Instagram Tips for Artists: Best Practices for Posting
For many artists, Instagram is the social media site where you spend the bulk of your time. It is a visual platform that allows you to post images with captions, stories that disappear after 24 hours, Reels (which are similar to TikToks), longer videos on IGTV, and even livestreams. You can even have a webstore on Instagram. We’ve seen artists conduct sales, performances, and interviews using Instagram. For more of an introduction, check out our social media basics and our coverage of different social media platforms for artists.
Because Instagram is important for many artists and arts organizations, we’re sharing some tips to help you get started with an account or to streamline your current Instagram efforts. It’s important for artists to market yourselves, but you might not know where to start. With this guide to some Instagram best practices, we hope that you’ll be able to develop a successful social media presence that accomplishes what you want it to accomplish while leaving you plenty of time to focus on your real work, which is your art.
Striking the Right Tone on Instagram
Finding the right tone for your posts on Instagram will depend on who your audience is and how you want to communicate with them. It will probably also depend on if you are posting just on behalf of yourself or on behalf of a larger organization or group. For example, you might work as a theater director and have a personal, individual Instagram account that you use to follow the theater world and connect with other theater professionals. That might be on the casual side of professional. But if you are running the Instagram account for a whole theater, you might choose a more formal tone.
Think about what kind impression you want your followers to have of you. Do you want them to see that you’re competent and connected? Their peer? Funny? Thinking about the effect you want to have or the impression you want to leave can help you nail down the right tone for your posts.
Social media is a great place to let some of your unique personality show through. It’s okay to show that there’s a human behind the account. And, in fact, your followers might appreciate the feeling of intimate connection that they get when they can really tell that there’s a real person or real people behind the posts that they are seeing.
Whatever tone you land on for your Instagram presence, it’s important to try to stick to it consistently. It’s jarring if your posts swing from very casual to incredibly formal and business-like and then back again. Of course, posts will have varying tones depending on what the content is, but they should all sound like it’s coming from the same place and the same voice.
Setting Up Your Instagram Account
One of the first and most important decisions you have to make when setting up an Instagram account is whether to set up a personal or professional account. A professional account (which is free) confers a number of benefits. A professional account gives you access to more analytics to see how your posts are performing, the ability to create a webstore, the option to add contact information to your profile, and some of the prestige associated with something that’s seen as more “legitimate.” A professional account can also help you maintain a work/life balance if you want to create an account for your art and one for the rest of your life.
A downside is that you can’t set your account to private if you’d like to limit some access. If you decide to create a professional account in addition to your personal one, it can be challenging to manage multiple accounts. You might find that one goes by the wayside or that it’s hard to convert your audience on your personal account to your professional one.
Once you’ve sorted out which kind of account you want to use, there are several ways to optimize your profile.
Whatever kind of art you do, make that clear in your Instagram handle or name so that you are easily found and recognized. The best Instagram names are ones that you can say out loud, that someone can easily hear and remember, and then search and find later on. Consider putting your creative discipline in your name or in your bio - for example I might choose to go by Nina Berman Ceramics rather than Nina Berman so that my account wouldn’t get confused with the more famous Nina Berman, who is also in the arts and lives in NYC.
Use your link in bio to send people to your website or to a landing page with multiple links (like Linktree). You can update the link to upcoming performances, to places for people to purchase tickets, or to relevant media coverage you’ve recently received.
What to Post on Instagram?
Determining what kind of content is best for your Instagram account will depend on a number of factors. It will depend on your audience and your goals, plus what you are up to in terms of your creative practice. For example, your content will look different if you are about to premier a new work versus if you are deep in brainstorming mode versus if you are in a fundraising push.
If you get stuck thinking about what to post, consider these big buckets of content and how you can start to cycle through them.
Finished work: You can share stills or video clips from performances, snap photos of your finished products, or otherwise show the final version of whatever it is that you create. Feel free to showcase some of your older work in throwback posts if you like!
Process: People love to look behind the scenes at the creative process. We want to see what happens behind the curtain, what makes the magic happen, and what the mess looks like that results in a polished final work. You can give studio tours, show photos or clips from rehearsals, process videos, and more. It’s a great way to help your audience connect with you on an intimate, human level.
Peer work: Highlighting the work of other people in your field is a great way to easily add more content to your feed without too much leg work on your part. It’s also a powerful way to build community and help your fellow artists. If you share their work, they might find new audiences and new collaborators. Plus, they might be inclined to share your work! It’s part of developing digital solidarity and cooperation among artists.
As you post on Instagram, be sure to remember that you are creating content on a visual platform. In the same way that you want your tone to remain relatively consistent, think about creating a consistent visual identity. That will help your audience immediately recognize your posts as they scroll and it will improve the overall look of the grid of posts that people will see when they look at your profile.
How Often to Post on Instagram
There is a lot of advice out about how often to post on Instagram if you want to see very fast growth of followers. We’ve seen advice about posting at least once per day, creating several stories every day, plus Reels and IGTV. That might indeed be how influencers build up a big follower count in a short amount of time, but for most artists and arts organizations, it just isn’t practical.
As artists, we are almost always wearing multiple hats, and sometimes we’re also the hat rack.
It’s best to think about developing a cadence that is consistent and manageable, rather than one that will tend to leave you feeling frustrated and unsuccessful because you don’t have the bandwidth to achieve it. You want to find the sweet spot of posting frequency that will stretch you into new territory, but that is in the realm of possibility given the rest of your commitments.
Try to post on Instagram consistently rather than oscillating between radio silence and blowing up people’s feeds. You will naturally be posting more when you have an event or something else to promote, but try to keep up a maintenance schedule of posting when you are recovering and working on new projects to stay in the minds of your audience and supporters. If you need a number recommendation for how often to post, start with twice or three times a week and see how that goes. You can always adjust from there!
If you need to take a break from Instagram to focus deeply on creating new work or to take a break for your mental health, make a post to let your audience know that you’ll be taking some time off.
Engaging With Others on Instagram
One of the powerful benefits of Instagram (and social media generally) is that it allows you to easily engage with your peers and your audience. Engaging on Instagram is a powerful way to build connections with your peers and to create stronger bonds between yourself and your audience.
There are some very easy ways to get started. Like and respond to comments on your posts and check your DMs (and message requests) to see if someone is trying to contact you there. Repost content that you are tagged in (stories are especially good for this function). Make sure to follow artists who are working in your discipline and in your local scene. Share their upcoming events with your audience to help promote your peers and in the hopes that they will do the same for you.
Instagram can help you forge meaningful connections, but only if you make an effort to be a part of the conversation.
Make Your Instagram More Accessible
It’s important to consider accessibility in your Instagram account. This means making your profile easy to understand and use for people who might, for example, be low-vision or blind.
Easy ways to increase the accessibility of your Instagram profile is to incorporate alt text in your images, include image descriptions in your posts (see an example here), and staying mindful about using color combinations and fonts that are easy to read.
Access Guide is a great resource to learn more about making content more accessible overall.
It’s also a good idea to include your pronouns in your Instagram bio. It helps people know how to refer to you and also works to normalize sharing pronouns as a standard operating procedure for everyone.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. But in the realm of Instagram, it has more to do with ensuring discoverability. That means making sure your posts are showing up in your followers’ feeds and that your profile is getting recommended to people who might be interested in your work based on their existing Instagram activity.
Professional social media managers are always trying to stay on top of what the Instagram algorithm seems to prefer in terms of what to post, how often to post, and how to use keywords and hashtags. For most artists and arts organizations, this level of detail around SEO just isn’t practical. Plus, the algorithm is always changing!
But there are some general best practices that everyone can incorporate.
At its core, SEO is about making your work easy to find for the people who are interested in finding it.
Include relevant keywords in your username and in your bio. That way, when people are searching for something like “theater” or “dance,” or when they are already following other accounts in those disciplines, it’s more likely that your profile will be recommended to them either as a suggested follow or when they type something into their search bar.
For example, I might choose an Instagram handle that includes “ceramics” if I want to make my work more findable for people who are interested in my particular medium.
You can also include relevant keywords about your work or your location or the subject matter in the body of your posts to assist with SEO.
You can also use hashtags to help aid in discoverability. It is worth noting, however, that some of the biggest hashtags are also the hardest to stand out in. For example, #art is almost so broad as to be meaningless. You might still include those big and broad hashtags, but you should also consider more niche ones related to your specific discipline or your specific creative scene. For example, I might use #BrookllynCeramics #HandmadePottery #Wheelthrowing or #Ceramicist in addition to a broader hashtag like #Art to describe my work.
Succeeding on Instagram
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by social media. One way to avoid that overwhelming feeling and to also develop a more successful social media presence is to remember why you are there. You are on Instagram (or another platform) to build relationships with people who care about your art. It is all ultimately in service of your art.
As you think about your Instagram strategy, think less about building a big follower count and more about generating content that is interesting and valuable to your audience (even if it’s as simple as just adding some beauty to their lives). As marketing expert Jolie Higazi told us, “Any time you reach out to your community, you should be asking what is the value for them and what is the value that you are bringing to the relationship that you have with them?”
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Content Specialist at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.