How I grew my Instagram following to 5000 in 5 months
I started my Instagram journey on Feb 21st 2016 feeling pretty inspired. I made a pledge to post an illustration everyday onto the social media platform in the hope of becoming better at what I do and at the same time broaden my audience and get more clients. By spending at least an hour a day (sometimes way more) illustrating, I should become a better illustrator right?
I was using my "professional" Instagram account @nicholashugginsdesign where I already had 800 followers that I accumulated by sporadically posting for the past few years. The account was, for the most part, dormant but I planned to change that. The goal was to start posting everyday and use the account to generate more paid work by doing a lot of unpaid personal work.
First things first, I approached this project like any other by starting with some research. By looking at what other successful designers were doing on Instagram, I was be able to look at what they were doing right or wrong and then use that information to my own advantage. I also needed to see what hashtags to use, and I did some research into using the hashtags without looking spammy, but still getting the most out of them. You can check out my account to see how I use hashtags without them appearing in the description of my photo.
On Feb 21st I started testing the water with an illustration of Kanye West. By March 6th I started posting daily, and three days later (March 9th) I posted an illustration of Aaron Draplin, a designer who is a huge inspiration to me. That post got around 650 likes and a lot of attention on Instagram from other users. In that time I had gone up to over 1000 followers, and that gave me the push to continue as it meant that people were connecting with the work.
In the early weeks of posting, I did a lot of celebrity portraits and fan art. One portrait I did of reggae singer Kabaka Pyramid, resulted in him reposting (which got a lot of new followers for me) as well as him hiring me to design a t-shirt for him. This was one of the first instances of Instagram becoming a source of income for me. Fortunately it wasn't the last, and I've since worked with a bunch of really cool people who have all contacted me through Instagram...it has proven to be a great connector.
All this time I made sure to continue posting daily, and it became a routine in my life. Each illustration took anywhere from one to four hours depending on the intricacy of it, and the hardest part was trying to come up with new stuff to illustrate daily. My following on the app grew continuously as people found me through my hashtags and random posts popping up on the explore page. The main thing was to interact with other people in the design community. I spent a nice portion of time daily traversing through hashtag feeds and liking images, or leaving a comment on stuff that I liked. This turned out to be a really effective way of getting people to come check out my page who may not have been able to find it otherwise.
In this time I also made a few design tutorials and put them on Youtube, and I was featured on a couple of online blogs. By generating a lot of content, my online community was growing and more jobs were coming my way.
Another fun job that came through Instagram was designing album art for DJ R-Wan. You can see all of the stuff I did for him by checking out his Soundcloud page.
My Instagram project was affecting both my side projects/freelance work as well as my day job. Check out the photos below to see some of the illustration work I did for Bmobile, the largest telecoms provider in Trinidad & Tobago and a client of McCann Port-of-Spain.
All these things have helped me to one, become a better designer and illustrator, and two, to build my Instagram following which positively impacted my paid work. Instagram has proven to be an extremely useful tool for people in art and design to get noticed by anyone globally. So if you haven't done so already, go follow me on Instagram (see what I did there), and leave a comment on one of my images!
Further reading- Ten Vector artists to follow on Instagram (A list of ten people in my field that I love to follow)