Heartwork Essentials: Instagram

Instagram is probably the single biggest thing to happen to the creative community in the last decade (at least). It has become the number one way to share your creations, hopes, dreams, and coffee shop meetings with your adoring public. It has also become that thing that consumes ridiculous amounts of time and causes tons of anxiety for small business owners. Today’s Heartwork Essentials is taking a dip in the shallow end with quick answers to a few of the questions we get asked most frequently about using Instagram.


Just do it. Post what you want, when you want. If you are putting off using Instagram because you are afraid your content doesn’t look like everyone else’s, stop worrying about. People would rather see anything from you on a regular basis rather than one post every few months because that’s all you can manage while you’re trying to meet some visual standard that you have in your head.

Be genuine. People want to see your personality come through in your posts. Be quirky. Be real. Show your face if you’re comfortable with that or don’t if you’re not. But whatever you share, make sure it’s you and isn’t fake. People can tell and it doesn’t resonate with them the same way.

Business or personal account? This choice is more about your preference. There are some solid reasons for keeping your business account separate. The main one is that you can keep the personal stuff personal. Pics of your kids, dogs, drunken Friday night shenanigans, etc. may be best left off the business feed. Being genuine doesn’t have to mean letting the public have access to every part of your life. This is more important if you are not your brand, like a brick and mortar store or service-based business. As an artist, it may be fitting to have some of that bleed through so people can see how your life influences and informs your work. Having said that, keeping up with two accounts is hard and may not be feasible.

The algorithm. Dear lord. The algorithm. It’s become the bane of social media existence. But here’s the thing, it’s not actually as bad as everyone makes it out to be. And the 7% thing … hoax. Yes, of course, we all preferred the chronological feed. Let’s look at it from Instagram’s perspective. They had a HUGE user count but really low interaction rates … that’s right all you Instagram stalkers, we’re looking at you. They were afraid people weren’t seeing relevant content and would leave the app causing the whole thing to fail. Enter the algorithm. The most important concept to understand is that the user is now ultimately in control of their own experience. The posts they comment on, heart, and share will sort higher while other types of posts move down in their feed. All of this activity teaches the algorithm what content they value. As a contributor, you need to realize that those engagement numbers you’re watching nonstop are not something that you have total control over. Not all of your posts will be relevant to all of your audience. So breathe, and then let some of the algorithm angst go. Here are a couple things to remember:

  • Your followers are just as busy as you are. They don’t have time to endlessly scroll through Instagram to find your content either. They’ll miss some of your posts. It doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped liking you or your work.

  • Use hashtags!! Change them up for each post. Use them to find new audiences. Do a little research and see how the accounts you follow use them and which ones.

  • People are sick of ad content. And that doesn’t just mean the sponsored kind. Take a survey of your posts and make sure that they aren’t reading as ads to your followers. A lot of what small businesses post boil down to available products in their web store or at a market. Make sure you are being a little more creative with sharing your work and it isn’t always ending in a push to your store.

  • Those quotes that are everywhere … guess what, they actually get sorted lower because of the high ratio of text to image. They remind people of ads. Be selective when using them.

  • Improve your photography, writing, and planning skills. There are a ton of blogs, courses, and other types of info online for this. Do some research and identify those areas where you can make some improvements over time. There are apps to help with photos and planning posts.

  • Engage with others! Be part of the community. Those likes and comments that you want on your posts? Everyone else does too. Be thoughtful and generous with your hearts and comments and let people know that you’re there to support them. They’ll reciprocate. Everyone makes new friends! Note than Instagram rates comments longer than 3 words more highly when considering how engaging a post is, so all those emoticons don’t necessarily count. Use your words people!

Fake followers. Please don’t participate in Instagram pods, buying followers, the follow/unfollow game, etc. Anything that sounds too good to be true, probably is. While you will have an initial boost of activity, these practices do not result in permanent growth for your account. Nor will these people be truly engaged with your content which is key to staying relevant on the platform and making sure your posts are being sorted higher in people’s feeds.

Pay attention to your overall grid. Anyone who already follows you may not see it on a regular basis, but this is usually the first place potential followers go to get an idea of your content. Despite what some social media experts would lead you to believe, that doesn’t mean you need to spend all your time curating every post to build the most perfect grid. You should, however, keep the audience for that view in mind and check in every now and then to make sure you have a good mix of content, nothing sticks out as “off-brand,” and that the overall picture accurately reflects you and your work.

See you guys out there in the trenches. Look for us in the comment section and say hi!!

[Editor’s note: I 100% realize that all of this is easier said than done. And while I am full of tried and true advice for other people about the ins and outs of social media, I am still trying to reliably do even half of these things on my own feed. I guess it is true what they say … the last thing you have time to do when you work for yourself, is work FOR YOURSELF! There is also so much more information out there, so what we’ve covered here might not be the answer for you. Do your research and make the best decision for your situation. – Sonja]