Groundbreaking Insights on Creative Professionals

Instagram the Artists’ Way—A Measured Approach that’s Actually Fun

There are any number of advice columns on the internet for using social media, and countless how-to videos on youtube. Not all cater to artists. Some are designed mainly to make you feel more dependent and then sell you consulting or social media services. Most do not contextualize social media as a particular tactic that’s optional and that probably won’t generate tangible results if you haven’t done the underlying work of developing your brand story, so you have a single consistent narrative end-to-end in your marketing and sales process. If the latter is you, I have to recommend our digital courses on this topic, because they DO place all this in context. If you’re not yet a CHF Member, and you want a preview, look here.

Instagram is not required: To get one thing out of the way up front, you do not HAVE to be in Instagram if you’re an artist, or social media at all, if you really don’t want to, no matter what any guru says. There are multiple options for sales and marketing channels, and you simply can’t do them all, and probably shouldn’t try to (unless your strategy is to be spread so thin, that any one channel doesn’t matter anyway). This is for those of you specifically looking for a more measured approach to Instagram than the “10 things you MUST be doing” there, or “15 tips” or “20 strategies” (who can implement 20 strategies?) templates that suggest one size fits all. It doesn’t. And if it did, why would you need the marketing ‘expert’ that says so? Fire him or her and use the template.

All right, so let’s get some of the basics down:

Art Business Conference

Hashtag strategically. You don’t need so much to use more tags like #art and #artist, though it wouldn’t hurt to use those two just because they pick up people specifically scanning Instagram for those things. However, they’re very broad, and the chances of getting seen are much slimmer. So you do want to use thematic tags that have medium volume (rather than so much you can’t rise above the noise, or so little that they don’t matter). Thematic—In other words, what’s your work ABOUT? #apes #climate #darkness #suffering #clown #horseracing #speed #NewYork. The purpose of hashtags is first and foremost to get people watching those tags to see YOUR stuff in those thematic categories. If you want help finding hashtags, you can use keywordtool.io.

hashtags
From Instagram page of @josephkoyman

Hashtag for campaigns. Also, if you’re running campaigns (a whole series of work in a thematic area, or a series of your art, or a daily look inside your art process, or some other consistent episodic approach which can delight and activate an audience to share more widely), then add one hashtag that repesents your campaign and is fairly unique. So if you’re Theodore Major and your campaign is about flowers, maybe #majorflowers. For an example, look at #underarmourwomen. Don’t overthink it. You do this mainly so you can see analytics by visiting that hashtag at the end of your campaign and calculating the views, likes, comments, and shares to compare with your next campaign, so you can work those numbers baby! Holly Van Hart tracks her sales & marketing results in spreadsheets, and I love that. If you have a business account at Instagram they provide Insights (an analytics function) and, of course, there are some third party tools if you want to go down that path.

Post stuff that isn’t ‘art’. Let us see through the artist’s eye. There are three characters in your brand story—the art itself, the artist, and the audience which represents the world or a part of it. Too often, to look at an artist’s instagram account, you’d think they forgot at least two of those characters. Sure, post your art, but be a living, breathing human being too. Part of what we’re learning about, buying, and priding ourselves on understanding and recognizing, is the personality and signature ‘eye’ of the artist—specifically the artist looking at the broader world (those other 2 characters). Don’t hide that eye.

 

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Add context. Instagram is perfect for storytelling. Give us a thing you see in the world that we could go toward (aspiration) or resolve (problem) that is core/crucial in motivating your art and art practice. Then say what your intention is with a given piece to address that. Being able to spin different versions of that, time and again, lightly or profoundly—it doesn’t matter—but just consistently, helps us get to know you, your art, and how to situate that in our world. It helps us “live” with the art and artist or envision doing so.

 

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🏅And finally… our #AnotherMe Visitor’s Choice Platinum Award goes to “Photographs 1-5” from Guernsey Prison. This spectacular series of #blackandwhite photographs also won the Margaret Macdonald Platinum Award for Photography 🎖A huge congratulations to all of the artists who took part in this impressive group entry! . . . This year, visitors to our annual UK exhibition #AnotherMe @southbankcentre, curated by @sowetokinch, wrote a record number of feedback cards. We have had the pleasure of sending almost 8000 pieces ✨ of handwritten feedback to the artists, giving them invaluable encouragement on their artistic journeys! Find out more about the exhibition & our work via the link in our bio. . . . . . . #koestlerawards #blackandwhitephotography #prisonlife #prison #prisonart #artoftheday #photography #photooftheday #photographer #artchangeslives #artinprisons #unlockingtalent

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Say how to buy your stuff. So many things go unsold because no one says “to get this (original or print) here’s what you do…” Don’t be afraid to ask for money, unless you’re committed to not having any. If Saint Paul can say, “Aren’t we entitled to make a living from preaching the Gospel?” then you can say, “If you want this work, there’s exactly one, because it’s one of a kind. I’ll take Paypal, Venmo, or Cash. Email me here or call the studio…” etc.

Consider adding prices. How many things go unsold because we assume it’s out of reach, and then magnify that in our imagination to astronomical? It’s the same reason a lot of less than affluent people don’t hire lawyers when they should and absolutely could. ‘Oh a lawyer? That’s going to cost a fortune!’ It’s the same reason people don’t get checked out for some cancers, when they should. ‘Oh if you need surgery, that could be in the qintuple digits!’ Truth is it might not. But wouldn’t you at least rather have a defined problem than an unknown? Tell them the price. And if someone says that commoditizes your work, ask them how much they sold on instagram this week, because if they can do it without pricing, they should be selling YOUR work for a finder’s fee.

Run a series. A series of art work is effectively identical to a ‘campaign’ in marketing terminology. It can be a set of paintings you’re doing of bridges in New York, or your New Jersey mood this year, or your ‘blue phase’, or the ‘apes in business attire’ thing you’re up to. If you can group some posts together over some course of time, say 6-12 weeks, of x# of posts per week, you’ve got your own show online. Who hasn’t binge-watched Cheers, Peaky Blinders, or The West Wing because you see a pilot or trailer, or someone else says “you gotta see this”, and you get pulled into it? Let us binge, make us binge, we want to binge! And remember that hashtag for the campaign.

Art Series
SERIES From Instagram page of @alexander_zastavskiy
inside artist process
PROCESS From Instagram page of @dmd_watercolors

Grant an inside look. You can do so endlessly as you make different pieces, show us the process, and let us see the part or angles we might never see once it’s finished. An inside look is why we watch police, law, and hospital dramas; we want to see inside your process and your world. We want to vicariously live out your cool and think in your headspace. Give us the unfinished, raw stuff, and tell us what’s happening and what you see. “Half done, you can see the first few joints welded, as I lay on my back inside the sculpture. I want to show you what you’ll never see once I get the panels on…” Oh gosh—we’re glued to the screen for that. How about a #yournameinsidelook campaign? And if you’re leading up to a show or event, this is a no-brainer.

For goodness’ sake, promote your events. We want to see the lead-up, not just the thank you after the fact. The error people make in event marketing is they have the event and THEN do the marketing. Lot of good THAT did you. Let’s see the empty ground if you can photograph it. Later, let’s see the works in progress. Let’s see the loading dock, where you’re wrapping it all to ship. Show us the view from the train on your way to this thing. Give us day one b-roll of the crowd. Let’s have the story end to end. Instagram is journalism, and the best journalism tells us a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. And remember, major shifts in your career ARE events. E.g. you just got awarded a Fellowship at CHF? Where’s the Instagram representation of your delight?

 

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Amazing end of the year. Studio officially closed tonight. I am extremely humbled and grateful to have finally received my O1 Visa (granted to artists). I just need to take a moment and extend pure gratitude and recognition to all of you who were eager and willing to help me attain this incredible achievement. It has been a long and hard road but made so much more bearable and worthwhile by all of my friends and peers who stood by me and made sure to see it through. To all of you who wrote letters in my behalf. Corrected the style and grammar. To whoever decided it was worth having me in the United States doing art. Thanks! I love each and every one of you. . @gemijose @cinthiajsimon @tinamccutcheon @art_by_klfolgner @krytzia.dm @pabloluzardo @luzardo.pablo @la_velcro @galeria_casalamm @sarilv @amkluger @bondlatingallery @jolynnvallejo Juana Berio @galmisiones Matt Mochary Pablo Pedronzo @katie.hawkinson @studioboscosodi . Art matters!! Art changes lives!!! Women power!! . . . . #thankful #humble #artmatters #terecasasart #artchangeslives #womenpower #terecasas #artcounts

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Consider re-contextualizing your stuff. If you’re decent at graphic design, you could turn it into subway posters for instance, and post those. It gives us a different way to think about what your work means. Even if your art is not cause-based, there’s a brand story there that ignites interest. Or, once again, there ought to be! Find your inner Banksy or Damien Hirst. Neither artist has LIMITED themselves to art in a frame, art in an art show, art in a generic ‘art’ wrapper of some kind. They shove art at us, push it on us, MAKE us look and make us think, by refusing to leave art locked up in its safe boundaries. But you’re ALREADY changing the medium by putting a PHOTO of the art into Instagram. That’s not the art. That’s something else. So if we’re going to change context, let’s be free to change it as much as we WANT.

Don’t be a taker. Follow other people whose work you like, like it and comment on it, and be intelligent (not just “love your stuff – no it’s just, just so… ya know… cool and all”). You build connections by being the smart person in the room, with substantive appreciation and real gratitude. Takers who just post stuff (who view social media sites as monologues and one-way microphones) might as well not bother. It comes through loud and clear when you see a Twitter account with 3000% more people following than people you follow, or equal but no real interaction with the people you follow, or the interactions are canned/banal/thoughtless “Nice!” “Nice!” “So nice!” “Really nice!”

Don’t be a gamer. On the other hand, don’t game the system by robo-following people you don’t care about or liking stuff just to like stuff. ‘Gamers’ put in a lot of effort for little ultimate revenue value. What is the value of an inauthentic relationship? If you really need to feel liked, buy someone a beer. Social media won’t provide that. But if you want to build a tribe united around not ONLY love of your brand, but certainly fans of your brand, stand for something (have a brand story), make it clear (TELL the story), and be real (REALLY engage people). If you can’t, then it’s not for you, and don’t try to make social media be the panacea that it’s not.

Your voice is essential. No one can do it for you the way you would. No, not everyone has to run their own instagram. BUT, there are certainly a few things you get by doing so. A gallery is not going to speak about your work the way you would—the visionary aspiration around the work in progress or the thoughts you have as you put on the finishing touches. No social media admin is going to bring that, either. Of course, if you can truly work with an intern to have them in studio, living and breathing what you do, that educational environment can produce a really interesting synergy. And THAT fundamental growth can inject your social media with a powerful dynamic, because they come to understand, when you mix paint, or start the wheel, how you’re thinking in that moment. And they find words and images to convey it.

Lastly, the basics: Photo quality, decent lighting, no blurs, high resolution—do we really need to say these things? But sometimes, hey, just learning how to hold the phone steady and apply what you already know about composition in visual art makes all the difference applied to your photography.

There you go, a quick primer in how to get more out of Instagram. You won’t find any “what to click on” bits, and I’m not very interested in that, because a) it changes from device to device, and over time, and b) there are any number of youtube videos, so you don’t need my input on it. Focus on the WHAT and the WHY. The ‘how’ is the simplest part. Now go be an Instagram success and, if you want more of the brand story part, make sure you’re a CHF member, and take the courses on that topic—it’ll change your whole approach to ALL your marketing.

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AvatarDaniel DiGriz
Daniel DiGriz is CHF's Creative Director and Director of Educational Programming. He's a founder at corporate consulting firm Free Agent Source Inc., and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe which provides creative direction and marketing leadership to multiple firms. His background in Fortune 500 life is in sales and education. Daniel is a corporate storyteller and collector of brand stories who speaks at conferences and hosts podcasts, including The Thriving Artist™ Podcast. His personal website is DiGriz.com.

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