I see this question come up a lot in the world of illustration. ‘How do I increase my following on Instagram?’ Now I by no means have the biggest account out there but I really enjoy using Instagram and feel like it connects me to like minded folk out there. At the time of writing I have nearly 2,500 followers and my account is just over 2 years old. It might not be huge but it definitely does help me to discover new customers and new clients have even told me that they found my work this way.
You have to remember also that instagram doesn’t publicise the tricks of it’s algorithm, everything is just guess work and spotting trends that work for you and your account. This blog is based on my experience and observations over the last 2 years my account has been active.
Is it all about follower numbers?
My illustration business is actually quite niche. It’s all SPOOKY after all! Not everyone is into that, and I can respect that. Instagram is a place where I can find the people who are really into that, like me! So I would argue that it’s less about follower numbers and more about engaging the right people. Finding your tribe.
So how do you find your tribe?
This is where hashtags come in. I think it is the number one way to find new folk. You will have some people find you through recommendations. Others will find you offline or on different websites. For the folk on instagram though, outside of being tagged by other accounts or geographical interest, it’s hashtags that will make you visible.
Thing is, there aren’t magic hashtags that you use and then a thousand people see your work and love it and follow you and become your biggest fans. There’s also a lot to be said for curating your page. This means ensuring that when people land on it they are compelled to follow you. But that’s another story for another time. All we are looking at right now is driving traffic to your page. Although it goes without saying that you need to produce quality content that people want to click on (we will talk about this more another day I promise!)
There are some universal principles that I find in using hashtags though. Habits that mean your account reaches new people. Actions that result in steady growth. It’s not going to happen overnight though, but what does?
What do your audience care about?
I am betting that there is a hashtag for it. The first tip is research. Try typing in phrases into instagram search. Things that both describe what your post conveys and what your target audience is interested in. The first step is to see what sort of numbers come up for each tag. The number denotes the number of other posts using that same hashtag. Make a note of it, keep a record. Just make sure that the phrase is relevant to what you are doing (i.e. don’t be spammy, it won’t work)
Look at accounts who you admire, accounts that are similar to yours, accounts that have the same target audience as you. Look at their relevant hashtags, search the numbers and add them to your list.
Group your hashtags
Sort them into different digital piles. A simple spreadsheet is fine for this. You want to group them based on the numbers. Low, medium and high. The numerics for these bandings are up to you. Think about the numbers involved, and your current follower number.
Now all you need to do is pick from these lists when you post. Instagram lets you post up to 30 hashtags in a post. However, I think instagram gives your post higher visibility if you don’t use them all. There are various theories on what number Instagram likes best, but I find 12 is a good number for my account.
Using this info when it’s time to post
What comes next is a totally balancing act. It’s an art not a science. The balance is between using hashtags with lower numbers where you are more likely to come top of the pile in the search results with hashtags with higher numbers that will be seen by more people. Where you fall depends on the engagement with your post. The dream is to turn up in the top nine posts when anyone searches for that particular hashtag. Use a huge hashtag like #art or #illustration and it’s more likely that you will get buried under posts by bigger accounts. Use a more niche hashtag like #fairypainting and you are more likely to show up higher.
I find that the trick is to use a mix of hashtag sizes. Take relevant tags from each of your spreadsheet bandings. Just make sure the tag is relevant to your post. Don’t use the same hashtags all the time, mix it up. Find new audiences by doing this. Get your art in front of more people. Voila.
Reviewing your Technique
Make a note of which hashtags got a good reach and engagement for you. You can find this info on your business account’s stats page. Click on the hashtags you have used and see where you come up. It might help you to work out if you are using hashtags that are too small for your brand or hashtags that are too big. As I said, it’s a balancing act. Remember that some hashtags are more popular at different times of year, make time to update your spreadsheet every now and again.
Make sure you actually know where your hashtag is going. You might think a phrase you typed means one thing, but click on it to make sure. Look at the posts there, does yours fit in? You don’t want to be posting what you think is a popular hashtag for your style of artwork but actually turns out to be a really popular sandwich in Paraguay. It’s a waste of a hashtag and has the potential to send you very off brand. Especially if it turns out that hashtag leads somewhere very dodgy indeed (unless that’s your target market off course!)
Happy tagging! Enjoy my instagram here 🙂