Before Instagram was Instagram, it was Burbn. In March 2010, Kevin Systrom created Burbn, a location-based social networking and photo-sharing web app aptly named for his love of whiskey and bourbon. At that time, location-based check-in apps were gaining popularity, but Burbn’s photo-sharing feature set it aside.
After Systrom secured venture funding for Burbn, he recruited Mike Krieger, a fellow Stanford graduate. Together, they reworked the concept to focus on photographs taken on mobile devices and renamed Burbn to Instagram, a portmanteau of “instant” and “telegram.”
Launched in October 2010, the app quickly gained popularity, reaching 25,000 users on the first day and one million within three months. Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock 18 months after its launch. Over the years, Instagram has become a social media giant with 2.4 billion users, including 500 million daily users.
Based on those numbers, it stands to say that no matter who your target audience is, you’ll be sure to reach them through Instagram. But how do you stand out with a projected reach of 2.5 billion users by the end of Q1 2024?
The Rise of Instagram for Artists
Instagram’s rapid ascent marked a new era of digital expression, transforming communication from traditional methods to the realm of social media. With a visual-centric approach and a range of filters, it became a preferred platform for artists using it as a makeshift portfolio, fostering connections with their audience through comments and direct messages.
Key features such as Stories, introduced in 2016, provided a dynamic, real-time sharing experience, boosting engagement levels and allowing artists to unveil behind-the-scenes content. Reels, introduced in 2020 to rival TikTok, expanded creative possibilities with 90-second multi-clip videos, audio, effects, and editing tools.
Despite Instagram’s seemingly artist-friendly features, gaining traction on the platform remains a challenge. The app, rooted in Systrom’s passion for photography, prompts the question: Is Instagram still worthwhile for artists? The answer, however, is nuanced and not a straightforward yes or no.
Instagram’s Volatile Digital Landscape
Many users loved seeing content from every followed account on their feed, in the order they posted it. Then came March 2016—the month Instagram stopped displaying the feed chronologically. Instead, users would see content from accounts they engaged with most, recommended content from accounts the algorithm thinks they’ll enjoy, and ads.
A non-chronological feed and different algorithms for each form of content make it difficult for artists to reach their audience organically without paying for advertising. Before, artists could rely on posting every few days or so and still build a solid organic presence. Nowadays, you have to post daily, introduce variety, and engage with other users consistently to compete for visibility.
Frankly, this isn’t feasible for many people who don’t have enough time, energy, and resources to focus solely on creating content for Instagram. So, should you keep posting your art on Instagram at all?
Taking Control of Your Online Presence
Despite the algorithm’s fickleness, I still believe Instagram is an excellent place to post your art. Of course, you can’t just “post and ghost” and expect to come back with a hundred likes on your recent artwork. It doesn’t work that way—unless you already have some following. To unlock the secrets of how Instagram works, you need to look at it from a marketing perspective.
But first, it’s important to remind yourself that you are an artist first and a content creator second. You should never measure your success as an artist by the number of likes or hearts you get on social media. Numbers don’t make you an artist, nor do they define the value of your art.
Adapting to Instagram’s algorithm changes is important for content visibility, yet constant pursuit can be emotionally taxing. Focus on post and engagement quality for more meaningful connections, preserving artistic authenticity and mental well-being.
Viewing Instagram as a portfolio tool, rather than just a social media platform, allows better control over artistic expression, striking a delicate balance between maximizing visibility and maintaining personal and professional fulfillment.
Tips for Navigating the Algorithm
Social media is all about content; your strategy should also revolve around that. You don’t need a rulebook—it’s all about finding your rhythm, which differs from artist to artist. The trick is to post content that aligns with your goals. Unlike regular influencers, your role as an artist isn’t just about keeping the post count high—it’s quality over quantity.
Defining Content Pillars
The more you post, the happier Instagram’s algorithm will be. But instead of posting anything and everything, focus on three to five topics you can consistently discuss and create content around. Content pillars form the foundation of your content and can make content planning much easier. Here are a few examples you can use for inspiration:
- Engage your audience with art tutorials that showcase your expertise and provide valuable tips for fellow artists.
- Pull back the curtain by sharing works in progress, giving your audience an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse into your art process.
- Offer your perspective on various art materials through thorough and honest reviews, helping your followers make informed choices when it comes to their own supplies.
- Take your audience on a virtual studio tour, allowing them to connect with you and your creative space.
Going Beyond Static Images
First impressions on social media count, and how you present your art on Instagram matters. While posting on the feed might be the most straightforward way to exhibit your art on Instagram, it doesn’t necessarily yield the highest reach.
According to a study by SocialInsider, Instagram Reels boast a 2x higher average impression rate compared to other content types on the platform. With double the reach rate of posts on the feed and Stories, Reels have the potential to go viral more easily.
Reels don’t have to be overly fancy or complicated—what matters most is that your content is engaging and entertaining. Start with something simple, such as offering a glimpse into your daily life as an artist, and gradually explore other topics as you become more at ease with the format.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should only focus on Reels. The same SocialInsider study shows that Carousels (a post containing more than one photo or video, which users can view by swiping left) generate the highest number of comments for small and large accounts because they drive conversations.
The key here is to diversify your content to keep your audience captivated and engaged.
Additionally, pay attention to the quality and composition of your photos and videos. When documenting your work, whether it be a work-in-progress shot or a time-lapse video showing your entire process, make sure you have good lighting so that the photo or video of your artwork stays true to how it looks in real life. Remember to wipe your camera lens before taking a photo or video.
Using Instagram hashtags is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to get more eyes (and engagement!) on your posts. But instead of jamming 50 hashtags in one post, focus on 5-15 that are relevant to your content. Think of it like keeping your art notebook free from grocery lists—a clean and targeted approach works wonders.
Practicing Adaptability and Consistency
As an artist, consistency, and productivity are practically in your DNA. Consider adopting techniques or processes that can streamline your workflow without compromising quality.
Creating a content calendar helps keep you organized and on track of where, what, and when you’re posting. Adding structure to your social media routine will give you a better perspective of your overall content. It also helps during brainstorming sessions because you can see all your ideas and posts in one place. Calendars are also great for visualizing how each planned post might look on your feed.
The best time to post will depend on the platform and the country. Sometimes, the ideal time might be inconvenient for you to post manually. By scheduling your posts directly from Instagram or using third-party platforms, you can schedule when your posts go out.
Building an Engaged Community Through Authenticity
Connection is fueled by narrative. Others who feel as passionately as you do about art will connect with you as an artist—but you have to infuse it into everything you do to make that connection.
The more you engage with your followers, the more likely they are to see your content in their feed, and the more likely they are to become loyal followers and potential buyers of your art.
Consider asking questions in your captions and responding to comments or direct messages. You can also take engagement a step further with Instagram Live, which allows you to interact with your followers in real time. This can be a great way to connect with your audience, answer questions, and showcase your art in a more unfiltered way.
Remember, authenticity is a key factor in building meaningful relationships with your community—so be nice! It’s a simple but powerful mantra that can resonate deeply with your audience and solidify your place in the hearts of those keeping an eye on your journey as an artist.