With our daily interactions moving increasingly - if not exclusively - online, many creatives are finding themselves migrating towards social media platforms. Designers are no longer just designers - to carve themselves space in a digital world, they’re expected to be entrepreneurs, trendsetters and social media experts all in one package. While that might sound daunting, we find it is very worthwhile learning how to navigate the more visual platforms, like Instagram, that can play a huge role in launching a designer's business and expanding their reach.
That is why we have come up with a few suggestions to help you, our fellow creatives, with your Instagram strategy so that you can have your portfolios up and running in no time.
Set up a Business Account
If you are looking to make your Instagram a portfolio, we recommend setting up a Business Account. This type of account will give you access to features like:
- A contact option, if you prefer people to email or call you, or head to your website.
- Insights (analytics). From here you can see data from the past 7 or 30 days, whether that is accounts reached, content interactions, your follower breakdown (age, location, gender, active times), your top stories and posts, and more. Analytics lets you experiment and tailor every aspect of your portfolio, giving you the freedom to find what works best for you and your community.
- Custom ads, which you can promote to an audience of your choosing.
Write a clear bio
This tip might sound quite straightforward, but it is important for your audience to know what it is you do right off the bat. For people who are not familiar with your work, it would be useful to write a bio that is both informative and true to who you are.
Lettering artist Belinda Kou believes that you should optimize your bio so it is obvious "that your account is for a business... There’s little space to work with, but the bio section should make it clear what your services are, give clients a taste of your brand, and include a call to action with a link to your website or shop."
Put yourself in your client's shoes
Belinda thinks that if you are looking to get your work noticed by clients, "it helps to think about how you’d present your art to a client versus a peer. They’re busy, so are they able to see what you can do at a glance?" In other words, how is your portfolio conveying your capabilities and purpose as an artist?
"For example, if you want to do editorial work, you’re showing off your artwork in magazine mockups on your grid. You can share deeper dives like case studies and behind-the-scenes in separate posts."
Use post and story templates
Mockups in the design world are a quick way to present your work in a professional and aesthetic manner, but you might be wondering if such templates exist for Instagram. The answer is yes. The right social media templates can keep your feed consistent and cohesive, and elevate the look of your designs. Remember that you want your portfolio to tell a story, and using customizable templates is an excellent way to assist you with that goal.
Create Reels and IGTV content
It is no secret that the Instagram algorithm likes to reward creatives who use all of its features. But beyond cracking the algorithm, several of those features are in themselves very popular because they provide an engaging way to connect with larger audiences. It’s why TikTok blew up - people like to consume short, snappy content from a variety of creatives. This is where Reels and IGTV come in.
While IGTV has been around for a while, Reels is a relatively new feature to have been added to Instagram. IGTV is essentially the YouTube of Instagram, allowing you to post longer-form high-quality videos of up to 10 minutes long (although rumor has it that Instagram may remove the time limit altogether). Reels are the equivalent of the short-form TikTok videos, which offer creatives the opportunity to record and edit clips to make videos of up to 30 seconds. Do be mindful that if you are planning on recycling your TikTok content for Instagram, the Instagram algorithm deprioritizes Reels made in TikTok with a TikTok watermark.
So, while both IGTV and Reels are valuable, they serve quite distinct purposes. Reels, for example, can be shared directly on your own feed as well as the Explore page, which is ideal for exposure to a larger audience. Examples of the content you can create through either of these features are:
- Timelapses of your work process, either through an external camera or screen recording.
- Tips and tricks (eg. how to sketch a bunny, use clipping masks in Procreate, choose color palettes, select elements of the same color, etc).
- A get-to-know-you or a day-in-the-life.
- Updates (eg. a walkthrough of a new product you might have released, prints you are selling, your new website, etc).
Above all, it is important to provide value to your followers. Think about what you would like to see from creatives or what you would have liked to know when you first started your journey, and then put that into action. Your knowledge and perspective are valuable!
Use hashtags effectively
Hashtags remain one of the best ways to get discovered by accounts that do not already follow you. Recent findings show that a post with even one hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than one without.
At their most basic, hashtags are keywords (like #graphicdesign or #dailyillustration) that you can include in your post captions, comments, or even stories. As of now, Instagram allows you to include up to 30 on posts and 10 on stories. If your profile is public, the content on which you have included the hashtag can then be found under the “Tags” function in your Instagram search bar. That means that if someone searches up that particular hashtag, your content will appear on that “Tags” page. If you use the right hashtag, you can put your designs in front of the right audiences, even if they have never interacted with you before.
The types of hashtags you use can differ depending on your goal. We recommend:
- Trying branded hashtags (ie. if your Instagram is called lolacreates, you can create your own custom hashtag, #lolascreations). The goal is to get your audience to follow or use the hashtag. In this case, it is a good idea to follow it yourself so you can keep track of who else is using it.
- Finding the sweet spot between a niche but engaged hashtag. Our rule of thumb is to not go too big (eg. has been used over 2 million times, like #graphic design) or too small (eg. has been used less than 50 thousand times, like #procreateillustrator), but ultimately you can settle on what works best for you. We would say the goal is to find hashtags that are small/niche but engaged, and relevant to the audience you are trying to reach. A good way to conduct your own research is by using Later’s tool.
- Looking at what other creatives in the industry are using for their posts. If you have designers you admire and who are crushing the Instagram game, it might help to study their hashtags and social media strategy.
Network and grow your community
Though social media's quick pace might lead you to believe that users are not looking for connection, you would be surprised to find that it is quite the opposite. Particularly when it comes to design, people want to follow creatives who inspire them and share their passions, who make them feel seen even through a screen and foster a sense of community.
Creating a community around what you love will not only enrich your experience on the platform but also allow you to create content that is relevant to your audience. This will help you stay ahead of the curve and keep your art constantly evolving.
Our best tips for community building are:
- Respond to DMs and comments, as trivial as they may seem. You may not always have the time or energy, but your followers will appreciate you taking a moment to chat with them.
- Use Story features like Polls and Questions. Not only does this boost your engagement, but it can also serve as a valuable way to understand what your community wants to see from you.
- Go out of your way to get to know your community members (eg. if they tag you in a post, encourage their work or give them a quick tip; make friends). This may not always be feasible the more you grow your portfolio, but it is an important part of building a brand.
- Create a dedicated hashtag and use it throughout your posts and stories (eg. Lauren Hom’s homwork). Monitor it regularly and make sure to interact with those who use it. Other ideas could be to set up a hashtag where everyone recreates a design of yours in their own style, a competition hashtag, or a hashtag for a 100-day design challenge of your choosing.
- Give back to your followers (eg. giveaways, discounts). This will help expand your community and give your existing followers a chance to engage with your content.
The age-old question is: how often should I be posting in a week? Rather than the frequency of posting, we have found that the most important factor in maintaining engagement is consistency. The question then should be less about how often you post in a week but how consistently you do. If you find it easiest to post 3 times a week, then stick to that, but if you are a heavy poster, research has actually found that engagement does not drop when brands post even up to 10 times a day.
Jimbo Bernaus from ShoutBAM suggests you "remember that if you post regularly you will build a creative muscle that will make things easier in the future. If you don't overthink too much about what you post, you will for sure see an improvement over time and your portfolio will become better and better."
With regards to when to post, that can depend on where your audience is based. As a rule of thumb, most people are active either during their lunchtime, after working hours, or on the weekends. Our advice? Play around with posting at different times and see what works best for your audience. If you’re located in the UK but most of your community is in the US, you might need to think about posting a bit later in the day or scheduling your posts with an app.
Sonia Yim from @just.drawing.words agrees that planning your posts is a good and easy way to start growing your Instagram portfolio and audience. But beyond posting consistently, she adds that you should also consider:
- Whether the theme and/or message of your posts is consistent
- If your color scheme is consistent
- If your post (message or drawing style) is something that you want to be hired for
- If you would add this post to your website (i.e. is it high-quality work?)
That being said, Sonia warns against overplanning. "Thinking about too many factors may stress you out and can result in losing the joy of creating. Instagram isn't really your official portfolio (your website is), so don't be too worried about what to post and not to post. Find the balance between being consistent and sharing what you want to share. Don't be afraid to experiment!"
Don't forget the fun
This leads us to our last point: have fun with it! "Don't get too hung up on the metrics. I totally understand this is more easy said than done (trust me, I still struggle with this), but we all know that your follower count doesn't define your value. If you get discouraged, just go back to your 'why' - remember why you are creating and why you started this journey. This will help you to put it into perspective." - Sonia
And, lastly, remember that "Instagram is not a competition. There is space for every kind of artist. It's easy to compare yourself to others, but you should avoid it at all costs. What I always recommend is to set up a not-so-ambitious goal to start with. A few years ago I said to myself that I'd post at least once a week and that has helped me develop my own style over time. I invite you to see my Instagram portfolio when I started; I'm quite ashamed of it! But I also understood that it needed time and seeing the difference now makes me super happy!" - Jimbo
We hope these quick tips help de-mistify what goes on behind the scenes of a successful Instagram portfolio. If you have any of your own suggestions, we would love to hear them in the comments below!
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