I coach artists at The Abundant Artist—from artists who are just starting out to artists who are selling $100,000+ a year in art—and one of the things we talk about a lot is how to use Instagram to increase sales of your art.
There are three mistakes I see artists making on Instagram.
- Focusing on follower count.
- Obsessing about hashtags.
- Working harder, not smarter.
Mistake #1 – Focus on follower count
Look, I’m a working artist too and I get it. There’s a little bit of an endorphin rush that we get when our follower counts start going up. That little juice when you cross that next big threshold (whether its 100 or 10,000 followers) can distract you from focusing on what really helps you sell art on Instagram.
Chasing follower count is a whole industry. Just today, I got a message for a service that would help me buy 1,000-100,000 followers just by paying $10-$1000, depending on the number I wanted to get. When I see those kinds of messages, I get mad because I know so many people on Instagram want to grow their numbers to get more sales and that they’ll pay big money to do so—and that’s not even what matters when it comes to selling art on Instagram.
When I get those kinds of offers I think about the business model that’s behind it. Who does this work for? Are those 1,000 new followers going to be buyers or bots? Are they good matches for my art? Are they my ideal client?
I think we all know the answer to that: No, they are none of those things.
What matters most is having real followers, not fake followers—people you know (or get to know) by connecting on Instagram.
I would rather have 1000 followers who know me and my work, comment regularly, who watch my videos, and who share my art with their friends, than 10,000 unengaged followers or bots.
Mistake #2 – Obsessing about hashtags.
It’s important to have good hashtags on your posts, but obsessing over them can take you away from the work that really gets sales on Instagram.
How do you get good hashtags?
1. Have a look at your top collectors’s or ideal clients’ profiles—what hashtags are they following? (Go to their profile, click on Following, and look for the hashtags at the top.)
2. Click and look at the Top 9 for each hashtag—does it look like your art fits in? (I did this with ‘commission art’ and discovered that it was used primarily for custom avatars/illustrations—not a match for my audience/collectors—so I stopped using it and found hashtags that were better matches. You can use an site like flick.tech or an app like Later to help you find good hashtags.
3.Select hashtags that have under 500,000, 100,000, and 20,000 posts, so you are more likely to be seen.
Mistake #3 – Working harder, not smarter.
It’s a tried and true statement—work smarter, not harder. But what does it mean when it comes to selling your art online?
One thing that separates artists who struggle to sell work on Instagram from artists who sell consistently is how they are using the different features on Instagram. Artists who sell consistently use all the different features of Instagram thoughtfully and strategically.
The goal of using Instagram is to grow sales—you do this by:
1.Connecting directly with collectors.
2.Driving traffic to your website.
3.Increasing sign ups for your email list.
All three of these goals are the foundations for gain more sales.
How do you use the different features on Instagram to reach these goals?
Instagram is more than your Feed—it’s your Profile, Stories, Highlights, Reels, IGTV, Direct Messages, and Shop Links. Knowing how each feature works, how and when to use them will help you connect with your ideal client.
This is your most curated space. Think art gallery. Use preview apps like ArtRooms to show collectors how your art would fit in their spac. Learn more on our blog Top Apps for Previewing Art on a Wall.
Your profile page bio is how people get to know you quickly. Quick brags (aka “award-winning” or “as seen on TV/at XYZ exhibit”) and clear calls to action: visit website, subscribe to my email list. Stay on brand—if your brand is playful, be playful; if your brand is earnest, be earnest; if it’s badass, be badass.
Stories are where collectors and followers want to see the ‘real you’—this is where you can be a little messy and fun. Think of it as the chaos of the Opening Night at the gallery—people are checking out the clothes, food, drinks, art, talking about what they read, enjoy doing, asking what inspired the art, etc.
Showcase past Stories on your profile page in Highlights. It’s another way collectors get to know you.
This is where it gets real. Use direct messaging to reach out to potential ideal clients who like, follow, and comment on your work. Art is a relationship business and relationships are built through conversation, which happens in the DMs. Want to know more about how to use DMs to sell your art? Sign up for The Abundant Artist Instagram Workshop – How to sell your art on Instagram, even if you don’t have 10,000 followers – and in one hour learn how to do this, based on lessons learned by working artists who have sold thousands in art, using a few key steps consistently.
Right now (Spring 2021), Reels is where it’s at in Instagram. Reels get a BUNCH of traffic as it’s the newest Instagram feature. It works kind of like TikTok—short videos/video clips—it’s a fun, playful place that you can showcase your work, personality, and process (especially with time lapse videos).
– Share your Reels to your Stories to drive more traffic– if it’s polished, share it to your Feed also.
–Reels can be a bit squirrelly to figure out at first and it’s pretty new. Instagram has a great help page that answers a lot of questions.
IGTV is where you can share longer videos of you and your art. Remember to use hashtags in your description. You can also cross post an IGTV preview to your Feed and Stories so more people will see it.
Shop links have gotten easier in the last 6-12 months. Setting up your Instagram Shop lets you tag your art so it’s easier for people to purchase your work. It takes some effort (and maybe watching and re-watching help videos) but once it’s set up, it’s easy to use.
–Pro Tip: Here’s a link to the help page about how to set up Facebook and Instagram Shops. Check your website platform to see if their Facebook/Instagram integration has improved in the last 6-12 months (such as with Squarespace).
This may seem like a lot to take on all at once—and it is, so don’t. Work your way through the list and put into action a strategy that focuses on connecting.
If you want to know more or learn how to sell art by connecting with collectors on Instagram, sign up for the one-hour TAA workshop—How to sell your art on Instagram, even if you don’t have 10,000 followers.
Sarah C.B. Guthrie, MFA, is a full-time artist based in Seattle and serves as lead coach for The Abundant Artist. With 20 years experience in marketing and communications, she learned how to take that knowledge and her fledgling art business from a few hundred dollars a year to a full-time income in just a couple of years through applying the lessons in The Abundant Artist courses. She coaches TAA Mastermind Groups, How to Sell Your Art Online 101, 201, and 301, The Foundations of a Thriving Art Practice (with co-coach Jessica Singerman), and assorted Master Coaching Calls and workshops. Her website is https://www.artistgu3.com/.