Instagram can be a valuable tool for artists, but it wasn't for me.
Being one of the most intuitive ways for artists to share their work online, Instagram can easily boost awareness for your art.
As of writing this, I had around 1,200 followers on Instagram before I deleted my account.
Since I started my art business in 2005, I've solely focused on growing my art newsletter. Using my art newsletter and the main means of inviting my audience to collect my art. Pretty much ignoring social media altogether.
But I've always enjoyed using Instagram as a way to stay connected with family and friends. When I made the decision to quit Instagram, this was the hardest part. Unfortunately, Instagram was my only link with past acquaintances. But the time and false sense of “having to be on Instagram” was too much of a distraction with my art.
I would often find a false sense of guilt from not posting a new drawing daily on the platform. Where if I didn't make a post, I worried strangers would think I wasn't being productive or consistent enough. That somehow I would lose the interest of others.
There are countless success stories of artists finding success on Instagram. if used strategically, there's no doubt, Instagram can become a valuable tool for your art business. Especially if you want to sell art online.
But after looking at my analytics, art sales, course sales, and how illustration and animation clients found me online – not one of them came from Instagram.
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Common pitfalls with Instagram
So you get on Instagram, start posting your art. It's easy to get your first 100 followers (Yes, because they're mostly family and friends). But after the first few weeks, its as if you hit a wall. Where it's a struggle to just get one or two additional followers.
If your only plan is to post a picture, sit and wait, it’s going to be a long road ahead. The truth is, building your Instagram followers takes a healthy dose of effort and strategy.
Everywhere you look, you'll find tips and tricks to grow your Instagram followers. However, most advice is either geared toward already established accounts or are for accounts unrelated to art.
Growing to your first a thousand followers is possible, but only with the right strategy.
Establishing the ground rules of Instagram for artists
You have to set up the ground rules first.
So, what are we talking about in terms of a foundation for using Instagram for artists?
Here are the essentials rules for artists on Instagram:
The key ingredient for any kind of growth on Instagram is quality images. Not only do you have to make great art, but you also have to know what you're doing when you're photographing fine art. You don't need an expensive camera, you can achieve high-quality images with just your phone. You just have to understand how to take a great photo of your art. Which means understanding, good composition, lighting, cropping, etc. Use filters very carefully and sparingly when it comes to posting shots of your artwork. People will not stick around if your images aren’t up to par.
Use your art business name, if it’s available so that it’s consistent with the rest of your online presence. Typically it will be your full name with a keyword like “art” or “studio” attached. Remember, you want your Instagram profile name to be as simple as possible for people to find your account.
Keep it clear and descriptive. Tell people what they will see from following you. In other words, use keywords that your audience would search for in the description. Also, if you're a blog artist, make sure to include a link to your artist website.
If you want to promote your art, make sure it isn't private. Otherwise, otherwise you're just wasting time on Instagram.
When people come to your page, having these ground rules established will make sure they become a long time follower.
Ignore the quick growth “tactics”
There is a lot of “tricks” and “hacks” on Instagram. A popular one is the “follow back” tactic. This is where you follow a bunch of accounts related to your art in order to create a notification from your Instagram account. If they click to learn more about you, fingers crossed, they'll follow you too.
While this may work theoretically, this isn't a long term plan.
Firstly, this would take hundreds of hours. Second, it's likely no one would follow you back?
What's even worse is to use a bot to do this for you. Once Instagram finds out you used a bot (which they will) they'll shadowban your Instagram account.
It's better to have Instagram followers who actually support your art. It's so important to go after your target audience as you grow your account.
Here’s how to gain followers the right way…
Connect with the right people on Instagram
Having family and friends connect with you is easy. In fact, they'll probably be your first followers. You need to move on to growing an audience of strangers who like your art.
First, identify Instagram accounts that are aligned with your target audience. For example, these accounts could be galleries, other artists, art blogs, art magazines, interior designer, etc.
Simply, start following them. If they follow you back, great! If not, no big deal.
Next, gradually on a consistent basis, begin liking and commenting on their most recent posts. Offer up your positive compliments, ask questions, give support. Instagram is about engaging with each other. Instagram knows if you aren't engaging with others.
The goal is to be social so these accounts (and others following them) see your comments and are inclined to check your work out. You’ll not only spark curiosity about your own page, but you’ll begin to build relationships. And, these interactions will encourage engagement on your posts too.
Now we need to talk about the Instagram algorithm…
Like with every relationship, communication is key
Unfortunately, you online see approximately 10% of the posts of the accounts you follow. Yes, the people who follow you only see approximately 10% of your posts as well.
Now what? How do you get more people to see your posts?
The answer is engagement.
You see, the more people who engage with your posts, the longer it appears in the feeds of your followers. This means, the people who engage with you more often will see more of your posts in the future.
Long gone are the days where you could just make a post and do nothing else.
TIP: The more engagement you get on your posts, the more people will see it in their feeds and search results. Which means the more people who will discover your account. So the more engagement you get, the more people will want to follow you. As a result, you'll get more followers.
Basically, you get out what you put in. You pretty much have to engage with others in order to get an increase in engagement and followers on your account.
Yes, this means you have to spend the time communicating on other people’s posts, as well as posting amazing images of your art so people will want to follow you.
Post the best content possible
Remember the ground rules of Instagram?
The most important rule is posting high-quality images of your art.
Take a second to remember the posts you “like” on Instagram. When you’re trying to pique the interest of art collectors, a blurry or poorly lit photo won't be enticing for them to even “like”.
The images of your art you post have to capture their attention. Thrill them. Making them want to see more of your art and creative journey.
Here are some great ways to share your art on Instagram:
- Progress posts
- A behind-the-scenes in your studio
- A video timelapse of you making art
- A sketchbook tour video of you flipping through each page of your sketchbook
- Polling your followers to see which of your works they like better
- Video tutorials if you enjoy teaching art
- News about your work
Don't forget about your caption
While it may be simple to post your image with three words describing it, you have to give your followers more. Share your thoughts, insights about what you are posting.
Share a story. Tell them who you are. Offer up what you’re feeling. Share some of your inspirations. Shine a light on hurdles you're facing. Tell why you're making a particular work.
Give each of your posts enough effort so they can potentially encourage engagement from your followers. So don't be afraid to ask questions in the captions of your posts. Don't worry if your followers aren't responding at first, trust me, they will.
Remember, if you want engagement with your posts, you have to engage with others as well.
It may feel as if you're talking into an empty void at first, but the more you speak to your audience in your posts, the more engagement and followers you'll receive.
Use the right hashtags on Instagram
Hashtags are the keywords and phrases that make your posts possible to be discovered. However, in order to get discovered, you have to use the right hashtags.
The best approach for using hashtags is to niche down.
Yes, #drawing is extremely popular (it’s tagged in over 163 million posts), it could also be too broad. Such as someone strolling who is a musician, a model, or even a chef.
Which is why you need to get specific.
Think about the exact keywords your audience will search for. For instance, #wildlifeartist may be more specific than #artist, but #wildlifedrawing might be specific enough to attract a new collector.
You want your hashtags to be widely used enough that people are actually searching for them, but not so popular that you get lost in ambiguity.
Research hashtags related to your specific type of art by typing it into Instagram’s search bar. Pay attention to the related hashtags and add the most relevant ones to your list. You could also reverse engineer what other similar artists to you are using, and test them out for yourself.
You're allowed to us up to 30 hashtags at a time.
However different amounts of hashtags work for different artists. The most effective way to figure out what works for your art is to simply test it out.
TIP: For faster posting, keep an updated doc full of different hashtags for different kinds of posts. That way you can just pick and choose the ones that fit and copy and paste. You can also use autocorrect settings on your phone to list hashtags when you type a custom term you created.
Make a plan and stick to it
Avoid getting lost in the algorithm mess by posting consistently. When you post consistently, you will stay at the top of your followers’ radar. Also, remember to consistently engage and comment on posts of people you follow.
Make sure to use the business account setting on Instagram. This will offer up valuable analytics and insights about your audience. Such as fan demographics, how often your posts have been viewed, what hashtags your audience found you through, what days and hours a majority of your audience is online, and more.
Knowing the right time will help boost engagement with your posts.
Stick to posting your art and only your art. Once you stray into personal photos of food and pets, you'll quickly turn away new followers and lose engagement.
Share your account
Instagram for artists is a huge benefit for a career artist. Sometimes all it takes to get more Instagram followers is a little visibility. Get the Insta word out by including a link to your account on your other social media pages, and remind new fans to follow you periodically.
Don’t stop there! Put an Instagram icon on your Artwork Archive profile, and add your username to your business cards, event materials, and more. Have a newsletter? Share your account with your email followers. All these steps can add up to get more eyes on your art account.
Instagram growth is possible
Getting those first 1,000 followers can seem impossible.
While it doesn't happen overnight, all of these tips will slowly build up to an Instagram account you're proud of.
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