While Instagram is a free and simple to use marketing tool, it doesn't do the marketing FOR you. Showing up and posting is great, but if you aren't out there engaging with your audience (or finding them if you are new) it is just the same as not posting at all.
Many artists have expressed dislike at spending time on their social media marketing, and understandably so. You get into the art world because you want to create, not spend all day on social media. Unfortunately, it is vital to allocate at least some time to growing your account. Otherwise you are just popping on, posting and waiting for something to happen magically on its own (hint - it won't without your help). I know a lot of people believe #hashtags are the answer here...and back in the early days of Instagram it's true, you could get attention from hashtags alone. However due to the way things have changed and sheer staggering volume of posts under most popular hashtags, this isn't a viable strategy anymore. Don't worry though, there are still organic ways of growing your Instagram account that don't involve sitting on the phone all day long.
The real key to GROWING your Instagram account as opposed to just posting and having nothing happen is to find your people! You may have heard Kirby and I say this a lot, but it works. You have to make a concerted effort to go and seek out accounts that will like what you do. This means once you post, go look under your hashtags and start discovering the posts you like - then click that like button. If you find one you're really fond of, comment your thoughts. Think of how you enjoy reading comments of others that admire your work and be genuine here. While it's easy to slap down an emoji thumbs up or heart, it's not the same as a thoughtful comment to the artist. If you really like what they are doing on their account, by all means follow them. Often kindred spirits find each other this way and you could connect with all kinds of inspiring individuals. If you are only following people you already know IRL (in real life) then you are missing out on the community building and networking aspect of social media. Isn't that what it's all about - to find your tribe and connect with them?
It doesn't have to just be the creative communities you engage with, it is good to find the people you are fascinated by and follow them too. Whatever hobbies you are into or things that inspire you are ideas you can search for in the hashtags to find compelling accounts to follow. Live vicariously through someone travelling the world by following their account and perhaps in the meantime you'll gain some great ideas for marketing your own art. You could see an idea for a Reel, or some interesting story ideas, or simply be inspired by the way they write up their posts and share their personal story. The idea is to get used to the format of Instagram and see how others are utilizing it, while also finding ways to enjoy it. We all know how Facebook can get a bit tedious due to political slants to everything, but Instagram is different in the aspect of being more about the art, the creators and what they are doing to share their personal story. It still is a fantastic way to be "discovered" online.
Another key to point out here is to make sure you are utilizing niche hashtags for your audience. What do I mean by that? Well if every artist uses the hashtag #artist you will find it gets diluted pretty quickly. This is what has already happened on Instagram, so it's imperative to use specific keywords to attract your people to you. If you are a glass artist you would use #glassartist #glassart #fusedglass #handmadeglass and so on. Say your medium is wood - you could use #woodworker #woodart #woodartistry and even get further niched down by including the type of wood used. Think broad and start keeping hashtag note sets on your phone that you can copy/paste as different pre-made hashtag sets onto your posts. This will save you time. DO NOT use the same ones all the time, vary it post to post. Instagram will treat your posts as spam if you have the same hashtags each time without any variety.
After you post and put the hashtags in the caption or comment section, click into each of those hashtags you used and like 5-10 posts, commenting on as many as you can (authentically) as well. When I say authentically, I mean taking the time to write up a comment, not just putting an emoji as a comment and moving on. By all means feel free to add emojis in addition to your thought out words if you wish. Instagram treats constantly commenting with only emojis as spam though, so be aware. Make a plan to dedicate two hours a week to growing your IG account. With this you'll take into account the time to photograph or video record, write up the post and create the unique niche hashtags, as well as click into the hashtags and engage with your audience at least once a week. If this doesn't seem doable then make it once a month, but the idea is to keep your account "alive" so you don't have to start from scratch trying to get your engagement back up each time you take an extended break. Be prepared to do some work to get the ball rolling though - so schedule it into your posting time and marketing plan. If you are posting just when you feel like it and then popping off without engaging in any way, you're doing yourself a disservice and your post won't reach as far.
Organic growth on Instagram requires posting semi-regularly AND trying new formats for posting. This means that you have to stop popping on once and a great while to make a traditional square post and then leaving the app. An important part of the organic growth formula for Instagram is to branch out and try different formats of posts. If you're not much of a Story user, then change that and start posting Stories. Do Reels* seem daunting? (*An 'intro to Reels' blog is coming soon, so stay tuned!). Try to play around with it and see what there is to see. Look at other accounts and their Reels and find what kind you'd like to try to make. The idea is to break out of the traditional simple square post rut and try something out of the box for you to bring new eyes to your art. This can be the most effective way to grow since IG likes to promote accounts that try out their new features.