagram, added so much more value to our product. The thought of making it free to the public made me so nervous.”
Lee and Sarah came up with a compromise. They would open up their community to the public, and make it paid—but they would set the cost at $0. That way, there would still be a small barrier to entry and their group could maintain a premium feel:
“We figured that having that extra action—where someone has to confirm the zero dollar plan and fill out their information—would cut down on potential spammers, especially as we grow. And it also meant that if, in the future, we wanted to have online paid experiences or online courses, our members wouldn’t have to go back and fill out primary information.”
Their minds made up, Lee and Sarah took ArtSnacks Mix public.
A vibrant mixed membership with 7,700 members (and counting)
Today, ArtSnacks Mix has over 7,700 members. Sarah has no regrets about making it public (albeit with the additional $0 barrier):
“Opening the community up was the best thing we’ve ever done. It’s been another welcoming place for people who want to show their art. It’s another way that makes ArtSnacks more valuable in the long run.”
The core of ArtSnacks Mix is still its no-cost Mix Membership, which centers around the monthly ArtSnacks Challenge. When subscribers get a new box, they share what supplies they’ve received, as well as any progress on that month’s piece. Then, each month’s ArtSnacks Challenge posts are archived in a Topic for members to browse at a later date.
But even if members aren’t currently subscribed to the ArtSnacks Box, there are still plenty of opportunities for them to get involved with the Mix community.
The ArtSnacks Team—Lee, Sarah, and their moderators—kick off the onboarding process with a welcome post that nudges new members to introduce themselves, ask questions, explore topics, and request feedback. New members are also encouraged to get started with introductory poll questions, including “What is a medium or material that intimidates you?” and “If ArtSnacks offered online courses, what topic or technique would you want to learn about?”
So far, Lee and Sarah have found that this onboarding flow combined with their own version of Community Design gets members comfortable with contributing:
“The onboarding really frames what the community is all about. A lot of conversations start in the very first session. We have a lot of members engaging–people meeting, people talking, and people sharing with each other.”
But that’s not all. The ArtSnacks Team offers their members some additional ways to engage, too:
- Challenges. Lee and Sarah renamed their “Groups” to “Challenges” early on. Today, they are starting to experiment with free and paid options. That includes an Inktober Challenge every October, which is free to access, and a Weekly Portrait Challenge, priced at $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year.
- Courses. They’re also experimenting with offering courses. So far, they aren’t producing any of their own, but they are currently hosting one course, “How to Draw Everything,” that they’ve licensed from an online school, the Society of Visual Storytelling.
- Topics. Members are encouraged to be active within Topics, like “Homemade Gift Ideas,” “Works in Progress,” and “The Abstract,” where the ArtSnacks Team posts art news, fun facts, and daily musings.
- Events. The ArtSnacks Team hosts a couple of digital events as well, from a monthly ArtSnacks Box video breakdown to monthly live series, like ArtSnacks for Kids. These digital events work twofold: they give members more of a chance to get involved, and they help Lee and Sarah learn more about their customers, what works, and what doesn’t.
ArtSnacks Mix also hosted live events, pre-pandemic, with the help of ArtSnacks Ambassadors. These Ambassadors—who apply for the role and represent ArtSnacks in their geographic area—have now shifted to digital duties in lieu of organizing in-person meetups:
“As our network has gotten bigger, tapping members of our community to help out has been crucial. Pre-COVID, our ArtSnacks Ambassadors did in-person events at art stores, community centers, and local galleries. Now, we’re moving them into a more digital role. They keep on top of things in the community and help to make new members feel a little bit more welcome.”
Giving members a high-value experience they can’t get anywhere else
While Lee and Sarah have navigated their share of highs and lows, ArtSnacks Mix has been a resounding success. Not only have they been able to bring different artists of different skill levels together in one place; but Mix has also brought more subscribers to ArtSnacks, Lee and Sarah’s main business:
“Some of our customers think, ‘I’m not ready to subscribe yet. It’s a lot of money. But I know some real art enthusiasts on Mix, which is free so let me try that first.’ Then they get involved in the community, and eventually, they subscribe to our box. It’s been way more beneficial than I ever thought it would be.”
It’s also brought them new ideas. Thanks to high demand—and their successful ArtSnacks for Kids series— Lee and Sarah are also working on a kids version of the ArtSnacks box, and hoping to start releasing that subscription later this year or early next year.
Today, Lee and Sarah continue to adjust to running a business and membership during a global pandemic. All in all, creating a community for their subscribers—and other art aficionados—has been incredibly fulfilling:
“The bread and butter of our business is selling art supply subscription boxes. But the Mix community has given us so much more–the opportunity to experiment, to engage with our customers, and to give them an experience they can’t really get on Instagram or anywhere else.”
3 key takeaways from ArtSnacks Mix’s Story of Awesome
- Keep it simple. ArtSnacks’ mission is to inspire people through the discovery of amazing art materials. When it came to translating that mission to the Mix community, Lee and Sarah kept it simple by letting the membership run primarily around the ArtSnacks Challenge and inviting art aficionados to post their work, offer feedback, and start learning from each other.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. With ArtSnacks Mix, Lee and Sarah have been able to experiment with new offerings. From their ArtSnacks for Kids video series to their Weekly Portrait Challenge, they are seizing one of the true perks of a Mighty Network: Trying new things out to see if they work for you and your community members.
- Get members to contribute in their first session. With their onboarding process, Lee and Sarah aren’t just encouraging their members to get acclimated with the Mix community. They want them to contribute! And as new members do so, with greater ease than they thought possible, Lee and Sarah are learning quickly and tweaking their offerings based on their members’ own ideas and feedback.