TechsmARTs – Insta$$$: Instagram as a Sales and Branding Tool for Artists

TechsmARTs Panel at Mammal Gallery. Our featured panelists are (from left) Brandon Barr, Jeremiah Cowan and Jessica Durrant with C4 Atlanta's Audrey Gámez moderating. Photo courtesy of Terry Kearns.
TechsmARTs Panel at Mammal Gallery. Our featured panelists are (from left) Brandon Barr, Jeremiah Cowan and Jessica Durrant with C4 Atlanta’s Audrey Gámez moderating. Photo courtesy of Terry Kearns.

Instagram has become a new marketing frontier for creative entrepreneurs. In particular, the visual appeal of snapshots and videos can be of great benefit to those trying to grow their following or sales of their artwork. It has been one of the most popular tech topics suggested to C4 Atlanta over the past few months.

On Monday, March 28, 2016, we convened a panel of “Insta-Experts” at Mammal Gallery.  Their experiences spans a wide  experience uses for Instagram as a business tool for their arts careers. Combined, the panel has amassed an ever growing following of over 188,000 on Instagram. The panelists included:

A snapshot of our panelists' profiles on Instagram. Each is distinct to their artist's creative brand.
A snapshot of our panelists’ profiles on Instagram. Each is distinct to their artist’s creative brand. All images courtesy of Brandon Barr, Jessica Durrant and Jeremiah Cowan.

Jeremiah Cowan (@jeremiahcowan) : Freelance Photographer

Brandon Barr (@texturl) : Writer, Film & TV Production, Photographer and Executive Director of #weloveATL

Jessica Durrant (@jessillustrator) : Illustrator, freelance artist

While we had originally planned to post the audio for this panel discussion, our recording inexplicably cut out 10 minutes into the talk. Instead, we have attempt to provide a distilled version of the answers presented by the panel for this talk and a list of helpful resources on this topic for professional artists and creative workers.

Here are some of the recommendations and tips of the panel from that day:

Don’t be “Sell-sy” – social media is a platform, not a bullhorn. All of the panelists emphasized that while using Instagram had been a boon to their arts businesses, it was largely based on their ability to build relationships with other users and create a dialogue around their work. Portraying themselves authentically and genuinely was sited over and over again as an important part of building a strong Instagram following.

Be a real person. Speak to your followers and to other users whose work you admire. Answer questions authentically, not in a way that you feel would help to “build the business”. Be positive and let your joy shine through.

Limit hashtags. Use no more than about 5-6 at any one time. No one likes to scroll through a sea of hashtags.

Some hashtags are more useful than others. Try to use tags that are trending or have a following. Avoid hashtags that only you are using or which have been so over saturated with posts that it could be difficult to be noticed by new followers.

Focus on building a community around your art by curating your feed just like you would curate your brand. Think quality over quantity.  In order to truly build a following, also it takes time. Many of the users with large followings have spent literally years cultivating their feeds. Have realistic expectations around what you will be able to achieve in a reasonable timeline.

Consistency is key for building a following. Some of the panelist mentioned creating a regular posting schedule when trying to build a following, posting 3-4 times a day each day at the same time. For Instagram in particular, if you only post once a day or once a week, you will not a achieve a large following. Posting at the same times each day creates anticipation around your work and help to engage with users in International markets, who have different schedules. Participating in one of the many artwork a Day challenges that seem to be ever present on Instagram can help to build a following. In this case, joining this kind of small movement with a following can help not only to get your artwork in front of new faces.  but also to build a network of likeminded artists who are fans as well.

For visual artists,  consider running limited prints and telling your followers about it on Instagram. You can also creative special incentives that you only announce on Instagram to create more buzz.
Remember to have a way for them to buy from you or to learn more. Email is okay. A website that is easy to navigate and has clear contact info is better. Since Instagram does not allow you to link in your posts, it is important that you provide your website link or contact email in your profile so that potential employers and buyers have a way to find you.
Once you begin to develop a following, potential employers may approach you regarding contract work that is project based. Panelists reported being asked to participate in photography projects with new phones, corporate photography gigs, and other freelance project work. Be selective and match the opportunities you decide to take to your brand (and core values). Not every corporate partnership is a great idea. Be flattered, but don’t be taken advantage of. Make sure you ask questions about IP and don’t accept “dirt cheap” pay. They may be contacting you to avoid paying a photographer’s day rate–just something to keep in mind. Corporations looking to hire this way are often looking to bank on the following you have built up over time.
Regarding intellectual property and copyright violations and image theft: Instagram can make it very easy for an image to be copied and reposted elsewhere without your consent. According to one panelist, if you try to go after every little instance of someone sharing your images without permission, you will waste a lot of time and energy. Instead, it was suggested to save your legal muscle for egregious breaches of IP and copyright law or instances where others may be profiting off of your work or brand, letting entities who might protect your interests (agents, lawyers, licensing companies, etc.) help with handling these types of situations.
In researching for this panel, the following articles were found to be helpful resources:
How to Sell Art on Instagram via The Abundant Artist
The following websites have developed businesses around sellers on Instagram that can help followers to purchase work from artists and creatives on Instagram:
The following books were also suggested as a resource by panelist Jessica Durrant from her experience building her own brand and following:


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