When Cbabi Bayoc set out to paint an image of black fathers every day of 2012, he knew Facebook would be the way he shared those images.
“I didn’t think that’s all I would have to do for it to spread,” he says.
But it was.
As of Jan. 2, Bayoc’s Facebook page for his project, 365 Days with Dad, had 4,549 likes with 1,359 people actively engaging. On Dec. 12, 147 people like the day’s image, 81 on Dec. 10, and a series of seven paintings he added earlier in the month got 808 likes with 62 comments.
“That’s kind of the goal of social media, to have your readers or customers or perspective customers engaged in the content that you’re uploading,” says Michael Kiel, executive vice president of Leap Clixx, a St. Louis-based online marketing firm.
Bayoc started his project to show positive images of black fathers and used Facebook as the way to sell the original paintings. He hoped he’d sell the pieces, which he has.
“I didn’t think people would tell people, would tell people, would tell people,” he says.
But they did.
Bayoc didn’t just, as he says, start the page and watch it spread, though. Whether he knows it or not, he’s done some things along the way that have helped his work and his message spread around the world.
So here’s a St. Louis artist who is going to paint one painting a day. Every day. For the entire year. Just the idea alone got Jonathan Smith to log in.
Provided Jonathan Smith
Smith, who knows Bayoc and frequents the restaurant Bayoc’s wife, Reine, owns, SweetArt, actually didn’t know of the project until he read about it on Facebook. Through that, a number of his own friends now know about it as well.
A dad a day?
“The first thing was just the nature of the project,” says Smith, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Saint Louis University.
That first month, a lot of people agreed with him. In January, Bayoc had more than 750 likes already. On Jan. 13, Bayoc wrote (with editing for length): "It just dawned on me...I.m gonna have a hundred different books by year.s end. Our fatherless youth need inspiration NOW! ... We WILL change our community one image at a time!...”
People shared, they messaged him, they ordered paintings, and every day, they logged in to see what the new image of the day would be.
The very nature of the project, and how daily it is, is a key part of its success, says Kiel. Bayoc added photos every day, and he started a conversation with those pictures that got people engaged and participating.
But simply posting photos each day isn’t enough, Kiel says, though a lot of people think it is.
“They think maybe if they upload a cute puppy or something, they’ll get some likes.”
For 365 Days with Dad, the “what” has been as important as the “when.”
Smith paid attention to Bayoc’s project on Facebook first because of the sheer scope of the project, and second, because of what it was about.
He’s fully aware, Smith says, of the data concerning black fathers in this country. But there’s more happening there.
“The project spoke to me because, although I’m aware of the statistics, my own lived reality has always been one in which black fatherhood has always been positive.”
The last time we as a country had a positive image of a black father was Bill Cosby, Smith says, and even though we’ve had an example of it for the last four years in the White House, that’s not what people focus on. But Bayoc did.
For some, the paintings celebrated their own realities. For others, it showed how they’d adapted to and thrived with the fathers they had. And for at least one subject, it showed what she’d missed, and gave her a little space to heal.
Jennifer Finely, who went to college with Bayoc, ordered a painting in memory of her father, who was killed in a car accident when Finely was just a child. In the painting from day 111, her 3-year-old self is holding onto her father’s leg, wearing the dress she wore to his funeral. Being part of the series was healing for Finley, and good for the community, too.
“I think there’s such negative stuff when it comes to black men, and so this is an uplifting project for black men," says Finley, who lives in Houston, Texas.
And it wasn’t just people in the black community who followed along or ordered paintings. Often, people on the 365 page chimed in to the comments with stories of their own about present or absent dads, or the efforts they were making to be present themselves.
With this project, Kiel thinks, the subject of fatherhood was big enough to engage a lot of people.
And that’s what successful social media campaigns need, says Aaron Perlut, managing partner with Elasticity, a digital marketing and public relations agency.
Success comes, he says, when you can tap into an audience and understand what they care about. Then, he says “the onus is now on them to become a content producer that builds a relationship between them and the audience.”
It feels real
The subjects Bayoc portrayed were real people, and some days, in small snippets of text, he shared their stories.
On day 72, for a man who’d recently lost his father, Bayoc wrote: “Like I said the other night, this 30-somethin yr old brotha JUST lost his father and mentioned not having gone fishing in a while. My man, I hope once you grieve this piece can replace the regret with reflection ... on whatever conversation(s) you may have had or wish you could've had. Try to appreciate the quality of time you got with your dad.”
On day 133, for a painting about a young man whose father was in and out of jail, but found father figures in three other men: “I watched this young cat bare his soul on YouTube and wanted to do a piece that spoke to his convictions. Keep your head up young Bro. And realize the gems you.ve received from these three brothas. It is a testament to the importance of paternity when you can have men step up to help guide you. Yet, you still bare the pain of your blood not being present. If you ain.t been there for your kids ... PLEASE try to make it right if there is still a glimmer of hope. I don.t care if they are 30 or 40. That pain is still real.”
The images themselves also felt real, Smith says. Many painted from photos but enhanced with Bayoc’s style felt like ordinary moments in the lives of real people. And that got people’s attention.
“You realize that these come from moments and places that are not staged,” he says.
Bayoc shared the stories and lives of real people. And he also shared his own.
When his mother-in-law passed, when he was exhausted, when he started to fall behind the painting a day mark, he wrote about it, and got encouragement back from his followers.
And he read all their comments, he says.
“It helped keep me going.”
So, now what?
365 days, 4,594 likes and growing, plus people tuning in to see what’s next in Texas, California, Missouri, France and the UK, to name just a few.
Bayoc used Facebook to sell his paintings and start a discussion. He’s used Twitter, too, and as of Dec. 21 had a fitting 365 followers. Smith thinks that, had Bayoc used Twitter more, he’d have reached an even bigger audience since there’s a vibrant black community on Twitter.
But with the images and room to write descriptions, Facebook may have just worked better.
So 2012 is over, but 365 Days with Dad isn’t.
Bayoc still has work to do to finish the project, which he’s come to think of as a collection, a body of work, and not something that has to end on Dec. 31.
In fact, it probably won’t ever end.
When the paintings are finished, Bayoc plans to keep doing what he’s doing. Fathers are his legacy now, he says. So that’s what he’ll keep painting. Maybe not every day, but certainly there will be a father in every painting.
And the Facebook page created for this year long project? It isn’t going anywhere either, he says.
“As I go around the country, the world, I’ll just post stuff as it evolves.”