One of the misconceptions I see with a lot of new users is that “Instagram fame” is somehow easier to achieve than it is. They think, “okay my content is great, I’m using relevant hashtags, I’m posting often (but not too often), I’m engaging with other users…..why is my follower and like count still so low?” First of all, patience young grasshopper…this isn’t going to happen for you overnight, and there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t want it to either.
Let’s Travel Back to 2011
It wasn’t that long ago that Instagram was just another fun app that you could download from the App Store. In its infancy, this photo-based sharing app was the answer for a lot of people to Facebook’s increasing departure from sharing moments of your life with your friends and Twitter’s somewhat pointless 144-character status updates. For those of us who liked photography or enjoyed consuming our social media in a visual scroll, it seemed like a perfect solution.
I for one had no idea it would become the celebrity maker and business engine that it is today. Heck, I didn’t even realize that my first overly filtered black and white photo of the water glass on my bedside table was actually even visible to the public! (Rookie, I know.) Over time and as Instagram started to increase in popularity, my use of the app started to change. At first, it was a place for me to post photos as a creative outlet. I don’t consider myself a photographer in the traditional sense, but I do like to take photos and think I do an okay-enough job at it.
As Time Went On…
Eventually, I started to see other people’s art in my feed and when I started to really dive into creating art as a side business, I switched my account to just being about my art. I wanted to leverage the following I already had which was mostly my friends anyway. When I started to get followers that were strangers more than people I knew, I didn’t feel like sharing some of my personal family photos felt appropriate anymore.
A lot of artists got in on the ground floor in this way before I did and reaped the benefits of not fighting the saturation and algorithm minefield that is present today. With that, you’ll see some people with tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of followers. Understanding the hashtag game and having great content obviously helps too. I would argue though that some people don’t even need the hashtags anymore.
The other unforeseen benefit of this once humble little app is that it made everyday people into celebrities virtually overnight. It gave people in all of the industry a platform without having to pay for it themselves and in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Social Media Influencer is actually a job now and for some a pretty high-grossing one. This phenomenon has now made the goal of a lot of Instagram business users not to share moments with their friends or potential customers but to accrue a massive following and in turn generate an income from that. It’s all just one big popularity contest.
The Current State
So in comes along an artist new to Instagram, or maybe not so new and they start to obsess with the thought of growing their following….“I want to be just like so and so, have hundreds of thousands of followers and then I’ll be making enough money to quit my day job!” Yeah, not quite. I mean for starters, Instagram doesn’t just cut you a regular cheque for reaching a certain amount of followers. What actually happens is that a large following or audience put you in a position to be approached by larger companies to potentially promote their products and then THEY pay you, but the number itself doesn’t equal a paycheck. There’s also no guarantee companies will approach you either.
What some don’t realize also is that you still have to do the work and consistently deliver. Many Instagram followers are incredibly fickle. Some are out there just playing the Follow-Unfollow Game and I like to think there’s a special place in hell for them. That may seem extreme but it’s honestly my biggest social media pet peeve.
My point is that for the people that you want to stick around, you have to some extent show them why they should. People’s feeds aren’t what they used to be and when you reach a certain level of audience people expect a certain result from you. If you were to suddenly gain a large following in a short amount of time, are you prepared for that pressure to perform? Maybe you need more time to develop what your social media voice is and if regular posting is even attainable for you.
To Make Things Complicated
Now enter in the troll factor. There are a lot of kind, supportive, and generally awesome humans out there but there are also a lot of terrible ones. They like to lurk in the comments section of the internet for someone to put down so that they feel better about themselves. Consider how thick your skin really is. If you’re really new to putting your art out there and all of sudden are being assaulted with comments many good but some bad, are you ready for that?
Many artists have fragile egos about their work in the beginning and the fury of the random Internet Troll can be enough to send you in an insecure spiral for days. Some people will never fully be able to handle this, but I also think it’s like an exposure therapy thing. If you get used to dealing with this type of thing in a slow and progressed way at some point you will be able to deal with it better. You may even ignore it completely or don’t let it bother you for as long as it might have.
Lastly, the serotonin hit that you might now be getting every time your phone lights up with a new notification of a like or follower, will be replaced by annoyance that your phone is constantly blowing up and you now need to turn your notifications completely off so that your battery doesn’t die by noon. That little hit you were getting, in the beginning, is now a numbers game. What amount of followers would be good enough? Would any number be good enough? How will you know when you reach it?
The Numbers Game
Building your audience can be a really slow and tedious process but the thing you need to always keep in mind is that you want people who are genuinely engaged in your content and want to support you. From an engagement algorithm perspective, this is good because if you have 10,000 followers but are only ever getting around 50 likes, Instagram is going to think you have fake or paid-for followers or that your content isn’t great and therefore will position you lower in people’s feeds.
By contrast, if you have around 1000 followers and half of those people are consistently engaged in your content, statistically speaking you’re actually doing better than the 10K+ crowd over there. Sure, one looks great from a popularity standpoint but that’s not the only factor in using Instagram as a business tool for success. There is even evidence now that nano and micro-influencers are more in demand now because their engagement rates are higher and can reach more people on average than those with thousands more followers.
By conventional standards, I still have a relatively low follower count on Instagram for how long I’ve been using it. I too get caught up in the numbers game and lament what I could be doing differently. What I try to remind myself of though, is that social media is about being social at its core. It’s a way for you to connect with people who might like what you do and find those who may inspire you forward.
It’s also important to consider that Instagram is borrowed land. You don’t own your followers or their contact information. In the event that your account gets hacked or the app is just down for a day or indefinitely, you have no way to contact those people unless you have been actively working on building your email list.
Instagram is so many different things for so many people. If you remember to use it as a tool to connect and focus on creating content and being authentic, your following will come. I truly believe that. I also believe it will come when you are ready for it. Whatever that means for you whether it’s 100 or 100,000.
You can join me on my Instagram journey @barbsotiart
Blog content updated on Nov 5th, 2022