June 10, 2019

How To Use Instagram as an Artist

I’m asked all the time about how to best use Instagram (having found some success in the art world niche), so this article dives into how to best utilize Instagram if you're an artist
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Opinion

Utilizing Instagram as an Artist

Over the past few years I’ve seen a LOT of artist Instagrams. I’m constantly searching for them, tagging them and following them as I share my many visits to galleries, art fairs and museums. In fact, one of the coolest things for me about being on Instagram are the digital connections I’ve made with artists and I’m very lucky that most of my followers are artists.

That being said, I’m asked all the time about how to best use Instagram (having found some success in the art world niche). This post turned out to be a little longer than I anticipated (turns out I’m pretty passionate about this), so if you’re short on time, feel free to just read the summary below for key takeaways.

TLDR

  1. Use your real name as your username and if it’s taken add artist, studio or art (or underscores or a period)
  2. Choose your most iconic/recognizable piece of art as your profile picture
  3. Keep your bio short and informative and include your most important link (website, press)
  4. Don’t post more than once a day and keep your content short and sweet (no long text posts please)
  5. A regular Instagram post should be able to stand alone, be relevant at any point in time, and have a purpose (provide some kind of value to the audience)
  6. Use Instagram stories when you want to utilize engagement tools like polls, questions, and music, share lots of content around an event, or have lower quality content that’s still interesting (low lit, or unflattering).
  7. Be consistent with how often you post, what you post, and how you engage with your peers
  8. Behave on Instagram how you would in real life (send messages like you’d socialize in person and be respectful)

These ‘rules’ are just suggestions, and everyone obviously has the freedom to represent themselves online as they see fit. However I do urge artists to understand Instagram can be a key part of their business, and not as much a place to be completely free and open with creative expression (save that for your art).

Choosing a username

Long story short. People are searching for you (if you’re lucky) and if they can’t find you quickly they won’t tag, follow, or comment on your work they’ve seen. So let’s make it as easy for them as possible to understand you’re the artist they’re looking for. This is especially true if you have a common name.

When someone is searching, they’ll be searching for your name. So unless you have an amazing sense of humor like (@cocfunhouse, @dirtyroomba, ect.) I would recommend sticking to your name. Even if it’s taken I would utilize underscores and periods, or even better, adding studio or art into your username, people will know instantly you’re legit.

Great examples of this are

Derek Fordjour, @FordjourStudio

Nikki Maloof, @NikkiMaloof

Josh Sperling, @joshsperling

Mira Schor, @Mira_Schor

Erik Parker, @erikparkerstudio

Choosing a profile picture

My advice for choosing a profile pictures falls into the same line as above. People need to understand you’re an artist just by a tiny tiny circle. The best way to do that is by making your profile pictures a very distinguishable piece of your art.

Even artists on the more famous side do this like Jonas Wood and Damien Hirst.

Just remember, you have about 2 seconds to communicate to someone you’re an artist. Why not highlight your art every chance you can?

Your bio

Keep your bio concise and informative and always include important things like your website. People click through links in the bio exponentially more than any other part of Instagram (even ‘swipe-up’ in stories). It’s another way to legitimize yourself.

Depending on how legit you are, it can also be a great place to highlight your latest news press article.

Artist who have great bio’s are

@sara_rahbar_, who follows the ‘describe yourself in x amount of words’ strategy very well.

@trudybenson, keeping it simple

@emilymaesmith, shows off her current exhibition

Short. Sweet. Informative.

Instagram stories vs. Static Content

There are two main types of content you can create on Instagram. The Instagram story and the posts that live on your profile and appear in people’s feeds. These two are very different and should be utilized in very different ways. How I like to utilize them is the following.

Regular Instagram Post

I’m asked the question a lot about how to utilize stories vs. just regular posts on Instagram. So I’ve created these not-set-in-stone rules to make it a little more clear about when to create a regular Instagram post vs. a story.

First things first. Don’t post more than one regular Instagram post a day. Just trust me, it has to do with the algorithm, you’ll water down your distribution (and engagement) if you do more than one. Keep it to one post a day and if you have more content than that, put it in your stories. Also keep your content short. Like I said above, you have about 2 seconds to communicate with an audience, if they see a huge block of text they won’t read a word of it.

A regular instagram post should be the following:

  1. Something that is as relevant and interesting to a person years later as it is in that moment.
  2. It should stand alone (even if it is a part of a series, like a work in progress post)
  3. Have a purpose, and provide some kind of value to the audience (even if that purpose is, I think it looks dope - it will bring people joy)

Another trick is to post between 9-11 am EST (Later did a huge study on this). I prefer to post earlier (6-8 am EST) but I’ve been monitoring my audience for a long time and I know what works for me.

Examples

My favorite exhibition photo of a work by Robin F Williams from a show at The Hole and I let people know some key info

  1. What the show is about
  2. Who are some of the artists participating
  3. How long it’s on for and where they can see it

An Artist Interview I did with David Leggett where I share

  1. My favorite quote from him during the interview describing his work
  2. Where people can read the post

Summary of Zonamaco - an art fair in Mexico City where I share

  1. Photos of my favorite booths
  2. Where people can read a more detailed write up of my favorite artists at the fair

Instagram Stories

Instagram stories are great. And the most important thing to note about them is that they are ephemeral (aka they don’t last forever, 24 hours to be exact). Because of this, Instagram stories are great for telling a story and getting personal with an audience.

A great time to use an Instagram story is when

  1. You have a story to tell that can be done in sequence, each one is 15 seconds so you can grab the user’s attention
  2. You want to engage with your audience - you can utilize awesome tools to engage with your audience that aren’t available such as

GIF’s (animated stickers)
Questions (LOVE this one, collect answers to a question you ask)
Polls, Music - add your favorite song to a video or photo

  1. You have a lot of content from one event
  1. Like I said above, say you're at an art fair - go ahead and post all 50 of your favorite artworks...in your stories, that way your audience can opt in or out and you’re not spamming them.
  1. Your content isn’t the most photogenic (eg. haven't showered, or went to a cocktail party and all photos were in low light, no worries! it'll be gone in 24 hours, but you can still show you were there)

Story Highlights - those cute little bubbles that can live in your bio. Figure out the top themes of your stories (Art Fairs, Galleries, In The Studio, Travel), but keep it to a minimum. Nobody is going to swipe through more than 4-5 highlights so keep it simple.

Also wondering when to post? - Whenever you want. That’s the best part about stories is you can (and should) do them continually throughout the day.

The ‘Grid’ vs. The Individual Posts

A lot of people are very concerned about their ‘grid’ and what it looks like. Your profile grid (aka all the photos that appear on your profile) actually aren’t that important. Most people are seeing your photos on their feed, in a message, discovering it organically, ect. - they’re rarely visiting your profile. For some perspective, on my Instagram anywhere from 5-10% of people seeing my posts actually visit my profile (and this is on the higher side). From there the fraction that follow is an even lower perfect.

So where am I going with all of this? Focus on the quality of the individual post over just how it will look with your overall posts. Your grid may not look designer/perfect but if people are loving your individual posts you’ll get way more loyalty and an engaged audience in the long run.

General Good Habits

Be consistent

Post consistently. Humans are creatures of habit and if they’re used to seeing content regularly they will be more responsive to it. There’s no point in posting tons of stuff and then going off the radar for a month, your audience will forget you exist and will lose trust in you.

This is probably the hardest part of social media because life happens, BUT there are some great tools out there to help such as Later, that let you schedule posts so you can plan out your content and then go back to creating amazing art.

Engage

Social media mimics the real world. It’s usually not best practice to go to a cocktail party and not talk to anyone. So if you’re on Instagram, engage with others. Follow people and like their work! Make some new ‘friends.’

How to best engage on Instagram as an artist  

  1. Responding to people that message you (even if it’s an emoji it means a lot)
  2. Liking comments on your photos
  3. Following other artists and liking their content (or even comment!)
  4. Following major galleries and art fairs

If you want to be a part of the art world it’s important to stay on top of what’s going on, and the easiest way to do that is follow galleries and art fairs.

If you’re not sure who to follow, start with a major art fair such as Art Basel or Frieze and look at their exhibitor list. Artsy has a great comprehensive list of art fairs that happen throughout the year here.

That being said. Don’t spam - aka send tons of generic messages to galleries and individuals asking them to take a look at your work. This isn’t how people get represented and it will just make people annoyed and/or block you. Just think about how you’d engage with people in real life.

Would you just walk up to Larry Gagosian and say hey look at my work here it is? Probably not, and if you did it probably wouldn’t go over well. Instead you’d say “Hey Larry, I really respect your program, I loved the Jonas Wood show” to build a relationship before you start asking for favors. Politeness and respect go a long way, and people always love to know you’re actually interested in what they’re doing.

Artists I think do a great job overall

  1. Heather Day
  2. David Leggett
  3. Austin Lee
  4. Katherine Bernhardt
  5. Emily Mae Smith

If you have any questions or what to dive deeper into how to use more complicated features on Instagram, shoot me an email and let me know! 

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