Are you someone who is struggling to attract new followers to your Instagram feed? Are you making beautiful work but your total number of followers is barely moving from week to week? Don’t worry, there is light at the end of the tunnel! I was in your shoes this time last year and it took me about 6 months to figure this out… but I’ve now uncovered the secret sauce for making Instagram work for you. As an entrepreneur trying to make my own art business a success, I believe in sharing any practical knowledge I’ve gained to help other small business owners achieve their goals. So, in this blog, I’m going to share my top 5 tips to help you to increase your following on Instagram.
A little bit of background. Last year I set up my first Instagram page to share my artwork. I am an Irish watercolour artist and my business is called ‘Dabble in Art’ so I called the page, @dabble.in.art. I posted sporadically a few times a week, but having published about 100 posts over 9 months, my number of followers seemed to stall at 300. No matter how many times I posted, I couldn’t increase it beyond this point - I felt like I was losing more followers that I was gaining. As an artist I know that Instagram is vital for sharing visuals so this lack of traction was really frustrating – what was I doing wrong?
As a podcast addict I started to listen to hours and hours and hours of podcasts on how to make Instagram work and figured out some key ingredients for success. To put what I learned to the test, I created a second profile page called @irish.artforyourhome. I posted my first photo on this new profile on 23 January 2018. I followed the tips outlined below and organically grew my following to over 600 in four months. I also sold my first original painting directly on Instagram; an achievement I never imagined viable through Instagram!
As you are way too busy running your business to listen to 50,000 hours of podcasts, I’ve distilled the key elements of a what I think is a great Instagram formula into 5 top tips.
Tip 1 - Make your Feed Beautiful
So, when I first got on Instagram I wasn’t quite sure what to post and I didn’t really understand all the features available. I kinda jumped in and hoped for the best. My content was all over the place, my typical feed included a photo of my artwork, another photo of my artwork, then a photo of my dog, then a photo of my foot, another photo of my artwork…. You get the picture – RANDOM!
If you are using Instagram to promote your work, you need to think of your profile page as your shop front. Your feed needs to be appealing and beautiful. It’s really important that you take good clear photos of your work. Take them in good light and use the Instagram filters to improve the lighting and tones to make up for any details lost by the camera. Remember to think about your customer and take photographs that give them as much information about your actual product as possible. If you use a filter, I suggest you use a similar filter for all your posts to make sure your overall feed looks consistent and aesthetically beautiful. Instagram is all about the visuals.
You need to post good engaging content. To help you come up with content it’s a good idea to come up with a strategy for what you need to post each day. In other words some catchy themes that help you design your content. For example, you might think about the week and define some themes. For instance I could theme all my Mondays ‘Motivation Monday’ and post images of some of my paintings of sleepy basset hounds flopped down on the ground. ‘Wall to Wall Wednesdays’ might feature images from a gallery I am exhibiting in. ‘Funky Friday’ could feature some of my humorous paintings etc. The possibilities are endless and coming up a with a framework that suits your business will help you to come up with good creative content and ultimately stand out from the crowd. Plus USE INSTAGRAM STORIES – they are the future!
Don’t be afraid to include a good description of your work in your post. Be yourself and give viewers insight into what inspired you to create a specific piece, explain how you made it and invite people to visit your website if they want to find out more. It’s a good idea to encourage people to engage with you by asking them what they think or inviting them to leave a comment.
Tip 2 - Refine your Profile
Think about your profile through the eyes of strangers that stumble across your work. As a business owner its really important that you make a good first impression and be seen as a professional, so objectively consider your profile, even down to your profile picture. As your feed will predominantly feature your work, I think it’s a great idea to include a photo of you the artist in the profile picture to show that you are real, credible and proud of your beautiful artwork.
As well as using a good personal professional photo for your profile picture, it’s a good idea to look at your profile description. Does it invite potential customers (who don’t know you) to visit your website and check out your work? Or does it say something random like ‘If only I was a unicorn I would be happy’? Use the profile description to engage customers. For example, my profile description says ‘Visit my online studio to see my original watercolours and prints of wildlife, pets and people. Click on the link below to step inside my studio’. This description includes a clear call to action that invites the viewer to enter my website.
Tip 3 - Use Hashtags and Tags
Every time you post on Instagram you should use hashtags (i.e. #artoninstragram) and tags (@irish.artforyourhome) to attract new viewers and followers who are interested in the subject matter you are posting about. Instagram will allow you to search for popular hashtags, so do some research and identify some existing hashtags that match your interest or describe your artwork and have a high number of followers (i.e. the hashtags that are most popular). A lot of people search by hashtags to find what they are looking for.
For example, if I wanted to find other Irish artists, I might search under the hashtag #irishart. Instagram would then present me with all the posts that include the hashtag #irishart in a single feed. This allows the user to combine the results from hundreds of profiles into one list. They can then just scroll down and click on any image that appeals to them. Clicking on the post will provide the viewer with your profile name and photo.
Also if you don’t like cluttering up with post with tons of hashtags – fear not. You can create a comment on your post immediately after you post it and add your hashtags and tags to it. The hashtags will still be linked to your post but they wont appear in the post description.
Tip 4 - Engage with Your Followers
It’s really important to engage with your followers. Working as a full-time artist or crafter can be a lonely profession. Since I started engaging with people through my new Instagram page I’ve found it a really great way to network and meet other fellow creatives. Over time I’ve got to know people by commenting on their work and direct messaging them to ask questions. I now feel like I’m part of a really positive creative community and its awesome. So, it’s really important to engage with others. You need to like and comment on other people's feeds and spread the love by encouraging other artists or creatives you admire. Its also really important to respond to anyone who takes the time to comment on your work. Remember its really important to build relationships and network. One thing usually leads to another plus the Instagram algorithm favours people that are actively engaging with posts – so this is a win win for everyone.
Tip 5 - Post on a Consistent Basis
How often should I post – this is a key question. You really need to be posting about 54 times a day…. no, I’m only joking. Before you decide how often to post, you need to bear in mind that the key thing is to be consistent. So, if you decide to post daily, then you need to consistently post daily to see results. If you decide to post 3 times a week, then stick to that and BE consistent. Personally, I suggest posting and engaging with others on a daily basis to see results. Generally the best time to post seems to be between 12-1pm or 4-6pm when people are available to look at their feeds.
Anyway, I hope you found this info useful. If so please share this blog post with other fellow creatives to help spread the word on Instagram.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or post you comments below. I’m planning to do more of these types of posts to help fellow creatives, so subscribe to my email list to make sure you don’t miss out on future posts.
Gill O’Shea is an Irish watercolour artist based in Dublin. Check out her work on https://www.dabbleinart.com and @irish.artforyourhome.