Instagram is booming. Last month the burgeoning social media platform announced they had hit a billion monthly active users. A BILLION. That’s more than Twitter, more than Snapchat—and it’s actually growing faster than its older cousin, Facebook. In fact, much faster.
With all these eyes and ears (Instagram isn’t all about images, video is a big part of its growth) it begs the question: as an artist should you be on there? The unequivocal answer is yes.
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Whereas Facebook has been described as the social network of people you know, Instagram is the social network of people you want to know, those who share the same interests as you.
In fact it is this interest-based community spirit that is driving IG’s growth.
But how do you get started? What should you post? How do you grow your followers?
After spending months researching and interacting with successful ‘grammers, we found several great techniques that we’re using to grow our newly launched art store on Instagram—here they are, so you guys can make use of them too!
1. What to post on Instagram
As an artist, the obvious thing to post is your artwork. This is great if you have a big portfolio, but can be limiting if you’re just starting out. But worry not!
If you have a small portfolio, you can always repost the same artwork over again. It’s perfectly fine, just make sure you make the image different.
What do I mean by this? Instead of just posting an image of your art as a plain JPG, have you tried hanging the artwork on a wall and then taking a snap with your phone? What about leaning it against the wall, or placing it on a shelf for another couple of snaps?
Or how about gathering a bunch of artworks from other artists you admire and creating a gallery wall? Lifestyle shots of interiors are super hot on Instagram right now.
There’s so much you can post that’s related to your art too. You can post about what inspires you—e.g. other people’s art, architecture, fashion, found objects—the list is endless.
You can create simple videos about your art too, e.g. a time lapse of you creating art or sharing details of an upcoming work in progress.
Then there’s reposting. Seen something you love from another artist? Repost it! Just make sure to mention or tag the person who created the original post, in fact this is how relationships on IG flourish (more on that later).
Get creative with your content and don’t be afraid to experiment! And remember, on IG quality trumps quantity; so don’t worry if you can’t post everyday.
2. How to use Instagram hashtags
You’ve heard about hashtags, and perhaps you’ve thought they are a bit naff. On Facebook, they are pretty much pointless. But on IG they are the lifeblood of finding and interacting with your tribe.
Not all hashtags are made equal however. Therefore it pays to research them beforehand.
At arthaus we have a spreadsheet, which we regularly update with promising hashtags. We group them by topic and image type. For example, we have hashtags for when we feature black and white photography, we have hashtags for illustration, we have hashtags for posts featuring interior design shots, etc, etc.
The key takeaway is make your tags relevant to the post.
Add around 20-30 hashtags to EVERY post you create, and you’ll start to see your follower count grow. You are now able to follow hashtags as well as people on IG, so every time you add hashtags to your post, it will appear in real people’s feeds, and this is pretty BIG.
To research hashtags, type some queries related to the style of art you create in the search field and see what comes up. In evaluating the hashtag, make sure the content in the tag feed is relevant to you and your potential audience, and that the existing posts are of decent quality. When you find high quality, active tags like these, every time you use them you will be posting to people who are highly relevant to your art/style/interest.
To find more relevant hashtags, see what IG auto-suggests for you when looking up a tag and follow the same procedure above. And yet another great way to find hashtags is to see what similar artists are using.
It’s also important to mix up hashtags that have different numbers of posts. Hashtags that have a huge number of posts already probably won’t help you. You might think these are the best ones to go for, but unless your post has a lot of ranking authority (i.e., lots of high engagement) it will probably get lost in the noise of other posts pretty quickly.
So supplement a few big hashtags (ones with million+ posts) with other smaller ones, a few in the 100k to 500k range, as well as plenty of those with <100k even going as low as a few thousand. Anything below probably isn’t worth it.
For smaller hashtags your post is likely to stick around longer (even without having high authority/engagement already) and is therefore more likely to be noticed.
3. Growing your Instagram followers
So as suggested above, hashtags are the simplest and quickest way to start growing a following from scratch.
But one of the best ways to grow an Instagram following is simply by telling your story through your posts over time.
Some of the most successful instagrammers are great at doing this, and although their imagery is visually on point, often it’s what they talk about in their posts that drives engagement and pushes them up IG’s rankings, therefore increasing visibility further.
Then, simply interact with accounts you admire. Posting comments, engaging in their conversations, and reposting their content are all great ways to do that. If you are “active” on IG, your profile will be rewarded with greater visibility.
Another favourite is working with influencers. These could be bloggers, art curators, interior design professionals, etc. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Remember, the collaborative nature of Instagram is the reason it continues to grow!
So you could send some of your art to them, you could run contests and giveaways together, the opportunities are endless.
Some other techniques you can use to grow a following include using any existing traffic from your website or blog, partnering with other artists, joining an IG pod and interacting with ‘grammers in real life.
(IG pods are groups of people who help each other grow by collaborating regularly, both online and IRL, and are often grouped around a common set of hashtags.)
I cannot stress enough the importance of collaboration and networking on IG. If you approach the social network with this mindset you will be set up to win new fans and customers alike.
I hope this helps you find your way around Instagram! Of course there’s lots more you can do, so supplement this with further reading online, as well as simply following accounts that have big followings and watching closely what they do. That’s one of the best ways to learn!