I’ve been away from the blog for a while and one of the reasons is that I’ve been posting regular daily updates about my craftwork on Instagram instead. The blog is a great place though to share thoughts and I hope to do more of that starting by sharing what I have learned whilst growing an instagram following of over 30,000 in a couple of years. Instagram is a great medium for craftspeople, it’s a perfect place for us to tell the story of our work, to meaningfully engage with people who are genuinely interested and reach out to new markets and sell work. I’ve been asked often for advice about how to use social media (and instagram is currently the best for craftspeople selling work) so here are my top tips on How to win on instagram for craftspeople.
1 It’s not social media. Lets start by helping you avoid the most common mistake. It may be called social media but if you treat instagram as a diary and place to post family photos and chat with friends it won’t work well for your business. Better to use another platform or another account for that and keep your business instagram account just for business.
2 Instagram likes 1 post a day every day. If you do 2 posts in a day neither will get anywhere near as good a response. If you take a bunch of nice pictures and post them all in one go they are totally wasted. So take a bunch of pictures but hold them back and post one a day, this is really important. There are apps that allow you to plan say a weeks instagram posts in one go and then post one a day for you. I don’t do that but if you are that sort of organised person it’s probably a great time efficient way of doing things. I personally just try to make time to do a post most days.
3 It is a shop front or gallery space. People browsing instagram may come across one of your posts in a number of ways but what happens when they do is crucial. If they see one post they like they hopefully click through to your profile to see more from you. Now, if they see lots more of similar things to the first post chances are they will follow you which is what we want. It should look like a curated gallery or shopfront that puts across the image you want to project. This is a good example.
Think about your business as a brand, what makes you special? what is different to everything else out there? what are you trying to achieve? I personally am trying to help people to experience the joy of carving wood with excellent tools. Now try to keep that in mind avery time you post on instagram everything should fit that image. If they see a jumbled hotch potch with little else like the first image chances are they will continue browsing. So your top 9 or 12 posts should look well curated together, they should have similar colour palette and theme. When I first discovered what worked on instagram I was surprised at how repetitive the winning sites were. Have a look at symmetry breakfast (currently 784k followers) you don’t have to do something radically new every day, find one thing that works and create your style. or Beth Kirkby Currently 767k followers. Or looking at some craftspeople that I admire and think do instagram well
4 It is all about image quality. Whilst it may have been designed for instant uploads of images from phone cameras all the instagram accounts with big followings use good quality images taken on digital SLRs. This is a slight pain, there are various techy workarounds to achieve it my personal method is to upload pictures from camera to dropbox then download them to my phone and then I can put them on instagram. You can just about get away with images from a top new phone but you’ll get double the results if you use SLR images. It helps if you shoot all your images against similar backgrounds so that the gallery at the end of the day has that lovely consistent look. Using natural light from the side and using a tripod to get crisp shots helps. A good prime lens eg canon 5omm f1.8 can give great results for not much money, way better than the cheap plastic zoom kit lenses. A 5 year old second hand SLR camera gives way better quality than is needed for instagram, spend your money on a good lens rather than the newest camera.
5 Video is great especially if you have the right process and a good eye. The master of craft video for instagram is the potter Tortus Copenhagen. Go, watch, learn. Fun short edited clips. Unusual process shots done in reverse or upside down to trick the eye. Entertain, inspire educate.
6 Engagement is key. It’s easy to get carried away chasing followers, there is little benefit in that. Who needs or benefits from 100,000 people casually clicking past their work? It means no more than people walking past a shop window. What we want is noses pressed against the window, opening the door coming in and asking questions and eventually buying stuff so we can make what we love. How do we get engagement? The simplest way is ask a question. I’m not brilliant at it personally but good instagram accounts end lots of their posts with a question which encourages comments. You know post a picture with two pieces of work and ask which people prefer, maybe two new glazes or experimental processes. Engage your public with the process. Always find the time to answer questions and follow up on comments. Have a look at my daughter JoJo’s account, she currently has 2/3 of the followers I have yet typically gets 1.5 times the likes and comments per post, that is good engagement and it’s engagement that transfers to sales not followers.
7 Visit other instagram accounts and engage with the community. It’s like a local pub, if it appears you are only there to sell it’s not much fun. If you have a look at other people’s work, ask a few questions and leave some complimentary comments the love flows around. Also whenever you comment other users see your name and if what you say is nice or interesting they may click through to have a look at your profile. If you want to be a complete media tart then find the really popular places on instagram where your work may be relevant eg celebrity chefs for a potter and compliment any nice pots that you see. If your instagram name happens to be JoeBloggspottery you are leaving an advert every time you comment.
8 Giveaways work. Everybody loves something for free and we can encourage people to follow our work by occasionally rewarding our followers. It doesn’t cost much to give away a bowl a spoon or a single small piece of work. Our online followers by sharing, liking, commenting are like music fans they help to raise our profile. Every time they click on our stuff it puts us higher up the rankings gets our stuff seen more and helps us to sell more work. We should value that and say thank you. There are lots of ways of doing giveaways, ask people to like, share, tag friends, sign up to your newsletter the official rules change regularly and are rarely enforced for small accounts so it’s up to you to check out what people are doing as of today and decide how you want to run your giveaway, however you do it it’s likely to bring you a lot more site traffic.
9 Don’t forget your website. This is really important. Instagram is a great thing for craftspeople at the time of writing but it may not be in 3 years time. Make sure that you regularly get your instagram followers to cross over to your website. Ideally get their email addresses signed up on a mailing list, then when the day comes that a new social media platform rises and your 500,000 followers stop using instagram you do at least still have a way of reaching them direct and they have a way of reaching you. Remember Myspace? Friends re-united?
10 Look at other instagram accounts and try to see what’s happening. How many followers? How many posts? early on you should pick up at least 10 followers per post if you’ve done 1000 posts and only have 5000 followers you are doing something wrong. It gets easier to pick up followers the more you have for various reasons so people that got into intagram earlier got a lucky break but you can build a following too. It will take a while to get to 5000 but then it starts to take off. Look at engagement too, always make nice comments where you can and learn when you see other posts that get lots of comments.
11 Use Hashtags Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags. For a while the done thing was to always make use of all 30, to pick out 30 good hashtags for you and cut and paste them below each post. It seems those days are maybe on the way out. Hashtags are still valuable but better to use them more sparingly and with more variety. If I am browsing instagram I may look at a hashtag say for instance #craftsmanship or #artisan notice how there are 9 most popular recent posts at the top of the page, those are the only ones most people see and that is where you want to be. The top 9 on those popular hashtags have hundreds or thousands of likes and lots of comments so if you are new and only get 10 likes per post and use those hashtags your post will drop like a stone. Better to use a more unusual hashtag say #cornwallcraft where you stand much more chance of your post making the top 9 Re-evaluate and change your hashtags regularly because each time you use new hashtags you engage with new audiences who are following those hashtags.
12 keep it in perspective continually re-evaluate what you are doing. We really want to be making pots, or tools, or woodwork, or weaving right? None of us want to spend our lives sat in front of a screen though the things are very addictive. But at the same time I want to do everything I do well. I don’t want to present my work badly on the internet any more than I want to finish it badly or skimp on raw materials. Let’s do it well. Allocate a time for Instagramming, one post a day doesn’t take long. If you think about it as you go through your working week, you’ll soon learn the spot in the workshop where you get great light at 4 in the afternoon, lovely warm light slanting through the window, a pot catching the light on the side with everything in the background slightly dark and and out of focus here’s a recent one of mine. The photo took a few minutes to get right, upload to the computer, I often do 3 or 4 together then upload them to dropbox. Then when I have a few minutes spare I pull the phone out choose a photo that fits the day or what I am thinking about and write a few words. This one received over 1000 likes and 37 comments. I rate that as fair return on investment. I know from past experience I can post about what we have ready to sell and the orders will come in and at the end of the day we are doing it in order to sell work and keep doing what we love doing.
I’d love to hear your experiences of instagram, positive or negative. I’m still learning so would value any tips you have to share with me and others in the comments below.