Written by Nadia Rausa (nadiarausa)
Building a loyal Instagram following for your art is based on seeking quality over quantity. Illustrator Nadia Rausa @nadiarausa offers advice on how to build meaningful online relationships as an artist in the latest blog on the Bee Paper website.
This is not a “how to gain followers quickly” tutorial. Instead, I want to talk to you about how to build a community and relationships with your current and future followers. Don’t close your tab just yet. I know what it feels like to want to build your following as quickly as possible, but when you focus too much on gaining followers, you miss the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships—relationships that could get you jobs, build your artistic career, and more.
I will start off by saying that I am certainly not an Instagram marketing expert. These are methods that I have tried that have worked for me and could work for you. But remember, and I tell this to everyone who asks me about stuff like this, everyone’s journey and experience is different! Do not feel discouraged if you don’t grow a following as quickly or as vast as someone else. To begin building your community, this thought is the most important: people and relationships are important—not numbers. When you put this first, then it is much easier for you to begin thinking about ways to reach more people.
Interact with People
This might seem obvious, but sometimes the simplest things end up being so important and are often overlooked. Interacting with people, whether they are a fellow creator or someone who follows and supports your work, really builds a relationship that is going to get you the community you desire. When someone comments on your work, don’t just “like” the comment, but respond. A small “thank you” goes a long way! You show people that you appreciate their time for engaging with your content and when people feel appreciated, they come back and keep engaging with you. Conversely, interact with the content on your feed as well. It can be as simple as a, “I love this. Wonderful work!” or as detailed as to why you love the piece you just “liked.”
Another great way to interact with people is with Instagram’s story function. I, along with many other creators, use the story function to show people small insights into my artistic process. I also use it as a means of honesty and to talk with my followers about mental health. I have opened up about my mental health struggles many times and oftentimes people will respond and feel comfortable talking with me about their struggles as well. Plus, there are neat little features in the stickers section of Instagram’s story function, such as the poll or question stickers. I use these very frequently. It’s a great way to allow your followers to interact with you, especially because it allows people to respond quickly and without having to type out a message to send to my DMs.
Participate in Events
Okay, so interaction is important, but what else can you do to build a community for yourself? Something that is quite fun and allows you to meet many fellow creators is various art events. These include #inktober, #mermay, #drawthisinyourstyle, feature events, sona challenges (where you draw yourself or your OC as a character that fits the theme), and many, many more. There are countless events out there and I highly recommend joining the ones that sound fun to you. I specify this because I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t join a challenge or event or do fanart just for the sake of popularity. You started doing art because it’s what you love—so draw what you love to draw and what will help you grow the most artistically!
You can even take this a step further by creating and hosting your own events. You certainly do not have to be a large account to host events. Just be excited about the event, share it, and hopefully other people will share it and participate in it as well. The nice thing about creating your own event is that it leads back to you, so be sure to include your Instagram handle on the event image.
If you don’t feel ready to host your own event yet, you can create themed prompt lists for events like #inktober. Sometimes the official lists that are released with art events are not inspirational to you, so creating your own prompt list allows you to draw what you like to while remaining in the confines of the event itself. Other creators might be inspired by your list and use it as well, which is another great way to bring that sense of community to your account!
Be Thankful and Show It
Saying “thank you” never hurt anybody. As I mentioned before, showing people that you appreciate them is a huge factor in having success in building a community. I try to hold giveaways when I hit some milestones to show my appreciation to people. Not only does this show your current followers you care and appreciate them, but it also invites new followers to join your community. You might be thinking you can’t afford to mail out prizes and that is totally okay—physical prizes are not necessary. You can offer to draw something digitally, or if you’re a traditional artist like me, you can draw something and send a digital file. You can also draw your followers or offer commissions as a prize. There are countless options and it’s entirely up to you and your imagination to come up with a giveaway that is feasible for you.
Something else that is super easy to do but really builds up a positive feeling in your community is sharing art in your Instagram stories. I try to do #featurefriday every week where I share an artist whose work I think deserves more recognition. I also share various artwork throughout the week aside from Fridays. I started doing this even when I was a “small” account. Sure, it seems nearly pointless to do it if you have less than 100 followers, but it’s not. The point is to build relationships and be a positive light in the artistic community.
Some final things to keep in mind:
- It’s okay if you’re an introvert—you are just as capable of building a community as an extrovert. Trust me, I scored over 90% introverted on an official MBTI test and I have had to learn how to use my energy wisely. Furthermore, many of my online friends and creators are fellow introverts but are still very successful. You’ve got this!
- You don’t have to post every day. If you can, I recommend it, but I know for many of us a daily posting schedule is not feasible. Just try to be consistent when you do post (every other day, every three days, etc).
- Fanart is not the key to being a successful artist. Draw what you want to draw. If you want to do fanart, by all means do it! But just keep in mind that you might not be able to sell merchandise with your fanart due to copyright laws. My biggest point here is don’t draw fanart just for the sake of fanart.
- Most importantly, believe in yourself. I know how cheesy that sounds, but even from a psychological standpoint, this is so important! If you have a positive mindset about your community, then you’ll be happy with it, even if it’s a small community.