Updated: May 4
This is a tale of woe from an aspiring (and lazy) Instagram artist. I am no expert on Instagram but I am happy to share what little I do know (and lots of what I don’t know). I’ve listened to the experts, read articles and tried to increase my Instagram following, but mostly it didn’t work. So I’ve saved you the trouble of doing the research and making the same mistakes. Here is a list of what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what may work, if I could be bothered dedicating the time. In other words: the good, the bad and the ugly (it’s mostly ugly).
1. Frequent posting
The most frequent advice I hear is to post frequently, like every day, preferably twice a day. Like many artists, I don’t produce enough art to post new material every day. Even if I was able to make something new, photograph it and post it twice daily, I suspect most of my followers would get sick of me. I often unfollow serial posters because I get sick of seeing the same two people in my feed and I expect any normal person to do the same to me. Better to post something good infrequently, than post crap often (I wrote that catchy phrase myself).
2. Quality photos
Instagram influencers will emphasise the importance of quality photos and will spend many a video explaining what makes a good image. They cover concepts of backgrounds, cropping, composition, balance, lighting and colour. Since most of you are artists you’ll be familiar with many of these concepts so I won’t bore you with stuff you already know. However, I did come across this nifty little app called Snapseed. It’s basically like Photoshop but for your phone. So if you don’t have the patience to take good photos (like me), I recommend downloading Snapseed and actually using it occasionally.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat
A successful Instagram artist once told me (via a YouTube video), that you should stick to the one thing and post it over and post. So if you’re a portrait painter, you should post solely portraits, and if you’re an abstract artist, post only that. Unfortunately, I flit from painting to drawing, to collage, to printing. Sometimes with pattern, and sometimes without. A life of repetition is a life less lived, so I prefer to mix it up.
4. Update your bio
Some people have such witty bios that I could kiss them. But not me. Mine is very formal and factual. There’s a lot of information I want to convey in my bio and I always wondered how people fitted it all, especially when they said “See bio for details.” But then I discovered Linktr.ee. It’s free and easy to use and now I can link my bio to all kinds of useless information.
5. Consider the bigger picture
While each individual image must be amazing on its own, it must also look good in the Instagram grid. Having posts that look good next to each other is important. There are plenty of apps that will help you with consistent filters or preview your grid in advance. However these apps usually cost money and I don’t use them, so I can’t recommend any.
Instagram influences will suggest you tag products to increase your visibility and since they are in the business of product placement, this makes sense. However it doesn’t work so well for artists. If I am selling art on Bluethumb or in a gallery, I will tag them in the artwork image, but it hasn’t generated a noticeable increase in likes or follows. I’ve even tried tagging materials (like @derwentartoffical), my framer and my favourite authors, but I haven’t found it beneficial. However, I do recommend tagging @KimKardashian; it resulted in my most viewed post ever.
7. Following accounts
The more accounts you follow, the more followers you get. You’ve probably noticed this little game on Instagram, where people follow you to see if you follow them back. Then they unfollow you. Don’t worry about them. Just follow accounts that you like. I often check out accounts that other artists are following or that are recommended to me by Instagram, in order to discover new art. Follow, follow, follow…. but not too much.
8. Unfollow accounts
Apparently it’s not cool to be following heaps more accounts than are following you. A cool Instagram person told me about a 'cleaning app' called Unfollow. It’s a free app (I only do free ones) that allows you to unfollow inactive accounts, ghost accounts and people that aren’t following you. I’m not exactly sure how to use it, but it sounds like it could be really useful for those concerned about being uber cool (like me).
Using an excessive amount of hashtags increases you visibility on Instagram but can disadvantage you on Facebook (so I heard). The placement of hashtags on Instagram is controversial, as some believe that having them in the main text is annoying. So they do this dot, dot, dot thing:
and then add them further down, which is time consuming and also annoying. Others add hashtags using a comment. I’ve tried all three and haven’t noticed a difference in responsiveness. The unhelpful thing about using comments for hashtags is that you can’t copy the them for other posts. I recommend keeping a list of your most frequently used hashtags on your phone so you can copy and paste them into all your Instagram posts. This will save you time. If you’re not sure what hashtags to use, look at some successful artists and copy theirs. That’s what I did. I’ve also heard that posts are more likely to be seen if you use less popular hashtags. I’m not sure that’s true, but I throw in a few obscure hashtags just to #hedgemybets.
10. Pay for play
Aggregator accounts share lots of different art and have hundreds of thousands of followers. Examples include @artsamazingz, @art.option and @interiors.4you. You pay a fee, give them a photo and they share it with their followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? Well I tried it and it didn’t do much, so don’t bother. There are a few platforms that will share your work for free including @sharehumancreativity, @pigmentonline and @australian_virtual_art_gallery, but they are few and far between. Better to go with the competition/give-a-away option.
11. Competitions/Give-a-way option
Who doesn’t love a freebie? No one. That’s why the occasional competition is a good idea. You know the ones I mean, tag a friend and all that. Make sure you offer something that people actually want and is easy to post. I did do this once and it was worthwhile. Just do it.
Artists are always told that they need a story. What is their work about, why did they make it, bla, bla, bla. This is good advice and is not specific to Instagram. There are many podcast dedicated to this topic including the Art Marketing Podcast. However I am from the ‘a-picture-tells-a-thousand-words’ camp, especially when it comes to Instagram, so therefore I need not bother. Writing copy takes time and energy and I don’t think people actually read anything on Instagram anyway. This may explain why I don’t have heaps of followers.
13. Pick your moment
Experts say to post when your followers are on Instagram. If you have a business account you can see that most people are on when you would expect: in the evening, when commuting to work etc. I find posting on Sunday is good as a lot of people are looking. There are apps that allow you to schedule posts ahead of time, such as Planoly, but I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants and live life in the moment.
14. Be nice
Being nice to others doesn’t just apply to the Instagram world, but the Instagram God does like it when you play nicely with others. The word on the street is that if you interact with your followers for 20 minutes before you post, they’re more likely to see it in their feed. This is one thing that I actually do, as I value good manners. Everyone likes compliments, so be generous in your comments and ensure they are at least 4 words in length. If people comment on your post, write them a thank you note, in the form of a reply comment, which is at least 4 words long. Eg. “Thank You Very Much” and “Peace Be With You.” This is the word of the [Instagram] Lord.
15. Get a life outside of Instagram
When I say get a life outside of Instagram, I mean join a Facebook group. I’ve found this a good way to find people with similar interests, who will hopefully be happy to follow you and be followed in return. In my case I’m connecting primarily with other artists, because no one loves art more than artists. If you're in Victoria, I recommend MAVA Melbourne and Victorian Artists. Other Facebook groups I’ve joined include ones for book lovers, feminists, mums, women in business or people who live in my area. These groups may not allow blatant self-promoting, so be sure to read the rules. Also maybe re-read my first point about posting multiple times a day. Hopefully you’ll be able to share opportunities, events and those blog posts you never wrote.
That concludes my list of all the things I never did on Instagram and a few of which I did. If you would like to share some things you have and have not tried on Insta, please share them with me. Thanks for sticking with me until the end of this very long post. As a reward, check out these inspirational Instagram artists who most likely obey all of the above rules: