It’s hard to get engagement on Instagram as an artist these days–for some of us.
Yesterday I wrote a post on Instagram talking about how I lost over 1000 followers over the last month. Now, I wasn’t writing about that to complain and I’m not even questioning why I lost those followers. I know why, but I realized after reading some of the comments that I didn’t touch on that part.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of an artistic victim mentality for a while. This post might get a little unwieldy as it’s going to touch on mental health, social media, and shifts in perspective while trying to tackle very concrete ways to make Instagram work for you. As I’ve worked on my mental health over the years, I’ve found more success in my business so all of these things are inextricably linked for me. Scroll to the end if you just want tips on how to use Instagram.
First, what the f*** am I talking about with “artistic victim mentality”?
Artistic Victimhood- A thing I’ve Made Up
Victim mentality is something I read about years ago when I was trying to heal some of my old childhood trauma.
“People who have a victim mentality have usually suffered through trauma or hard times, but haven’t developed a proper way to cope. As a result, they develop a negative view of life. Because they don’t think anything is their fault, they have little or no sense of responsibility for their life. It just happens to them.” (Source)
All the nitty-gritty details of my own struggles are irrelevant, but after doing some internal work, I realized I had turned myself into a victim in a lot of ways in my life. Including in my art career. Over the last two years, I have been consciously identifying the ways where I let myself be a victim in my career. In general, this looks like pointing blame to an external cause for my perceived lack of growth, success, sales, etcetera. Now, external factors do negatively impact what I do as an artist, but the problem is when I let myself admit defeat and relinquish any sense of control over my life when confronted with external barriers.
Here are some examples of what this looks like:
Everything listed below has come out of my mouth in one form or another:
- My following isn’t growing because Instagram changed their algorithm.
- My art isn’t selling, because the seasons are changing.
- It’s a full moon and I just can’t even with this whole art thing.
- I’m not getting any commissions because people are too picky.
- Nobody is seeing my posts because I’ve been shadow-banned.
- Art contests are rejecting me because they cater to a different kind of art.
- People aren’t seeing my posts because Instagram is promoting different content.
This list could go on and on.
I know you can find quotes from captions and blog posts of mine complaining about the first point. Oh, the Instagram algorithm. Ye fickle foe. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that external events are screwing up things for you, the problem is when you leave it at that. In the past, when I complained about the IG algorithm, it was because I was just too tired to learn whatever new feature they were promoting. I let myself believe I couldn’t do anything about it because I was too tired to anyway. Also, my Instagram progress was literally the only thing holding my mental health together for a couple of years there so I don’t blame myself for throwing a pity party.
Pointing Blame vs Taking Control
pointing blame and seeing everything negative that happens to you artistically as out of your control is not going to serve you. Yes, there are a lot of things that will happen to us that screw with our progress and are not our fault. The trick is to take control where you can. When you don’t see the growth you want on Instagram, it is an opportunity for action. Do not settle with things as they are if they make you unhappy. Use that discomfort to drive you forward, and make a plan of action.
For example, the complaint above: “My following isn’t growing because Instagram changed their algorithm,” should be reframed to get out of a victim mentality.
Abandon this thought pattern: Artistic Victim Mentality
My following isn’t growing–> Instagram changed things –> Wallow in inaction
And adopt one more like this: Action Mentality
My following isn’t growing –> Instagram is now favoring Reels and I haven’t been making any or posting enough –> Start posting Reels
My following isn’t growing –> Instagram is now favoring Reels and I haven’t been making any or posting enough –> I’m too busy to learn this feature and thus will be okay sacrificing growth while I focus on things that are more important to me at the moment.
How can I move forward? What can I change? What is in my control? Success and failure are not wholly dependent on your actions, but it’s important to be objective and look at what is within your control.
Take Control of What You Can
Now, I’m not a religious person, but I do take a lot of comfort in the Serenity Prayer and it’s something that I inadvertently started living by.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.“
Whatever happens to you in your art career, be mindful to not assign blame and then accept personal inaction. The systems and institutions we operate in can change at any moment. They can change in ways that harm our businesses. It sucks. I am frankly really annoyed with how things change when it stops benefiting me. This is natural. I just want a routine that works and keeps producing positive results.
I would be lying if I said once things shifted for my mental health that I never felt like a victim again. It is a daily practice to remind myself to focus on what I can control and accept the things I cannot.
What can you not control?
Anything outside of you.
- You cannot control social media platforms.
- You cannot control your cohorts, customers, or any person in general.
- You cannot control time, the economy, or the weather.
Things are going to keep changing. Good things and bad things will happen without rhyme or reason. You will be a victim of some of these bad things, and you will be a recipient of good things. Take what you cannot control in stride. Don’t wallow in the stagnancy of stifled Instagram growth. If it gets you down, then there is some work to do. Let’s look at what you can control:
What can you control in your art career?
A lot. You can control a lot. This is not an exhaustive list. Basically, you can control you. You can control what you do, how you behave, and what you do in your artistic journey.
- You can control your actions and thoughts. *
- You can control how much you create.
- You can control your pricing/sales/promotions.
- You can control your marketing and when you try new advertising tactics.
- You can define your brand.
- You can post on social media and play with new features.
- You can update your store inventory and make sure you have plenty of items to sell.
- You can try new art styles.
- You can apply to events/fairs/galleries/shows.
- You can work on your skills through classes and practice.
- You can show up and work.
- You can continue to learn and grow.
- You can participate in governing bodies that oversee systems and institutions.
- You can make your voice heard.
- You can keep trying and adapting.
- You can be kind to yourself and celebrate success as it happens.
*I know that some people really can’t control all their actions/thoughts/motor functions. I want to be sensitive to realistic limitations for differently-abled individuals. I couldn’t control and still can’t control my depression and anxious thoughts. In these moments, it’s important to still not cast blame but to practice grace and patience with ourselves.
Even when we control everything we can think of, sometimes success still doesn’t happen. Sometimes we can fail despite our best efforts. But I truly believe there is always another approach. There’s always something new to try. It can all feel hopeless at times, but be careful not to internalize victimhood.
Now, onto Instagram tips and the whole title of this post.
Are you doing something wrong on Instagram?
Yep, probably. If you aren’t growing or if you are losing followers, then there are things you can change that are well within your control. Like I said at the beginning, I have lost over 1000 followers in the last month (actually it appears to be two-ish months), but what I didn’t say was that I had taken a break from posting videos. No matter what I do with my account, I lose followers every day. I think on average 25-75 a day. When I am posting the right content frequently, I attract more followers. If you look at the screenshot from my account insights below, you can see when my behavior changed and fewer new followers found my account.
This was my doing. Now, I was still posting photos on my account, but those just don’t have the same effect they used to. You can’t expect to grow by doing all the things you know don’t work anymore. I knew full well that I would start to backslide when I stopped posting video content, but I didn’t care. Because 1) I was enjoying my life and really didn’t want to put my energy into IG at the moment, and 2) whatever followers I lost were not my target audience anyway.
The accounts that unfollow when you aren’t posting enough to grow are likely bots, follows for follows, or randos cleaning their follower list. I’m not going to stress about them when there was nothing I could do to keep them around.
Here is a list of everything that I need to do and continue to do to benefit my account:
- Post frequently: Instagram makes money through ad revenue. They want us on the app often. You can’t post once a week and expect growth. Post a minimum of once a day. (How to create more content.)
- Post video content: Right now, Reels reign supreme. I gained 10k followers over the last year just by using Reels. (2021 Tips for Instagram Growth)
- Use new features when they come out: The app is going to keep changing. IG is going to promote new features and favor accounts that use them.
- Watch what other artists are doing to successfully grow their following and mimic the kind of content they create. (Not their art!)
Instagram Profile Basics:
- Keep your account branded and cohesive. (Read more here and here)
- Start conversations within your captions. (Read more here and here)
- Know your calls to action. (Read more here)
- Don’t ask too much of your audience. Give instead. (Read more here)
Stay authentic and don’t compromise your values.
There is one thing that is really unfortunate that we neither have control over nor should we be expected to conform to. After the Facebook whistleblower report came out, my fear that Facebook and Instagram promote negative or inflammatory content was confirmed. Content that triggers anger, body image issues, mental health issues, and overall discontentment does really well on the apps because it keeps people engaged longer. I can’t tell you how many plastic surgery posts and filler-tweakment before and after photos I’ve been shown lately. It’s not good for me, and yet IG knows it will manipulate me to stay on the app longer.
Social media is going to favor the accounts that keep people engaged. If you can keep people on your account and on the app longer, then your content is likely going to reach a wider audience. It’s just unfortunate that insecurities trigger us to stare longer and spend more time on certain accounts. This is not me encouraging you to create content that goes against your values. I will happily sacrifice any amount of growth to know that what I’m putting on social media will not harm someone’s mental health.
Be true to you. Post content you feel good about. You don’t need to make dancing reels with subtitles. You don’t need to create clickbait content. Have fun with it and maintain your integrity. And if you don’t want to play the social media game at all, then find other avenues to promote your art.
What I want from you ultimately is to be at peace with whatever way you choose to promote your creative work. You aren’t a victim of social media algorithms. You are an artist with integrity and you’re going to do what feels right for your brand and your art even if it means you don’t grow as much as you’d like.
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.
4 Replies to “Are You Doing Something Wrong on Instagram?”
I have to admit that I was one of the ones that unfollowed you. After reading your post, I’ve re-followed you again, but I feel it’s important for me to let you know why I unfollowed you in the first place.
I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram, and I suspect a lot of people do. I try to use Instagram to discover more artists and learn and get inspired from. Still, sometimes it feels like I’m just there to hide ads. I love seeing your process and your finished pieces (which are brilliant), but ultimately, I decided to start unfollowing artists posing with their artwork (among other things). It’s not that you and your artwork are not pleasant to look at, but in my current search for inspiration, a certain level of distraction occurs when I see artists pose with their artwork in general, especially if they’re attractive.
I don’t suspect that my decision to unfollow you is reflective of the others that may have unfollowed you, but after reading your blog post, I felt it was important for me to reach out and let you know my perspective. This isn’t a direct problem with you or what you’re producing, but some enigma that I’m working through in my creative process and discovering what is true for me and my work.
I have a fairly meager following on social media (to match my fairly mediocre level of artwork) and cannot imagine having a larger audience to keep up with. I think it would be overwhelming, take up too much effort, and I could quickly lose focus on what I feel I need to do most…which is to just create. So for me, I focus on my craft, post what I think matters from time to time, and try my hardest not to look at analytics. I don’t focus on sales and let it all work itself out. So far that’s worked out pretty well for me.
As for your drop-off in followers in general, I suspect that your more engaged and higher-quality followers will be the ones that remain. I envy your ability to walk the razor’s edge between being true to your creative heart and doing it for a living. That’s something I could never do.
Again, I adore your work, and what you do is inspiring and is a gift to the rest of us. Thanks so much for what you do.
Ed, thank you for the reply and the explanation. I have also unfollowed accounts where the artist poses too much with their work. I completely understand how those distractions can harm the creative process and should you unfollow me again in the future for similar reasons, I’ll never take it personally. We are all looking for different things online.
I admire your dedication to focus on your art without letting anything get in the way of the process. As for having a large following, it does take energy I’d rather not give at times, but it’s not so bad. And you are right about the drop in followers. I’m honestly not concerned about it. The break I took from making new video content was spent working on new art so it was a happy trade.
Thank you so much for the kind words and for enjoying what I do.
Kelly, this is a fantastic post. I’m grateful for your vulnerability here too. that’s not easy.
you’ve included some really useful actionable things to do, that don’t depend on the “weather” of Instagram.
Pete, thank you so much for your kind reply. I’m happy the post was helpful!
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