It’s 2020. How can you grow your IG following?
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 your 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 its algorithm and app features. Last year, they rolled out a change that affected a lot of accounts’ engagement. My account and many other artists’ 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. Though, 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! You can actually make that work too. 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, etcetera.
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.
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, and make long videos for IGTV (2022 Update: and make Reels!).
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 doing 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, and 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.
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. (2022 Update: I don’t know that hashtags really do anything anymore…)
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:
- 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.
- Likes for likes: Only like the content you enjoy. Again, don’t guilt people into liking your posts.
- 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.
- Follow pods/chains: Have you seen the group messages that say “follow these 10 accounts, then add your name to the list and send it 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What do you think?
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. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.
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.