Growing an art Instagram account by Paradoxmoose- Feel free to share this around as you see fit. Consider this open source code, tips are gathered from both across the internet and from my personal experience- don’t claim it as your own work.
I also made an intro guide for Artists on Twitch, if you are interested.
This was shared recently, allegedly directly from a call with an Instagram growth support rep. It’s a bit more concise, and a wide view, rather than my detail oriented approach. It serves as a good intro.
Update- Instagram has announced they are switching to prioritizing video content of various forms over posts. A lot of the techniques mentioned below can still be applied to accounts that are video focused, but others will be deprecated. Video content for various platforms are often in phone-format, so you can upload the same content to youtube (shorts), instagram (reels) and tiktok.
Part 1) Preliminary Words of Caution:
First and foremost, having a large following is not going to automatically increase your income. It is difficult to get followers to leave the platform, regardless of if you would like them to watch your Twitch stream, YouTube channel or support you on Patreon.
Getting more likes or more followers will not make you happy. After you have X followers/likes per post, the satisfaction will almost certainly be fleeting, followed by the desire for more. And when you get fewer likes/followers than you were previously used to, it won’t feel great. Eventually this leads to it being a net negative experience.
I am a data analyst in my career, so my methods may seem a little cold and calculated for more artistically minded people. However these are just the core methods; it will be up to you to apply them in your own personal way and put your personality into it. The information here was gained through the process of running an Instagram account for 2 years, reaching 75k+ followers to date, receiving 5k to 15k likes per post, reaching hundreds of thousands of users each week. The art generated for posting typically took between 6 to 20 hours for a highly skilled professional fantasy artist to generate.
Finally, for what it’s worth, given everything I know now, in hindsight I would have grown a Twitter account instead of Instagram. But many of these lessons apply to Twitter as well.
Part 2) Preparation
Hindsight is 20/20, and after spending 2+ years helping to grow an Instagram account to 1k, 10k, 25k, 50k, now 75k, there are a lot of things I learned along the way that would have been helpful to know at the very beginning. I am approaching this as a ‘what would I like to have known at the start’ or ‘if I could, what would I tell myself two years ago” perspective. The account I helped grow was that of a freelance fantasy character artist, but the lessons I learned along the way would be as applicable to a food blog or fitness model as well as to artists. However, since my experience with Instagram is from that of the art community, I am going to be speaking directly to them, and everyone else can just replace the nouns in these articles like a game of madlibs to fit their niche. In any event, let’s start at the beginning.
It would be easy to find one or more quotes from the Art of War or the Scouts about being prepared before undertaking a task to improve the chances of success, but that doesn’t seem necessary. It’s stating the obvious, and you’re here because you want to learn what to do to maximize your chances of successful growth. Whether it is your New Year’s Resolution to start an account or to reach 10k followers this year, preparing is going to help you get on the right path.
Why Do Some Accounts Grow, And Not Others-
Click Measuring Contest-
The crux of the matter is that if you are intending to grow your following, Instagram is competitive. You are competing not only for views in hashtag and explore feeds, but also in your followers' feeds, as well as for Instagram’s favor behind the scenes. What many people don’t know is that if you do things that Instagram takes notice of for the right reasons, they will passively promote your account and your content on their platform for you. Sounds amazing, right? This is why many creators have found that the first 1000 followers were harder to gain than the next 4000, and those were harder than the next 5000, and so on. They were getting support from the Instagram platform itself, to varying degrees, whether they knew it or not. But many other people want their accounts to grow as well, and those who do research and plan to adapt their practices will have a leg up in that regard. You aren’t the only other person that your followers are following, and those people want to be seen by their followers. When most people follow between 200 and 2000 other accounts, the competition becomes clear. Instagram uses algorithms to determine whose post to show to who and in what order. Generally speaking, the quality of your content is going to have the greatest influence on who sees your work and who does not.
After following an account, Instagram will suggest other similar accounts to follow. These accounts are being supported by the platform, and where established accounts get their new followers passively.
I'll talk more about the algorithm and how it works throughout, but this is just to set the foundation to build on. The goal is to get your account into a state where Instagram helps you to promote it. However, with that said, Instagram’s support isn’t binary, nor is it perpetual. It can start, grow, slow or stop at any moment seemingly without any discernible reason. However, that support is what everyone that wants to grow their account is gunning for, whether they know it exists or not. To win the competition, your victories will be small but numerous, and the accumulation of them is what matters. You don’t have to be perfect, nobody is, but do your best and don’t sweat the small stuff.
The simplest way to have your account grow is to keep getting more likes on your new posts than on your previous posts. This will result in a positive feedback loop. I’ll explain how to do that as I go.
Be Prepared Before Growing Your Instagram Account-
Don’t Forget Your Towel-
Before starting your Instagram account (or before you want to start to push your growth and your reach on Instagram if you already have an account) there are several things you can do to aid your growth before posting. Starting off on the wrong foot (or just a suboptimal one) isn’t going to kill you in the long run, but Instagram growth is built on an accumulation of positive steps, so you may as well start in the right direction as early as possible, which would be now.
If you have already started your account, as I’m sure many have, don’t fret, you don’t need to start over. If you are not seeing any growth, and aren’t getting much reach, you don’t have much to lose by taking a step back. Take the time to consider what adjustments you need to make. However if you are seeing growth, and feel that you have decent reach to your followers, taking a break to do all of the preparation work won’t be worthwhile, but there are still ways to tweak your practices to adopt on the fly.
Best Content For Growth-
Show Me What You Got-
Simply put, higher quality content is the best for Instagram growth. This is true no matter your niche or subject matter (just avoid nudity and other taboo topics, or you’ll risk being hidden on the platform). It is important to produce quality content; people have to really enjoy what you post, or at least really like you, in order to like a post. If you are not producing quality content, no strategy will be effective. If you want to make an anime account, make sure your work is amazing. Does your work look like it could fit in professional material?
This isn’t a binary good enough vs. not good enough. Let’s look at Suzanne Helmigh’s progress that she provided on Twitter (with explicit permission to discuss here). https://twitter.com/SHelmigh/status/1235514052522250246
Clearly skill levels improve in time, but a better insight is that there are fewer people at each skill level. There are far more people capable of producing what she could in 2003 than what she can in 2019 and beyond. Arguably the first big leap in skill level was between 2009 and 2010, but is 2010 “good enough” to get a significant following? It’s a gradient. The better the quality, the more likely it is to be sufficient quality for sustainable growth. You can have your Instagram account and post your work as you improve your skill, but growth will be substantially easier as the quality of the content increases. Time dedicated to learning how to expand your reach on social media may be better spent improving your craft.
It should be widely known that getting likes on your posts is among the most important factors in determining your account’s growth, and nothing beats high quality content for getting people to move their fingers and click like when they see it. There are edge cases where low quality content becomes popular and people do click like a million times for a random egg, but that is not reproducible. I’m assuming that you are going to be producing your own content, and not just sharing other people’s work as a ‘gallery’ account, which many people have found to be the shortcut in having access to a wide variety of high quality content without having to be bothered with actually producing it. I’m not a huge fan of gallery accounts, but I’ll get more into those another time.
What Is your Niche-
Pick Your Poison-
You’re going to need content to post, obviously. First start by identifying your niche and your audience, if you haven’t already. In the long run, it is most beneficial to gain followers