by Lynn S. Schwebach
Imagine if Vincent Van Gogh had been able to post his art on Instagram and people from around the world would have seen his genius. It’s likely that Instagram, and its millions of users and buyers, would have allowed this impoverished artist a more financially stable income.
We will never know the answer for Van Gogh’s potential on Instagram, but today’s artists at least have the option—and they are wise to use it.
There are several channels for selling art; however, if you don’t show your art in a gallery, if you don’t have an agent, if you don’t spread yourself all over the place at art fairs (which often cost a handsome sum to enter) then I suggest trying Instagram, which boasts 600 million (and counting) users. And it’s free.
Additionally, Kevin Systrom, cofounder and CEO of Instagram, recently told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang in a television interview that 300 million users open Instagram for 21 minutes a day. Even if only 1% of those users are art buyers, (1,000,000 hypothetical buyers) artists can’t afford NOT to be on Instagram.
As a visual artist, I started using Instagram a couple of months ago, and I want to share with you 6 marketing tips I learned for marketing your art on this social media platform:
1) What should you post and in what order? Opinions differ about what photos to post and in what order. Some artists recommend a careful “curation” of posts—regarding colors and themes. People who click on your feed will open to your 9 most recent posts. Advocates of careful curation recommend posting photos of artworks that go together within a color scheme so that your feed—and especially those first 9 photos—is aesthetically pleasing. Brittany Dangerfield discusses this on The InstantBoss Club blog, “10 Tips for Handmade Businesses with Brittany Dangerfield.”
However others recommend not only posting photographs of your art, but also lifestyle photographs, because people are inherently interested in the lives of artists. They like to see photos of your works in progress, what inspires you, and what you like to do when you’re not working. In other words, you create a “story” of your art and your life as an artist. (This also happens to be called branding. See my post, “What is Your Personal Brand?”) Yet posting lifestyle photos makes it almost impossible to maintain a color scheme or theme. (See the Fast Company article, “Want your Instagram Photos to Get Attention? Use the Color Blue.”)
My opinion is to experiment and see what works best for you and your targeted audience. The goal is not only to get a large number of Instagram likes or followers but to get a following of potential buyers. You have to know and understand your target market. Some buyers get turned off with only posts constantly hawking items for sale. They want to know more about you. Others just want to see your art, and they want to see that you are consistently producing art. One way to research which approach works for you is to find others on Instagram selling similar artworks and peruse their feeds. What do they do?
For my audience, I get a lot of feedback on my posts that include my lifestyle shots as well as my artworks, so that is the direction I am currently taking.
2) How much should you post? A 2016 Forrester research study found that 50 top global brands now post on Instagram, and they do so about 4.9x per week. That comes out to about once a day, which is what many Instagrammers recommend. If you post more than once a day, your audience might get burned out on you and your art. I post a few times a week.
3) How many hashtags should you include with each post? Posts that use at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than those who don’t use any. But I will take this several steps further. Instagram allows you to use 30 hashtags. Think of this as 30 different ways to attract people all over the world—totally free. If a realtor told you that you only had one house, or one apartment, in an entire city that fit your budget and needs, or the realtor said there were 30 houses available, which would you prefer? If someone told you that you only could take one vacation in 30 years, or 30 vacations in 30 years, which sounds more appealing? If someone told you that you had a choice between 10 customers seeing your art or 300, which option promises to offer you more sales? In other words, why wouldn’t you use all 30 hashtags?
Yet many artists view using 30 hashtags as overkill or bragging. I have been doing my own, unofficial, unscientific study of artists on Instagram, and by far, the ones with the most followers, and claiming to sell (and show at galleries and special events) the most, use 30 hashtags for each post. Other extremely talented artists who I love and follow because I know them personally only use 5 to 10 hashtags. And they maybe get 20 likes, mostly from people they know or other artists, when they should be getting hundreds and thousands of likes from people all over the world who love to collect and buy art.
Additional tip: Put your hashtags within a comment so they don’t clutter your post.
4) Should you use the location tag? Posts that include a location tag get 79% higher engagement than those that leave this information out. The “Add Location” is located directly beneath the “Tag People” option. Including your location is a personal preference, however, because some people do not like to post to the world where they live.
5) Research your hashtags. This tip is crucial. Starting out, most artists use hashtags like #artist #painter #coloradoartist #inkartist. While these are great hashtags, there are others that you need to use as well. For example, I started out using a ton of fine art-related hashtags. However, I quickly discovered that most of my followers were artists, and guess what? Most artists aren’t buyers.
After doing some marketing research on hashtags, I started adding hashtags related to interior design, art consultancy, and institutional buyers. My following started to grow with more potential “buyers” rather than only “sellers” (i.e, other artists).
I also recommend using the Instagram analytical tool websta.me. This tool lets you register your Instagram account on your laptop or desktop computer. It helps you research popular hashtags, and find the ones that are working for you and your audience.
One last tip regarding hashtags: Many bloggers and artists recommend adding your 30 hashtags to your cellphone’s “Notes” app so you can copy and paste each time you post. This is a great idea, but don’t simply select 30 hashtags and keep using them over and over without doing your homework to ensure they are working. I am still tweaking my list of 30 to see which tags are exposing me to greatest number of buyers.
6) Use quality photographs. This last tip might seem like common sense, but taking well lit, attractive product photos is not easy or always intuitive. Showing your art hanging on a wall above a couch or table is a popular way to display artworks, but other options exist as well. Props and models, such as my dog Kennedy, always grab attention, and can add something about you as an artist that also attracts certain buyers.