I love Instagram. I personally use it all the time for business and pleasure. It ranks right up there with Facebook as my favorite social network. I think every artist who is on Facebook should be on Instagram as well.
Why Is Instagram Important?
First of all, let’s talk about what Instagram is. I’m surprised at how many people still don’t know what it is, or how to use it. In the beginning, people considered it only to be where you post pictures of your coffee cup that look like you shot it with an expired polaroid. Well, much like how people now use Twitter for much more than just saying what they had for breakfast, artists all over the world are using it to promote and sell their art, including myself. Instagram is just an app where you take any picture from your phone and upload it to your account. Other people can follow your account, and your photos show up in their “feed,” just like Facebook. The main difference with Instagram as opposed to Facebook is that you can ONLY post photos. Another big difference is that the feed is completely chronological, instead of Facebook’s feed which prioritizes what you see with an algorithm. That algorithm may or may not show your post to those who follow you. Instagram, however, will always show your picture as long as that person is following your feed, and happens to be browsing Instagram within a few hours of when you posted it. This is the main advantage over Facebook. Plus as artists, seeing a feed full of pretty pictures is its own pleasure!
What Did I Do To Get So Many Followers?
A lot of things that I used and continue to use to gain followers I learned from observing other people with big followings, or reading/listening to Instagram experts and are completely legitimate. This is all white-hat stuff. No paying or begging for followers, no spam, no manipulation. Just some smart tips that you can use today to get more eyeballs on your art.
#1. Create Your Account
If you haven’t yet done so, start today. You know the deal, download it on your phone, fire it up, and set up your account. Takes almost no time. My account, @mainloop, can be found by clicking this link. You can edit your profile, which is where you can do some extra self-promotion. You can link to your website (or your email list signup as I did) to try and get some extra traffic to where you want.
Your First PictureDon’t just create your account then leave it be to get around to it later. Get in the habit of posting to it immediately! I recommend starting with a good photo of a finished painting. Even if you don’t have a picture of something on your phone, it shouldn’t be hard to download from your website or wherever else you have pictures of your paintings online. If you have a picture of something that you have on your computer/tablet that you want to post online without posting it anywhere else yet(as I often do), I have Dropbox installed on all my computer devices so I can throw a file into it and just wait until it’s in the cloud and can download it to my phone from there.
One thing you should know before posting pictures...
Instagram limits the format of pictures you post to a square. I think it's to keep a uniform look to everyone's feed. It usually makes for a cleaner look for a feed, but it limits us as painters since we don't all paint square paintings all the time. There is an easy workaround that takes an app. Download Squareready (Apple) or SquareInstapic (Android) from the app store (both are free). What this does is put white space around the picture you load into it to make it fit the square format. You can even change the color from white, if you want. Export it and it will be in your phone where you can load it like any photo you took with your camera.
#3. Tag Your Photo
Tagging your photo is the way you can get people outside of your followers to see your pictures. This is where the magic happens. They are commonly called “hashtags.” They are always the # symbol followed by any alphanumeric characters, words, phrases etc. For example, #pleinair is one I use all the time. What do they do? In Instagram you can search photos by hashtags. If you go into the search function in the app (magnifying glass button at the bottom of the screen) and search “pleinair” there are about 70,000 pictures there. Theoretically you can be found that way if someone is looking for new plein air paintings. There are two sections, “top posts” or “most recent.” This is a pretty popular hashtag, so it’s a bit of a crapshoot, so I recommend you use different types of hashtags. I will give you examples.
These are the most obvious ones to use. These are the tags like #painting, #oilpainting, #figurative, #pleinair, #blue, #trees, #clouds, #nature, etc. You can brainstorm some good ones for yourself.
Use this as a unique identifier as your art. For example, the name of the series of the piece of art you are posting, or your name, or website etc. Basically something you don’t expect a lot of other people to use. You can make it whatever you want, but the point is to have a tag that is identifiable as your own, so they can find you if your tag is searched.
This is a tag that is the opposite of a unique tag. Using the most popular tags will get you in front of new eyes. This is the key to gaining many new followers quickly and consistently. But how do you find these? Open an account on iconosquare. This is a cool site with many functions which will show you analytical data for your profile as well as popular tags used by other members. In Iconosquare, go to http://iconosquare.com/stats_optimization.php There are a lot of other cool stats on this page but let’s look at tag impact for now.
On the right side, it will say “Top Tags On Instagram”. Create a new note on your phone where you can easily access it. Call it “instagram tags” or something. Go through and copy/paste about 15-20 of your favorite “Top Tags” to the note page and add hashtags to the beginning of them. I like some of the less specific ones like the ones that start with insta—. Save this note. Now, next time you post a piece of art, copy some of these hashtags from the note and paste them into the caption of the picture you are about to post. I don’t always use them, but I find that using popular “art” tags gain me lots of likes, comments, and new followers.
#4. Let other people know you posted
The @ symbol is your main form of communication on Instagram aside from direct comments on other people’s pictures. It’s an effective way to tag other Instagrammers. For example, in the caption of a photo I just posted, aside from hashtags, I will use it if one of the models I used for a painting is on Instagram and I want to tag them in it. In comments, I will use it to communicate with the Instagrammer I tag. Tagging a user will make the picture/comment show up in their notifications. There are accounts on Instagram that are solely art aggregators, many with over 100k followers. Being reposted by one of them will instantly boost your follower count just because of the volume of IG’ers they send your way. I’ve gained close to 500 followers in 24 hours before because of one of these. In order to gain their attention tag them every so often in your posts. BE VERY SELECTIVE WITH THIS. Don’t be a pest. Make sure the photo is relevant to their account. If it’s not then you’re just being spammy. My friend @mjlindo has over 40,000 followers. One of her ways was by doing portraits of very famous models, then tagging them in her posts. Very often these models will repost the portraits to their accounts, exposing her to thousands of potential new followers.
#5. Share your Instagram photos to other social networks.Use the Share button to post from Instagram into other social networks of yours. You can post to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. This is good for getting people who are already fans of your work into your Instagram network. There are other ways to share more specifically, such as to your Facebook Business Page, but I will save it for a follow-up post because it’s very technical and this is already a lot to digest.