How to build your Instagram account in 2021
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
I have built an audience of almost 30k followers on Instagram in the past four years, which included a period of six months where I abandoned my account completely.
I love to help artists get seen, so here are the things I did to both build my audience and raise my account from the dead last year...
Spolier: sorry to disappoint but there is no silver bullet here and you likely will have heard it all before. It takes time and consistency to build an audience - but it can be done!
Post once a day if you can, every other day at the least. I personally wouldn’t post more than once a day, except on rare occasions, as people can find that overwhelming. As you fall into a regular routine, try and curate your feed so it looks appealing when someone visits your profile page. I like to mix up finished pieces of art with detailed shots and works in progress and try to harmonise the colours.
Write something about what you’ve posted. I find chatty posts including snippets about your life help engagement. Say what you're up to, share a funny story, ask a question, ask people’s opinions, anything that helps build a community around your art. Sometimes you will hear crickets but keep going!
Try and keep some sort of dialogue going in your Stories. Some people like to share their personal life which helps people connect with you as a person. I personally like to keep my family life private, so I will share behind-the-scenes shots of my studio, works-in-progress, detail shots, sketchbook pictures, inspirations, funny art memes, question & answer sessions and regularly share other artists' work. Anything that people can react to will increase your engagement, so use the polls, question boxes and ratings sliders to your advantage.
In the last six months Reels have become the focal point of IG. They have taken over from video posts and IGTV to the point that I don’t really bother posting videos any other way now. Reels might seem daunting, my advice is to keep them really short and simple at first. I like to edit mine in a video app like YouCut, as I find the Reels editing features clunky and frustrating. I don’t worry about text or adding anything flash, just choose some music and off you go.
Videos are the #1 way I have built my audience over the past four years. You don’t have to give away all your secrets, but people love to see how something is made. You don’t need fancy equipment, I started filming myself paint with my phone balanced in a baked bean can sellotaped to a pile of books!
Hashtags seem to be less relevant these days, so I would spend half an hour researching the best ones, then forget about them! I have built a bank of about 50 hashtags in the notes on my phone, divided into categories. For example, I have 5 related to abstract art, 5 related to my location, 5 related to creative process, 5 related to work in progress, etc. As soon as I post, I immediately paste 20/25 of the relevant hashtags to the comments. Don’t use massive hashtags, don’t use tiny obscure ones either – any hashtag in the hundred of thousands of posts is a good sweet-spot.
Link to other social channels
I despise Facebook and only have a small following, however I have found that my art is more likely to sell there, versus IG where people are largely there for entertainment. Therefore, it is well worth linking your IG account to a FB page – you need to make sure your IG account is switched from personal to a ‘Business account’ to do this.
I also put my posts on Pinterest, as that is the fastest growing social media channel next to TikTok. People are generally on Pinterest to learn something or seek inspiration, so the process videos or posts showing art in situ will do better there. I have decided to give TikTok a miss personally, but if you are really slick at making Reels, it’s probably worth a go.
The second most important thing I’ve done on IG (and probably the most important to my sanity!) is building a community. Follow people whose work you like and comment, like, share their posts, build a relationship with them! It doesn't matter if their work is a different style and genre entirely.
‘Engagement pods’ can be good: a group of artists or makers who come together in a DM group chat and agree to like, comment, save and share each other’s posts to boost engagement. ‘Saving’ (the bookmark icon under a post) and ‘Sharing’ (the paper plane icon) seem to be particularly valued by Instagram at the moment. If IG sees that your post is performing well it will show it to more people, through someone's feed if they follow you or on their search page if not.
Community pages who invite you to comment and tag other makers can be good for extending your reach and discovering new accounts too.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see an immediate pick up in your numbers, these things take time. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why a post one week is seen by many and a similar post the next absolutely bombs. Follower numbers may spike for a while and then go backwards for a time after that - it's all normal.
Don’t put too much stock in the numbers. Likes do not necessarily produce sales! A smaller number of good-quality, genuinely interested followers is far more valuable than a huge account of bots and uninterested people. Don’t sweat the unfollowers, don’t take it personally – they are obviously not your people and are ultimately doing you a favour!
Also, don’t be disheartened if a large amount of your following are fellow artists and makers – they are usually your biggest cheerleaders, appreciate what you do and, often, your best customers!
Lastly, some of your customers won’t engage with your posts at all, quietly watching from the sidelines until they are ready to purchase. If I reach 5% of my followers with a post, I consider that a massive win – just 5%!
How are you getting on with your Instagram following? Let me know below how you are finding IG in 2021 and if you have any questions. Comment with your IG handle and I'll give you a shout-out in my stories too :)