FULL DISCLOSURE: I am definitely no expert, and there’s a sea of other articles that might be more helpful out there. This is just my own personal experience summed up in a single blog post.
“HOW did you get so many followers on Instagram?” It's a frequent question that feels weirdly taboo and is usually said in a shy whisper. Maybe you're not supposed to care, and it's supposed to be something that just magically happens because you're just THAT good. Real artists don't care about those petty things....right? But it's a valid question for anyone that knows how important business and marketing is, and while I don't have a special formula that guarantees success, here are some tips that might be helpful for you.
But before we go into the HOW, you need to ask yourself WHY? Why is this important to you? It can look deceptively easy from the outside, but it’s actually a good amount of work, stress, and time. However, there’s no denying that a large following can help your career, so if you’re ready to put in the work, read on!
It can be tempting to share that oh-so-ADORABLE picture of your cat Fluffy, that selfie with your hair looking unusually bouncy and cute, or that perfect croissant you baked that is glowing in the afternoon light. I'm guilty of these urges, just look at how cute Pancake is!
Sorry to break it to you, but not everyone is interested in those things, and they’re probably following you for the art. The good news is that there IS an appropriate place to post these, and I do think you should share more about yourself (we’ll get to that in a bit). The answer: STORIES! These are those images that you create by clicking on your profile picture, and they disappear after 24 hours. You can also create a highlight of those stories that people can browse through on their own, and they are up for as long as you want.
Consistency is Key
I get it, you're an art chameleon. You love to play with alllll the mediums and try allllll the styles; no one likes to be constrained to a certain niche. This CAN work, especially if you’re known for experimenting and being annoyingly good at everything 😜, but be sure that there is some consistency with quality, and that you understand who your audience is.
An example: I created a separate account for my comics, even though there was some crossover in who wanted to see both. This gave followers a chance to choose if they wanted to see them or not.
Consistency is also important with the timing, amount of posts, and even presentation. I post about once a day, and have been pretty steady at it for a while. No, this doesn't mean you need an original piece of art for everyday of your life. You can post every week, and just focus in on certain parts of the painting you like, or show the process photos. For my photos/presentation, I’ve learned what time of day looks best to photograph my work, and try to keep things the same.
Use Those Hashtags
Not everyone out there uses these and they seem to do fine, but...why not? It’s a tool! It's free! Hashtags are even more important now that people can “follow” ones that they choose. That means, anyone that is following #pleinair will see my work with those hashtags, even if they aren’t following me. It’s good to tailor them for each post, so take some extra time to be thoughtful about which ones you type in. There are other articles online that go into more detail about this regarding placement, and number of hashtags.
This is a tip more for your own sanity, but try to not look into the "insights" tab too much (easier said than done). I used to check the numbers constantly, had an app to analyze the data at a deeper level, and each “unfollow” was like a little personal punch to the gut. You’re going to drive yourself crazy with that mentality.
Also, success on IG can also be more of a snowball effect, so the initial thousand(s) can be painfully slow. You must be patient and just invest that extra time creating quality content. My data loving husband (product manager) is probably facepalming right now.
This might just be a personal preference, but I particularly appreciate when artists/influencers that I follow are genuine and honest. By showing more of your personality, and your true colors, you will attract followers that YOU want. Just be yourself from the beginning, so you’re not constantly putting on a facade to keep people you don’t even like around. Instagram has a great option which allows people to submit questions for you to answer, which can be a fun way to engage with others, and show personality.
This also means, try to avoid gimmicky ways to get more followers, like purchasing them, or doing art that isn't true to you but might be popular. Quality over quantity. You can always tell who buys followers by how many people engage (like & comment) on their posts.
Share the Process and Behind the Scenes
Instagrammers are always wanting to know more about materials, and the process. Think, how can I help my followers? What tips, recommendations, etc can you provide? Show them behind the scenes, and perhaps some real time clips of the process. Try to think about what you'd like to see from your favorite artists, and then follow through. Instagram TV is a great place for longer tutorials and behind the scene videos.
When all else fails...use the hashtag #NewShoes
KIDDING. When I was just starting out, I noticed a big spike when I used the hashtag #newshoes. And it happened again a while later. It’s a joke between some friends and me, but I wouldn’t advise it unless it was really relating to new shoes. 😂 Or maybe I did crack the code and this is the silver bullet!
Don't Keep All Your Eggs in One Basket
The last bit of advice I have to share is to not SOLELY use Instagram. Work on creating a newsletter, write a blog on your website, start a youtube account, etc. Don't rely on it, as you never know what will happen to the platform. They have too much control for my comfort, and very poor customer support if anything goes wrong. They are constantly changing, so the things I say to you today might not even work tomorrow, but hopefully there are a few nuggets of advice that help make your account a success!