Tips and Advice for Artists to Gain Organic and Genuine Instagram Followers
Do you want more Instagram followers, but you’re struggling to make it happen? Instagram is always changing. I was pretty bummed in January 2018 when a new Instagram algorithm went into effect because my engagement and new followers dropped like crazy. Since then, I have been on a mission to try to get my account to see the steady growth and engagement that I had before the change.
I must admit, I had a few dark days of wallowing when the change happened, because of course my hypercritical brain was all “You’re failing as an artist!! Your dreams are dead!” Melodramatic, I know, but the important thing is that I kept going and still managed to organically gain 15,000 new Instagram followers in three months. (As opposed to the 20,000 in three months I gained last year.)
I have learned a few new things since the algorithm change. Well, some of it is new but most of it isn’t. I don’t like repeating information that is already out there—but let’s be real guys: Everything I’m saying has probably been said before. The only difference is that I’m actively doing the things on this list and getting real results.
(Update: I’m editing this post on 9/30/22 and even more has changed. I will try to update this post for relevancy but check out my more recent posts for help like: 2021 Tips for Instagram Growth)
Onto the list:
1. Create Attractive Content
The main thing to keep in mind when trying to attract new Instagram followers is that the quality of your content is more important than ever.
You are an artist, which means you probably know the basics about what makes something look attractive. Negative space, balance, contrast, lighting, and all that. It’s not enough to create your art. You have to photograph your art with the same attention to detail you use to create your art.
Instagram is an incredibly visual experience. You have to make your photos and videos look good on their own. It’s easy to lose perspective when you are in the studio and take a crappy photo without realizing it. My following was stagnant for months when I first started my account, and I know part of the reason was my unattractive photos. Sure, my art looked cool in person but if you can’t translate that into a photo you’ll have a hard time attracting new followers.
2. Stay Relevant- Post 2 to 3 Times Every Day
You’re following isn’t going to grow consistently if you aren’t posting consistently. It’s a lot of work, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to post 2 to 3 times a day. Even on your “days off”. (Especially now in 2022 with the introduction of Reels. You have to keep feeding the Instagram monster to gain momentum.)
I usually gain between 75-125 new Instagram followers a day. Before the new algorithm, I gained 150-200 a day. If my schedule is thrown off and I miss a day of posting or only post one time a day for a couple of days, I see an immediate drop in new followers. I used to get away with taking little breaks, but not anymore. (Now, in 2022, if I’m not making a Reel a day, which I haven’t been for quite some time, my following has stopped growing altogether and has actually fallen by thousands.)
Instagram is a fast-paced social media platform. If your post doesn’t get enough engagement for the algorithm to boost it, it’s likely going to fizzle out and become a distant memory within 24 hours. Reels seem to have a longer lifespan though.
3. Use the right Hashtags and alternate use.
(2022 update: I haven’t cared about hashtags in years. I have no idea if they will benefit you currently. Should I test that out again and figure out a definitive answer, I will surely put that on my blog.)
You can use 30 hashtags per post and I suggest using almost all of them. I use about 25 tags per post and I spend a good amount of time researching the right tags for my account size and art style. If you are using huge generic tags (#love) and you only have 300 followers, your posts are going to get swallowed up and will likely go unseen.
To increase your exposure and gain new Instagram followers, always post your hashtags in the post caption, and focus on smaller, niche tags. I have a whole blog post on how to find the right tags. You can read it here.
With the new algorithm, there is a growing fear about being shadow banned by doing spammy things with your account. One fear is that using the same tags over and over again can get you banned. I don’t know if it’s true, but just in case I have a couple of saved lists of tags that I alternate the use of on my posts.
4. Make sure your account is attractive and branded.
I’m sorry to say it, but it doesn’t matter how skilled you are as an artist. If your profile doesn’t look attractive and inviting, your following is less likely to grow.
When you post, always keep your overall profile in mind. The first 9 to 18 posts of your profile should look connected and cohesive. You should have a variety of photo compositions with negative space to keep your profile from looking chaotic and overwhelming.
Every time I go to make a new post, I look at my 9 most recent posts and take note of the colors and photo compositions and make sure that I choose a new post that will fit into this collection.
5. Write engaging captions and respond to comments.
The new algorithm works like Facebook now where posts with high engagement show up higher in your feed and posts with low engagement hide in a corner, never to be looked at again.
From what I have read, a new post is first shown to smaller portion of your followers, and if it gets their attention in the form of likes and comments over 4 words, then it is moved up in status and shown to more of your following.
This means it is incredibly important to write a caption that people can engage with. I don’t know if the 4 word requirement for comments is for sure true, but the common theory out there is that Instagram wanted to reduce bot comments from inflating the engagement on posts. So, write an engaging caption and make sure to respond to comments with 4 words or more within the first hour of posting.
6. Post During Peak Hours of Activity
Since initial engagement is the key to getting your posts seen by more people, you need to post when your audience is most active. You’ll have to do some trial and error or search other blogs for this info, but I can say what personally works best for me is posting between 10am and 3pm CST. Monday through Thursday seem to be really active days. The weekends are hit or miss, but sometimes the hits are a major hit.
Before the new algorithm, I posted between 9am and 7pm. My posts would get 1500-2000 likes within the first day and multiple comments immediately. Now, it feels like a gamble with each post and I’ve had to be way more strategic, but still some posts only get 800 likes, and some get 3000 if all the stars align and the algorithm works in my favor. It’s annoying.
But I say, keep posting every day and take note of when your posts get the most engagement. Tweak your schedule as necessary.
(2022 Update: Lol it’s demoralizing to read my engagement numbers from 2018 😂 I’m lucky if I can get 300 likes on a photo post now. Oh how things have changed. In 2022, IG has pivoted its focus to videos almost entirely and they are killing the still-photo. Just keep that in mind when deciding what content to post when trying to grow.)
Things I Still Don’t Do To Increase My Following:
- I don’t do follows for follows or waste time liking a bunch of people’s photos. Sure, it can get you a few followers here and there, but ain’t nobody got time for that.
- I don’t use a bot or any sort. Seriously, all of my growth is organic.
- I don’t pay for larger accounts to share my work. Most of the time those accounts don’t get a lot of engagement anyway, so it’s a waste of money. Instead, you can message accounts that share work and ask for a share, or use their hashtags to increase your chances of being shared. Read this for more: Stop Wasting Your Money On Instagram Art Sharing Accounts.
- I don’t pay for Instagram promotions (at the moment). Read: Stop Wasting Your Money On Instagram Paid Promotions.
There you have it. More tips and reminders on how to organically increase your following as an artist on Instagram. I hope this helps! I am proof that it is possible to grow quickly and organically. Sometimes you have to try a bunch of different things before you find what works and sometimes you just have to trust that the same repeated tips you’ve been hearing for a while actually do get results when you dedicate time to it.
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. 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.