How to Grow Your Instagram Following

2020 Edition for Artists

I don’t know how many times I’ve written about this topic, but it is always worth revisiting as the platform continues to change. I always approach Instagram from a creative business perspective, but this advice applies to anyone looking to grow their following.

Now, I don’t want to repeat too much of the same information that I’ve gone over in previous posts, but some of you may not have read any of those posts before seeing this one, so you’ll get a little bit of new info and a little bit of old info that is still relevant.

Instagram–How can it help artists?

I’m going to start with the very basic reason why you should want to grow your online following: To make money.

I am an introvert. I hate crowds and I really dislike doing events to sell my work. Many of you know all of this about me–which is why I focus most of my energy on building an online following. Instagram connects me directly to buyers and prevents me from having to leave the house until I have art to ship.

A large following can also connect you to other businesses where you can work to promote their products and receive payment and/or free products. And when you use location tags and location based hashtags on your posts, you can build relationships with you local community and find offline opportunities, regardless of your account size.

My main point is that Instagram can be a really powerful tool to help your business and I urge literally every type of business or creative person to have some sort of social presence.

But you must always be ready for change.

Instagram continues to evolve and tweak their algorithm and app features. Last year, they rolled out a change that affected a lot of accounts’ engagement. My account, and many other artist accounts suffered, and my steady organic 100+ new followers a day turned into a trickle–and then my following actually started to drop for the first time in two years. It was a real bummer and I admit I took it harder than I wanted to, but that’s the reality of depending on any third party to connect you to your audience and buyers.

Things change, but when they do, this can push you to try new approaches. You can adapt. I took a few months to step away from social media (mostly for other mental health reasons) and just maintained my following, but this last month, I have been pushing hard and my account is starting to move forward again.

Every piece of advice I give you in my blog posts is based on my experiences. I don’t just regurgitate the information I find on the internet. I test things, and then I share what has worked.

So let’s get to it:

Instagram is a visual platform. Your content needs to look good.

1. Make sure your account is visually cohesive and branded.

If you want to sell your art online, you need to create an account that has a clear style and brand. If you want to have an art account where you just share all of the random, disconnected art you’ve been making, and you don’t care if more than friends and family see it, that is totally fine! But, if you want to grow your following and connect with art buyers, then all of your posts need to feel like they fit together in some way. You can do this by having a consistent style within all of your art, or you keep a consistent photo staging aesthetic.

Basically, your followers should recognize a post came from your account just by looking at a single photo or video you post.

2.Create attractive content–not just attractive art.

Every photo you take and video you record needs to become a new piece of art on its own. You have to be mindful of all the art principles you use within your art for your photos and videos. Negative space, contrast, balance, variety, color, texture, etc..

Stage your photos and use good lighting. Use negative space within your photos so that your profile doesn’t look cluttered. Use a variety of photo angles and staging to keep things interesting (close ups, wide shots, angled shots, photos of you with your art, etc.).

Instagram caters to a short attention span. Your content needs to pull people in.

You need to make your posts stand out and convince people to spend more time looking at your posts.

1.Focus on creating videos.

This is still my number one piece of advice to get recognized on social media. MAKE VIDEOS! Make time lapse videos, real time process videos, make short videos for stories, make long videos for IGTV. Just make videos and make them often. If you don’t want to share your techniques, then get crafty with your editing and only show small, but satisfying aspects of your process.

Videos force people to spend more time looking at your post, which then shows Instagram that your content is interesting and should be shown to a wider audience.

Recently, Instagram has given people the option to create a longer IGTV post through their normal posting process, and I have found that my recent explorations with longer IGTV posts have yielded great results. The post stays active for a longer period of time and more people have been funneled to my account. I highly recommend playing with IGTV videos.

This is how I make my videos.

2.Create carousel posts.

Carousel posts have been a feature for a while on Instagram. If you post more than one photo at a time, that post is a carousel post. You can include up to ten photos/videos on a post, and depending on the product you are selling or how you want to engage with your audience, carousel posts can force people to look through each slide and spend more time than average on that post. This can show Instagram that the post is more interesting than usual, and potentially boost it to a larger audience.

Consider showing individual videos for each part of your process, doing informative slides with text, or do closeups and wide shots of a new piece of art you just created.

3.Write engaging captions.

I have a whole post on this here, but basically, you need to offer more than “Here is a new piece of art.” or “18”x24″ acrylic on canvas, DM to purchase.”

You need to let people get to know you in your captions. Tell stories, share tips and tricks, explain what inspires you. Look at captions like the start of a conversation. You need people to comment on your posts for Instagram to see your content is interesting, so even try asking questions for your audience to respond to.

Don’t neglect captions!

4.Post frequently.

I recommended posting 1-3 times a day, 7 days a week in the past and I still stand by that. You’re not going to burn out your audience if you keep your content interesting. You are a business and people need to see your content often to remind them that you exist. You also need to keep feeding content into the Instagram machine to increase your odds of being seen by a new audience.

Read: How to create more content for social media.

5. Post at your peak time.

If you switch your account to a business or creator profile, you will be able to access insights into your posts and audience behavior. You’ll be able to see a handy bar graph that shows when your followers are most active on your posts. My current peak window is 6am-12am Pacific Time. Which means, I need to post as close to the beginning of that window as possible to maximize exposure to my following at one time.

Post when your audience is most active, and you increase the odds of getting engagement on your posts, which then increases the odds of being boosted by Instagram.

6. Use strategic hashtags.

I still research new hashtags every few months, and I still recommend using smaller niche tags when are trying to grow your following. I have a whole blog post on researching tags here.

Don’t Waste your time on these things

These are all things that I have tried and found to be way too much work for very little reward. Do yourself a favor and focus on creating good content and posting frequently instead of the following:

  1. Follows for follows: Only follow accounts that you actually want to see in your feed. Don’t follow a bunch of randos to guilt them into following you. It’s not how a business should behave.
  2. Likes for likes: Only like the content you enjoy. Again, don’t guilt people into liking your posts.
  3. Comment pods: I’ve been invited to so many of these lately. They are great if you want to connect with other artists, and they might help you grow your following a little bit, but it is a huge time commitment. I had recommended pods in the past, but I didn’t see my following change, I’m honestly too lazy for that now.
  4. Follow pods/chains: Have you seen the group messages that say “follow these 10 accounts, then add your name to the list and send to a bunch of other people”? Sure, it might help boost your following a little, but these people aren’t your target sales audience and again, it’s a lot of time spent on the app with little reward.
  5. Commenting on a bunch of posts to get people to look at your account: again, a lot of work, and little reward. Plus it’s really annoying to have “hey, check out my account for more art,” comments show up on your own posts.
  6. Giveaways: You don’t need to give your art away to grow a following. New followers gained during a giveaway will likely unfollow you after it’s done. Use a giveaway to reward existing followers only.
  7. Bots: I hate bots. Don’t pay for followers and don’t pay for bot services if you actually want your followers to be meaningful and eventually convert to sales.

I know a lot of this is content that I’ve posted before, except for utilizing carousel posts and IGTV, but honestly there will never really be a new quick trick to growing a following. Just like developing your own art style, growing a genuine, organic audience takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it to me.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, but I can help in more ways if you still need guidance. For one, I have a whole bunch of other blog posts that elaborate on this post even further. I’ve copied some of them below. Second, I offer one-on-one help through coaching and consulting services.

My Consulting Services: Instagram Assessment and Branding Assessment

I don’t advertise this often, but I love working with other artists to help them improve their Instagram accounts and refine their brand and message. As of 5/3/2020, I offer a 90 minute Instagram Assessment session where you and I can go through everything you need to know to improve your online presence and kick start your following. And, you can easily add a session to my online calendar now.

Read more about my consulting services and book an appointment today.

I try to keep my services affordable, but include the code 25OFF in your booking notes and I’ll give you $25 off a 90 minute branding or Instagram session.

I look forward to working with you! And if this post gave you everything you need, I wish you the best of luck on your social media journey!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

@messyeverafter


Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Past Instagram Posts:

It’s Time to Post Art Videos on Pinterest and TikTok

Creators shouldn’t depend on one social platform.

If you’re an artist, it’s smart to be on Instagram. For a long time, it has been a tremendous tool for creators to gain exposure, but it shouldn’t be your only focus.

Have you seen the videos of Instagram influencers crying to the camera because their account got deleted or because changes to Instagram may negatively affect their income and brand partnerships? I know people like to poke fun and say things like get a real job, but I can imagine how those crying influencers feel. I must also note that if you can make real money doing something, it’s a real job.

None of us have complete job security. Whether we are employed by others or enter the self-employed realm, we are at the mercy of change. We can get fired, laid off, the economy can tank, the market changes, and even social media apps can make changes that cut you off from your customers. Every single one of us needs to make a plan for change and be ready for the day that the good things we have going for us professionally take a negative shift.

Instagram may be dying.

Or at the very least, it isn’t at its full glory anymore. I am a numbers junky. I stare at Google Analytics for my website quite often to see where the traffic on my website originates, and the other day I decided to compare Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest traffic to my website over the last two years.

The number of followers on any social media account really doesn’t matter for a business unless those numbers can convert to meaningful sales/website clicks. Obviously, looking at this graph you can see that Instagram was a huge asset for me for my art business. My following started to grow in Sept 2017, and the traffic to my website grew right along with it. Until the algorithm shift in January of 2018–from then on it has been a roller coaster of traffic. Now with the new changes they have been making to the platform, my traffic has been on a steady decline since April of 2019.

I don’t put much effort into Facebook, and it shows. Then there is Pinterest, which has been steadily increasing for me since August 2018 when I actually started to put effort into creating consistent blog content.

Now, the reason why I say Instagram may be dying or just doesn’t benefit creatives like it used to is because of this:

In December of 2017, I had 25,000 Instagram followers. In June of 2019, I had 125,000 followers. That’s a 100,000 increase–but look again at the roller coaster of traffic. This is all organic growth, my content has only improved, I still post regularly, pay attention to peak times, and blah blah. Blah. Yet, my monthly traffic from Instagram to my website peaked in January of 2018.

Over a year and a half, 100k followers gained and my meaningful traffic peaked at 25,000 followers?!

Excluding the possibilities that my content sucks, people don’t like my art, or anything like that, I have come to the conclusion that Instagram is taking steps to keep users on the platform and to encourage business accounts to start paying for ads (over my dead body) rather than be gifted with organic exposure.

I’m not saying abandon ship. You can still make traction with Instagram organically. I will continue to use the platform–but it’s time to:

Broaden your social Horizon

I want to talk about two platforms that I think you should be using as a creative person (in combination with Facebook and Instagram): Pinterest and TikTok.

I have encouraged my readers in multiple blog posts over the last year to make and post art process videos on social media. (My video posts on Instagram have always done better than still photos.) If you haven’t figured out how to record and edit videos, you should get on that.

TikTok

Tiktok is a video platform that gives you the ability to go viral much faster than any other platform I have used without having ANY followers on your account.

After only 6 weeks of using the app, my account gained 20,000 followers. I wish I could show you stats of traffic to my website, but at this moment TikTok doesn’t have a bio that allows for external links yet. Though, you can link your Instagram and YouTube accounts. I can also confirm that I have generated art sales from TikTok.

TikTok Basics:

  • Post videos filmed in the vertical format.
  • Keep video length between 11-20 seconds (yay short attention spans!)
  • Make the content bright, engaging, and branded.
  • Use 2-3 trending hashtags that are relevant to your content (scroll through the explore feed to choose them)
  • Use songs that are also on the trending lists.
  • Post 3-5 times a week.

Pinterest

Pinterest has been around for a while and it’s still a powerful tool for bloggers and creators, though it’s becoming more powerful as they have added playing video posts. Since this feature is new, they are prioritizing videos at the top of search results. I posted a couple of videos originally used on my Instagram account and linked back to my website. Look at the views and pin counts below. These numbers are far higher than my Instagram videos on average.

My Pinterest account only has around 1300 followers right now, so again, this isn’t something that you need to have a huge following to see progress. And pins can live for a long time and continue to push traffic to your site, unlike FB and Insta where posts last 24-72 hours on average.

Basics:

  • Use square videos (I have observed better success with those)
  • Use commonly searched keywords in titles and descriptions: start typing in key art words into the Pinterest search bar to see what kinds of phrases start to autofill. This is what is searched for most often and will increase the chances your post is seen.)
  • Have a purpose for your post: Link back to your Skillshare classes, your product lists with affiliate links, your art store inventory, or whatever your monetization preference is. It doesn’t matter how many eyes are on your work if you can’t convert that to money.
  • Music doesn’t appear to matter.

How to use the right video format across platforms:

When I record videos, I start with the vertical format (I turn my webcam 90 degress and then adjust the settings in Premiere Pro when editing. Or you can use your phone.). I export 30-60 second videos for Instagram, then I shorten the video to around 15 seconds for Tiktok. I post the full vertical video on TikTok, and then I crop the video in Instagram and use the square format for Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. When I am working on my art, I keep the camera focal point in the center of the vertical frame so crucial moments aren’t cut off when I crop to a square.

You can use the same length of video for Insta, FB, and Pinterest.

***

I hope this post helped give you a good place to start on Pinterest and TikTok!

I know that it can be easy to feel defeated when the things you try for your art business just don’t seem to work, or you start to see loss of progress like I have with Instagram. It’s not fun, but I’m here to remind you that it’s a normal part of the process. Every time you hit a roadblock, take a step back and look at the data, and then form a new plan of attack. It’s okay to wallow for a bit, but don’t accept defeat and don’t depend on once source of exposure for your business.

Try multiple platforms and give more energy to the areas that you see progress, but don’t fully neglect the less fruitful pursuits. Pinterest did nothing for me for months, and now it is my most productive traffic driver. Follow the data. Also, if you are thinking about paying for ads to boost your exposure, read this post first.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday. And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

4 Ways to Create a Branded and Authentic Style

Guest Post by @adventures.of.ang

Angie Felt is a tell-it-like-it-is wellness and travel blogger with a major thing for pink. You can learn more about her and check out her other blog posts here. And make sure to follow her on Instagram. 

Today, I want to talk about the importance of building a branded style while maintaining authenticity to grow your following and ultimately your creative business. Building your following is important because more followers equals more potential customers. Getting people to land on your profile and follow you is one thing; but keeping them around is another.

While there are many social media platforms out there, I am going to focus on the area I know best, Instagram. Instagram is a powerful tool that allows you to creatively display life through your lens and provide others with a glimpse of who you are. Instagram has become an enormous platform for creatives, bloggers, and small business owners to get more eyeballs on their content without the price tag of a billboard or ads.

If you do any research on how to grow your Instagram following, the first thing you will be encouraged to do is to brand your feed. When a person clicks to view your profile, out of the millions of profiles in this great big world, you need to make them want to follow you within two seconds. In order to make them want to follow you, you need to have a profile that catches their eye and makes them interested. Having a branded feed lets them see at a glance what to expect from your profile.

What is a Branded Feed?

A ‘branded feed’ means there is a consistency among the photos on your profile. Your feed should evoke your particular style the moment someone lands on your profile.

Here are examples of different artists and their branded feeds:

Birch.house.lettering is a calligraphy and watercolor artist profile. When I go to her feed I can expect interesting close ups of her work with a light and airy vibe.

Bysamanthajo is an artist profile filled with paintings and drawings. I can expect cool tones and plain/neutral backgrounds that make her art pop when you see it.

Thelightandthelove is a photographer profile filled with warm tones that evoke a moody and desert vibe.

With each one of these profiles, the moment I click to their feed I know exactly what to expect from them and whether their content interests me. If it’s something that interests me, then I follow. As I follow them I get to know more of who they are and their authentic personality. When I feel like I really know the person behind the profile I am going to want to continue to follow them and keep up with their content This is where the trust between a creator and a follower lights up. If I trust this creator I am more likely to not only continue to follow her but I might also purchase items she sells or products she promotes.

“I’m in, but where do I even begin?”

To help you get started I am comin’ at ya with 4 Ways to Create a Branded and Authentic Style for your Instagram.

1. PHOTO EDITING

To get your feed branded and consistent start by choosing the type of vibe and style you want to evoke. Are you drawn to dark and moody photos? Bright and light photos? Tons of color? Spend some time looking at feeds that inspire you and that you are drawn to and hone in on what makes you like them. I tend to be more drawn to light and airy feeds so when I branded my feed I wanted people to see brightly lit photos with pops of pink.

There are tons of apps out there that can be used to edit photos. I recommend choosing a photo editing software that has filters that you can apply to photos. I started by using VSCO and picked a filter that gave me bright photos. I applied that filter to every single photo I posted on Instagram. I used the exact same edits for each photo regardless of what I was posting. By doing this, consistency in color and exposure started to come through my feed. I now use the free Adobe Lightroom app to edit all of my photos. With Lightroom you need to have a ‘preset’ which is just a fancy name for a filter. There are free ones out there but I bought mine for $3 on Etsy. Again, every single photo I post goes to Lightroom for editing first before I post.

Whichever editing software you use, just ensure that you are consistent with your editing. There might be some photos that you think would look better with a different filter but you have to stay committed to help you feed be cohesive. Don’t stray!

2. CONSISTENCY

How many times can I use the word ‘consistency’ in this post? I don’t know but evidently I am going for a record. Consistency is key, people! And not just with how you edit photos. To have success you need to be consistent in all areas of your online presence. When people know what to expect from you they are going to still around.

Try to post regularly throughout the week, at the same time, if possible. A lot of articles will tell you to post every single day, and you should, if you have that much content. But don’t post just for the sake of posting something. Make sure what you are putting out there meets a certain quality standard. Often times, when I am getting ready to post something I ask myself if xyz blogger that I follow would post this to her profile? If the answer is no, then I skip it and I try to get the right shot next time.

Shooting a lot of content all at once really helps with this. Spend an hour or so taking photos of all your art individually on the same canvas sheet, for example. That way, the lighting from the time of day is consistent, the background is consistent, and now you have 200 photos of 10 pieces of art that you can continue to post over the next few weeks.

Another important thing to consider when keeping your brand cohesive across all your platforms is using the same profile picture. The profile picture you use on your Instagram should be the same one you have on your email account, website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, MySpace, Tinder, your mom’s fridge magnet, EVERYTHING. If I want to find you on multiple platforms I shouldn’t have to question if I am on the right page or not because the profile photos match. Branding means you are getting people acquainted with you and your style and therefore it needs to be consistent. One more time for the folks in the back: consistent.

3. BEING YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF

As I said earlier, people start to follow you because they like your brand and know what you have to offer them, but you keep your followers because they like who you are. You have something to offer this world and people should know it. While there are millions of different artists out there, you are the only one that provides it through your lens. Are you funny? Use comedy in your captions or be hilarious in an Instastory video. Do you like to use your craft as a method of helping people? Show us how you use art as therapy for people with mental illness. Are you an artist AND obsessed with your cats? Talk about your cats and why they are the best cats ever because they inspire your art. Show us what makes you, you.

It took me a long time to find my voice on my blog and social media. And something I am still working on. I look back at blog posts I did from three years ago and cringe a little bit because it is so obviously not me talking. I mean it was me who wrote it, yeah, but it sounded like a robot rather than a sassy social butterfly who likes a good dad joke. Think about the characteristics that make your friends like you and include those characteristics as you write and post.

Someone once told me that they think I crank out good content but that they still don’t know who I am. They suggested that when I write or post a talking video that I pretend that I am only sending it to my best friend. How does that change what you post?

4. GRAPHICS

This piggy backs off of my above lecture about consistency. Sorry. But if you are going to have the same profile photo across all of your platforms you need to have consistency with the other graphics and images that your followers will see, too. As you might have noticed, I have a thing for pink. And you know what? My followers know that. I try to wear something pink when I know that I am going to be in photos for my Instagram. But it doesn’t stop there! If I post a pic of my dogs in my Instastories the text that says how stinkin’ adorable they are is pink. When I promote a new blog post to my Instastories, the custom graphics I have are pink. When people click to check out the latest blog post they will see that my blog header is pink, the accent color on my site is pink, and the graphics within the post are pink. BRANDING people.

You don’t need to stick with a single color like I do. As long as your followers can recognize that it’s your work because of your consistent branding. Maybe you always do the same chevron pattern on your graphics. Or maybe you like to use a little fig leaf on everything. Pick something that makes your graphics a little different and use it all the time.

If you aren’t sure where to get started with graphics I highly recommend Canva. They have an app or you can use their website. They have templates for blog graphics, Pinterest, Instagram, business cards, and more. I personally use Adobe Illustrator because I have a graphic design background but you don’t need a fancy dancy program like that to create quality graphics.

If graphic design isn’t your thing, I am happy to help create blog graphics, Instastory highlight covers, pins, and more! Drop me a line and I would be happy to work with you on your individual needs.

***

I hope these tips help you get started with building your online brand and staying authentic to your true self. While loads of people are going to love what you create and put out into the world, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is going to be drawn to it. And that’s okay! You are creating content for a special niche, not for everyone. Because if you are posting for everyone your posting for no one.

-Ang


You can contact Ang with questions or graphic design consultation at askingang@adventuresofang.com

Further Reading: