Selling the Colosseum


Blogging and tweeting have become a staple of technology in communication much as stone cutting/carving told stories or highlighted current (at the time) political movers and shakers. The act of blogging and tweeting is not only a way of telling stories and having conversations but have become a tool for businesses to tell their story, have conversations with their customers, turn bad situations to better and sustain loyalty in their customer base, increasing and broadening that base. But all this is not as simple as writing a story or tactful advertising content; There are best practices for both and there may be some differences depending on the industry or company that is being blogged or tweeted about by consumers or the companies themselves.

53.7 million

Would you pay $57.3 million for this? (credit Kena Betancur- Getty Images).

The auction and antique industry have their own unique traditions and idiosyncrasies that really test those best practices. A lot of information is held close-to-the-chest making these two sharing venues less than flowing with information. It’s not like trade secrets are in jeopardy, its value vs price that are vulnerable, and some participants (the serious collectors) are not averse to bringing  a gun to a knife fight so to speak, to get what they want. So how does this industry stack-up in the best practices arena, let’s find out.

                                                              Best Practices



Of late much has been written about blogs; how to write them, what the content should be, how to use them for business, or as a business, and all through this what are the best practices to better insure your blog will be heard. I found that many academics have the same idea of what those best practices should be so I chose one prominent person in that group, Dorie Clark. She co-authored an article about blogging with Jacqueline Gilbert and Donald Roy. In the article she named her five best practices; 1) High frequency, 2) Reader interaction, 3) A clear niche, 4) Hard information, and 5) A distinctive voice.

Let’s take these one at a time to be sure we understand the concepts; remember we are trying to sell the Colosseum sort of an ancient real estate firm. First our blog would be daily and fresh. Second, remember this is a two-way street now, if all we are doing is pushing we will get nowhere and the Colosseum will be on sale for another 2,000 years. Third, we have to have a clear niche. What the heck does that mean? It is the same as setting a marketing strategy, before you can determine a strategy you need to know your target demographic. Here the niche is a topic you believe your audience will have interest in, and you can become an expert of sorts to attract followers/customers. Fourth, be specific about the topic; offer something useful to the conversation not just rambling. Finally fifth on the list, be human write naturally. It’s a blog not a Sistine Chapel, if you’re in doubt press publish (a paraphrase of a Twitter phrase). An example of a good blog in an auction setting is Heritage Auctions. An example of their blog, which is frequent, fresh, informative, has their niche (the auction information), and is in a relaxed tone can be found here.

                                                              Best practices



Just as blogs, Twitter also has best practices that should guide you or a company to be a successful tweeter unlike our friend here

cartoon strip for twitter

Twitter gurus list different best practices; Courtney Shelton Hunt of Denovati Digital has 11 tips, Business topic of Twitter lists five. Never being the one to take a shortcut; my father used to say that if you have a full tank of gas you’re not lost, I have decided to go with the 11 item list by Hunt. The reason is that although the Twitter list has some of the same information, the Hunt list is more specific in its content. However for the sake of brevity I will just list, for more detail, although I think these tips are mostly self-explanatory, see here. These best “tips” are: 1) Quality over quantity, 2) Craft your tweets well, 3) Use hashtags wisely, 4) Think about multiple views, 5) Don’t tweet drivel, 6) Find the tweets-per-day sweet spot, 7) Don’t overdo it, 8) Time your tweets well, 9) Plan your tweets, 10) Live tweet judiciously, 11) Don’t have private chats in public spaces. Some of these may be cross-overs to blogs and because they are both content sharing venues this seems appropriate.

                                                  In Practice

This is all very interesting but is either blogging or tweeting useful for a ragtag industry like auctions and antiques. For the large houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s the value is obvious but are smaller venues making use of these tools? Marius Bulearca and Suzana Bulearca penned an article investigating Twitter as a viable tool for SMEs (Small to Medium-sized Enterprises). Although the study was not definitive, by the authors own admission, they were able to conclude that Twitter was more suitable for business networking than other platforms, like Facebook.

Blogging is what it is as Gilbert, Clark, and Roy stated in their previously referenced article, a low cost, potentially high-impact and visible way to become a valuable member of a community and to elevate one’s brand. In my opinion it is just as useful as Twitter but it is self-moderating who sees it, just those interested in a specific topic. For example how many people want to read about time travel induced by antiques.

In the end blogs and tweets are themselves a best practice for any business big or small. The auction and antique industry is no different. Just for curiosity sake scan these examples of auction houses and see how they use blogs and tweets to get their message out; additionally notice that not all auction houses are about antiques but they are still in that family of selling and buying. These are just three of literally thousands; Mike Brandly, Thorn Hill Auction, and the Iron Planet. If your curiosity was piqued, go to any auction; get that feely, touchy experience you can’t get on e-Bay or any other online auction. Trust me.

Sin Cerae

In this modern world of communication technology with everyone tweeting, friending, pinning, googling, following, and of course unfriending; I hate that it’s like being pantsed in the middle of the mall. This, however, is now, as marketers, our lives and livelihood, not the pantsing part. The truth is that for any business to have a chance of success, jumping into the social media pond is inevitable. But don’t be mistaken, engaging in social media is not necessarily a panacea, it could be the disease. There are challenges and risks which beg the question to enter the fray or not to enter the fray. As with any challenge or risk it is the matter of degree to which the business is exposed. Ethics and theft put aside, fraud, in whichever form it takes, is a definite concern.

There are federal consumer protection laws which are rather specific. The auction and antiques industry is bound by these laws just as any other business. One such statute declares that unfair or deceptive acts or practices are unlawful. What these means for us, marketers, is that any advertising using social media must be truthful and accurate and clearly disclose all material information regarding their advertisements. If or when any such incident is discovered before the government is aware, it will have gone viral. For an industry that is used to governing itself, any scandal could have a devastating effect on its reputation, such as a high end auction house or any dealer. Also the buyer must be diligent and know about their purchase.

                                         Caveat Emptor

So what the heck does this have to do with taking a brand social you might ask and well you should. Remember that viral thing I mentioned a couple of sentences back and the fraud problem? Well this is not just about reputation it is about value, trust, value, and trust. An industry which relies solely on who knows what, and where they heard it from these are very important, if not the most important guides. We have a word, sincere, which is derived from the Latin “sin cerae” without wax, which refers to the old Roman sculptors making busts and other objects for sale (little did he know that he was making antiques) were not cracked and filled with wax to hide the crack. Although etymologists would disagree I think it’s a great tale. Again I digress. Social media gives anyone who wants it; knowledge which used to be King says Mark Stevens in an interview with several other successful antique dealers. Also this group shared secrets about their own “bad” buys; even they were fooled by fakes. Now however the market is changing because of the Internet and social media; low end is harder to sell and high end is selling through the roof; hence the deluge of fakes coming to market.

                                            Thanks eBay

There has always been some kind of fraud in auctions and other places, like flea markets, but with the advent of online sales this became significant nationwide and worldwide in 1995 with the release of eBay. I have mentioned my own experience with eBay; it was 25% of my revenue. I sold jewelry on eBay and I told stories, which weren’t true but not fraud, not misrepresentation. Now there are so many opportunities for fraud and fakery but how can you tell? I’ll give you two examples which may give insight into the problems and loss because of fakes online. First one of the most revered and expensive items of antiquity are Tiffany lamps (Tiffany anything really but lamps the most sought after). These lamps can fetch $4,000 to $1 million. Anyway, the base is always bronze, nothing else ever. The glass is high quality with techniques like confetti glass. The origins here are important, preferably from an estate or someone you know that has had posession for at least 50 years. Finally the stamp on lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany is marked, Tiffany Studios New York not Tiffany & Co. Another item is Ming dynasty porcelain. Apparently scientists have come up with a complicated chemical diagnoses that is able to ferret out fakes.

chinese vase     tiffany lamp

They are also working on prosesses to determine the authinticity of bronzes


                                             What to do

So the long and the short of it, should the auction and antique industry back off from social media. No of course not, that would be like asking Ford to stop advertising on television. Like any business this industry has to be diligent in their monitoring and do their due diligence on their houses, flea markets, and especially listen to customers of online auction sites the like of eBay or, or any other of the multitude out there. If you want to enjoy the action and excitement of a real live auction, in person, first know what you are bidding on; second take some tips from a seasoned veteran and auctioneer, Wayne Jordon. So go to an auction, you’ll enjoy yourself. Remember only bid on what you know, touch it, look at it, and turn it upside down, sideways, inside, outside and then just have fun and bid like a really rich person.

auction     flea market


Caesar with a Smartphone29029279561_f5ab7958d1                                        So if Caesar had a smartphone (take a close look at the picture, what’s that in his hand?) what would he do; I bet he would have researched the Ides of March and got the heck out of Dodge. Seriously though, I have previously discussed social media in reference to the antiques and auction industry as in which platforms would be the most advantageous for the industry to increase their visibility, especially with Millennials and other tech savvy groups. We have seen how Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and other big houses are adapting to new generations with new money and different ideas of objects d’art. In In my last blog I ended with Brimfield’s  Brimfield Flea Finder as the one and only smart phone app for Brimfield and that is our topic this time the mobile social media application and its effect on the industry.

                                  Charity Auctions and Apps

Let’s transition from that large flea market to other auctions and the devices and apps that are used to increase their presence, revenue, and placate their new demographics. I’d like to add a note here about the auction industry; we are talking here about subsets of the industry, antiques, collectibles, and art. There are other subsets of the industry of which charitable auctions are also an important venue. These auctions have their own devices hewn by technology to increase their presence and donations to their cause. Usually these types of auctions are silent auctions and there are two different devices the smartphone type  used for specific auctions and a universal type for more general information. These are the same type of device but the intent is different. I have a third type specifically set up for silent auctions. The reason for the digression here is that before we become totally elitist in our ideas of what the auction industry is it is important to note what is out there, it may interest many of you if you are involved in charity work. One more note of clarification; if can be sold or traded it can be auctioned, even intellectual property.

                                             Back to the Elite      13728772883_cb14616a27

Here we shall return to what was the original premise of this rambling story, real art and antiques. The subject of fine arts and historic antiques which broadens from art to furniture to porcelains, and fine ceramics (latter two we in the business call smalls, jewelry is in a category all its own) are the traditional backbone of large auction houses; most recognizable being Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Skinners. Particularly fine art, not necessarily old as in Andy Warhol, has always been the most popular objects for investment or simply collecting (most to just say I have one of his/her paintings or sculptures). I mentioned in a previous blog that Instagram is leading the pack with its on line auctions of sometimes very expensive art. There are others that I feel need mentioning here they are Artsy and 1stdibs . These “small houses” are making inroads into the fine arts market mostly on the Internet with their online auctions. 1stdibs has a network of more than 2000 dealers in 17 countries, Artsy’s site displays works from more than 500 museums including the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. The purpose of this and the social media capabilities are to create a larger audience who want to make fine art part of their daily lives says Sebastian Cwilict COO of Artsy. This is all well and good for e-commerce, but where do Caesar and his smartphone come in you may ask.

                                      He Came, He Saw,He bid

An article from IBISWorld Industry Research Reports from 2015 states several related predictions. With the release of Apple’s iOS App Store and Google’s Android Google Play have launched Smartphone App developers industry to new heights. Christie’s launched its iPhone app in 2010 allowing browsing of 450 auctions in over 80 categories. Other’s like Spectrum Wines, a California auction house of fine and rare wines using the power of mobile bidding to collectors. There are apps for cattle bidding, auto shops, car auctions, energy and technology all stimulated by the new generation’s needs. Yes there is an app for that too. All these apps and mobile devices that connect to the Internet have a predicted revenue increase of 43.3% to $12.6 billion by 2015 and then a 25.8% increase in 2015 alone reported by IBIS. With the advent of mobile devices and a plethora of apps, e-commerce is thriving. How does the auction and antique industry benefit from the social media applications, as just a dot on the e-commerce time line it is coming back from the great recession thanks to its investments in the multitude of apps that exist not just for auctions, sales of fine antiques, and collectibles but in areas of fund raisers. What would Caesar say, all roads lead to Rome, come on, buy something, bid on something.

From Christie’s to Brimfield

Previously I discussed some tools which I think auction houses should be using to finally enter the modern world of social technology. Besides their on-line auctions, live from their websites, I suggested that the best platforms for any auction house were Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest. These would have the value of showing actual objects to be offered and I added Twitter as a word-of-mouth venue. Of course while we are discussing social media and the antique and auction industry we immediately think of big houses like Christie’s or Sotheby’s who deal mainly with very high end objects d’ art but there are many more houses dealing in not just the expected antiques from old but with modern collectibles, modern art and of course that rare Pez dispenser. These are local houses that you or I might frequent. There are so many but you may find what you are looking for in your area here and even more in places you might not expect. Yes police or even government auctions, not necessarily old but some good deals like this

1986         96474

necklace or    this ring, real Opal and real clear rubies. My point here is that antiques and auctions have as much diversity as people who seek them out.

                                      What else is out there?

While auction houses have slowly become aware of the power of the internet and websites and social media platforms the rest of the world is a few steps ahead. While you might miss the guy or gal holding an item up in the air (I used to do that before my store) on-line auctions, not necessarily live, are becoming common and even threatened by their own customers. Platforms like Facebook have become a new venue, re-purposing themselves as buying and selling sites. The reason, few if any fees and the people using the sites for that purpose have created small communities where everyone knows each other, making that old nemesis trust a little less bothersome. But there are still more: Tophatter, BuddyBid, and to get the best of the best check here. One final note, are there any online auction platforms that still offer top of the line stuff, like fine contemporary art? In a word Instagram. An article in Vogue tells of the social platform’s launching the careers of under the radar artists and of prices upwards of, well, millions. This is a new way to make art accessible.

                                    What about me?

All these auctions with their attempts to assist the public, that’s you and I, by using social media platforms and the internet with their fancy, or not so fancy, websites. The thing is how can we get in on this, where’s our place in all this. Well, E-bay, Facebook, Instagram (if artists can do it we can), also there is a site to create your own auction site. But before you go to the auction house to sell your “valuable” stuff you should know where to go and if you should, they charge a percentage fee. Below is a chart to help you decide. Just for fun let’s investigate flea markets. Not social media, ever been to one, can’t get any more social than that. The largest in New England is Brimfield open only three times a year. Talk about time travel, everything from dresses to hardware (not the computer kind) and more stuff you or your parents have forgotten.

wooden bowlsbottles Louis the 14th

Brimfield is synonymous with antiques. If you don’t live in New England or Massachusetts, you don’t know what you’re missing. And just to keep on topic the Brimfield Flea Finder is the one and only Smartphone app. We’ll talk about mobile apps next time. Meanwhile, take a look at the chart below. Now go to your closets, cellar, garage, or attic, see what you can find. Wouldn’t hurt to check grandma’s, she might want to get rid of some stuff; you get a small commission, after all she is family. So go!!!



Time Travel with Antiques


time travel

Time travel with antiques seems like a dubious way to enter the blogging world, after all what do antiques have to do with social media? The answer is of course the same as any modern business, to make money. Crass but true social media is the path to success. If these tools had been available a decade or so ago my own antique business might have survived the Great Recession. Water under the bridge, but the fact is that now large and small auction houses are beginning to see their markets changing from old money and aristocratic collectors to new money, hedge fund managers, tech billionaires looking for contemporary art and artifacts. Louis the 14th will never go out of fashion and Pez dispenser collectors aren’t going away any time soon but the method of engaging all

Louis 14th                                  pez

 these targets have changed due to the swift advancement in technology. Smartphones, tablets, mobile apps, laptops, and the ever popular P.C. are a cultural tsunami laying waste traditional media advertising for the antiques industry. Print advertising,  in indusrty magazines, antique themed newspapers, and occasional direct mail for loyal customers are still part of the landscape but people want to see what’s going on now not when they get home or when they get the mail or stop at a newspaper or magazine stand. Also there is a trend for high end auctions elaborated on by Sandra Germain to new collectors who wish to enter at lower priced items, $1,000 to $5,000 , in online auctions. So the antiques industry is going digital, at last.

                                               The New Tools For An Old Trade

Going digital is not always easy for any industry but for the antiques industry steeped in tradition and hardened against change it is even more difficult. Kicking and screaming the changes are coming, forced by the new demographics to reach them in their world. As it turns out there are more than a few tools which would do just that. The list of tools is affiliated to each other, not in ownership, but in what they offer and the best are video and photo capabilities. The most promising are the popular Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and for pure word of mouth Twitter. There are dozens of other tools out there but these are the best for serving the purpose. The ability to views lots (items on the block) watch videos for a 360 view of those lots, and even bid on line really breaks down any perceived barriers of the new group of young rich. These platforms work for international houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s and for Broad Cove Auctions

broad cove auction building (one of my got to auctions) and Caddigan’s Auction House


(another favorite of mine); I even worked for both of these in the day. Any of these houses would reach their audience in several of these platforms. My favorites to keep tabs are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter (not as much as I should on Twitter), and Pinterest. I should say to me Pinterest has more of a “mother and grandmother” feel. My grandniece uses it for her crochet business and a dear friend; she uses it for getting recipes which she promptly posts on Facebook. The fact of the matter is the industry is better for these changes with increased bidding, from over 90 countries and a 45% increase in traffic and 44% of new participants are under 45, the center cell of the new demographic. I would like to look deeper into these new areas of information for the antiques industry. Perhaps that will be the topic of my next blog.

                                                        The Caveat

Before I leave you to run out and find an auction to go to there are some warnings that go with the new technology. The platforms I mentioned, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter are the best, in this case, for advertising; even those auctions you should be aware of advertise. These newly sprung sites have been born because of the technology.  The big houses and occasionaly some of the smaller houses had online auctions, but the line was a land line from AT&T or the like. The bidders on the phone  had to have legitamacy accepted by the house to bid. Also they had to declare which item they wanted to bid on before the start of the auction. Now-a-days all you need is a credit card basically. Here are some things to be aware of to protect yourself online.

                                                                   Try Me

Before you go, if you want a trusted online auction with good stuff for not much I have a suggestion. I have previewed this site often but have not bid yet. I need to decide what will be my primary category in case I open my store again. The site is EBTH , Everything But The House. Here’s a sample of some of the real antiques you could find, plus other offerings.

inside old house

So now you have a place to go. So go!!!!