Lately I’ve noticed that the growth of my Artist Instagram has slowed. I post every day, use great photography, am cognizant of the overall aesthetic of my feed, I research and use a variety of hashtags, so what’s the problem? I dug into some research to find out: Why did my Instagram account stop growing? More importantly, does it matter?
The truth is we’ve all been there. We get on a roll, Instagram changes its rules, and growth stops. Or worse, falls off. It only matters if your objective is growth.
How Common is Stalled Growth Among Artists on Instagram?
Short answer: super common. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it’s why you’re reading this article, right?
It’s confusing because there is online evidence to the contrary. For example, according to Statista.com’s study released in September of 2019, the average growth rate of general accounts under 1K followers was 9.4%. For accounts between 1K and 10K followers, the growth rate was 12.6%.
But is this data really reliable? Firstly, if growth were the metric we should be looking at, Instagram would be publishing the data. Secondly, there is no way to know how many of the sampled accounts are using black hat growth tactics. Black hat tactics are sketchy ways some businesses make it appear as if their accounts are blowing up, such as outright purchasing followers rather than relying on organic growth.
When you find depressing studies like this, remember, consider the source! These companies are selling a product. I’m not saying that Statista is publishing false data; I’m just suggesting that they are invested in convincing you to believe you need their service.
I was unable to find meaningful statistics on organic artist Instagram growth. Admittedly, I am basing the premise of this article on anecdotal evidence. “I easily grew my new Instagram account to 10,000 followers last month,” said no artist ever. In fact, if you know of an art account that grew this fast organically in 2019, I’m willing to bet a cup of coffee that the artist was already pretty well-known offline or on another platform; or, they put a nearly full-time effort into growing the account.
Why Did My Instagram Account Stop Growing?
Instagram growth for artists can feel a lot like rollerskating. You’re rolling along, you have a good glide, and suddenly one of your wheels hits a tiny pebble you couldn’t see. Jolt! Suddenly, your thrown off balance and find yourself struggling to get your feet back under yourself before you face plant.
When this happens, don’t worry. So long as you haven’t been engaging in black hat growth activities, you’re all good. It happens to everyone. There are a few things going on behind the scenes.
To understand why things have changed, we have to take a quick look at what motivates Instagram. We hear a lot about the “algorithm,” which is often characterized as a mysterious equation meant to hold artists back and force us to buy ads. Actually though, the algorithm is nothing more than a priority queue. Instagram prioritizes the posts that promote their current business objectives. Because Instagram’s objectives change from time to time, so does their algorithm.
IG Algorithm = IG Priority Queue
You don’t need to be a business guru to understand Instagram’s objectives:
- Keep users engaged and on the Instagram platform;
- Highlight new features; and
- Earn revenue.
If the content you are posting is contrary to Instagram’s objectives, Instagram will either stunt its reach or outright remove it. As an extreme example, when you notice that you’ve lost a bunch of followers, it’s likely that Instagram has gone through and removed fake accounts that have been following you in order to try to get you to follow them back. These fake “bots” go directly against against Instagram’s business objective of keeping engaged users on the platform. Another example is purchased followers. Instagram is adept at figuring out shady growth tactics and will decrease the reach or even shut down accounts that employ them. New companies are always cropping up to sell better Instagram engagement, but short cuts never pay off. If it seems like it would go against IG’s objectives – avoid it. It’s best to rely on organic growth.
A less-egregious example is Instagram’s new initiative to remove “likes” from its platform. Instagram has determined that “liking” posts goes against their business objective due to its users comparing their “likability” to other users. So, Instagram is slowly phasing out the “like” button. But we’ll see how this goes over time . . . rest assured that the longevity of the “like” button will depend entirely upon how it affects Instagram’s business objectives.
Now that we have a little insight into a Instagram’s objectives, let’s take a look at how they affect our art accounts:
1. Are you keeping Instagram users engaged? This is probably the most difficult question to answer because it requires an objective look at your account. In order to keep users engaged and on the platform, your account needs to be interesting, entertaining, educational, helpful or some combination thereof. Artists can do this by curating a collection of posts that allow their followers to step inside an artful lifestyle. Users want to see more than just finished artwork. They want detail shots, videos, storytelling, and an inside view of why you have chosen the life of an artist. But remember, it’s not about you. What followers REALLY want is to see themselves in you. They want to “get” your passion and identify with it as their own passion. As if that’s not enough, your followers want you to keep it fresh. If you’re showing them the same content over and over, they get bored.
2. Are you keeping Instagram users on the platform? Of course it’s OK to have a link in your profile. This is your motivation for even engaging with the platform in the first place. But at the same time, if everything you post is a call to action for your user to leave the platform, Instagram will notice. Instagram is highly sensitive to anything they perceive as spam such as constant calls to action to leave the platform or using the same hashtags in every post. Both Instagram and Facebook have rolled out shop-able posts. If you are selling products, consider learning how to sell them on the platform.
3. Are you utilizing the new features? Periodically, Instagram rolls out new features. When they do, they want to call attention to them. Makes sense, right? Early adopters of new features are generally rewarded with higher ratings in the algorithm. As an example, when Instagram rolled out IGTV, early adopters received higher viewership. Over time, as the new feature became universally known and used, the rewards return to normal levels. The same was true when Instagram introduced stories, as well as short videos in the feed.
If you want evergreen advice as to how to grow your account, it is truly to engage and use any new feature Instagram rolls out. As I write this article, the feature that is currently being rewarded is using carousel posts. Although carousel posts aren’t new, Instagram has recently expanded the number of images in a carousel from 3 to 8. If you would like to see an example of a creative entrepreneur who blew up his IG using the expanded carousel posts, take a look at Chris Do’s IG account. (If you are reading this article in the future, Instagram will have likely introduced a new feature that they are currently rewarding. Head over to the Instagram business blog to find out what’s new and think about how you can incorporate it into your own Instagram feed.)
4. Are you helping Instagram make money? Before you get upset, remember, you want Instagram to help you make money . . . fair is fair. You probably know that Instagram’s main source of revenue is paid advertising. But in order for those ads to work, they need to be placed next to engaging and useful content. This is where you come in. As an artist, you are a unicorn. You have the ability and resources to authentically create highly engaging content. By your very nature, you are already creating unique interesting imagery from a deep inner well. You have an advantage over other types of businesses because people are naturally curious about you. Think about it… who do YOU follow? Artists, right?
Does Growth Really Matter?
In truth, Instagram growth should really only matter to profiles who are interested in getting paid influencer gigs. But even influencers have to prove the level of their audience engagement in order to receive high-paying ad placements. Engagement is measured by taking the number of likes, saves and comments and dividing it by your total following. But did you know that engagement tends to decrease as your followers increase?
Digiday reports, “Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers have a like rate of about 8 percent, while those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers have a like rate of 4 percent. As following base continues to increase, like rate keeps decreasing. Instagram influencers with 10,000 to 100,000 followers see a 2.4 percent like rate, compared to 1.7 percent for those with 1 million to 10 million followers and more. Comment rate follows a similar pattern.”
What this means is you can have a small account of 4000 followers and still have nearly as much interaction with possible clients as an account with 20,000 followers. Even though it is exciting to see your account grow, what’s more important is how you use your account to stay in touch with people who are interested in your artwork.