The Results of the Insta-Experiment
I sometimes get stuck in the 'death scroll' on Instagram. I don't like it. It doesn't make me feel good. I get frustrated when I don't have 50k followers like other artist do. Am I not as good as them? I often think that if I had 50k followers then online artworks sales would be so easy. The frustration is mainly around the fact that I have no idea how to increase my 1600 followers to 50k. I have read articles. I have listened to podcasts. I have done online courses. I have scrolled Facebook pages with all the advice. It is all overwhelming. I thought the best way to figure out 'the Insta-algorithm' is to experiment with it. I broke down the first 3 months of 2023 into two week blocks. Each fortnight I would try a different 'tactic' and below are the results - not just based on followers, but my mental health, productivity and enjoyment. Throughout this time I continued my normal, inconsistent posting of photos (occasional reels) and jibber jabber.
Preparing for the experiment 01 Jan - 08 Jan (only needed one week for this)
This week I got my Instagram page into tip-top shape. I updated my bio, linked my Facebook store to my Insta page, added consistent images to my story categories. None of this increased my following but it made me look more 'legit' when people did arrive. I was officially ready to go viral. I also spent some time planning insta content in the Content Planner. I found it difficult to plan more than 2 weeks ahead as projects and events pop up all the time. I did my best to pre-plan as much as possible.
Mental Health: Normal. As I was focused on my page, I could avoid scrolling and comparing. I felt productive. I love planning if I'm in the right head-space.
Tips: I uploaded images to stories to be the 'cover image'. Instead of uploading for everyone to see these images, I just sent them to my Virtual Assistant. This prevented some confusion for my followers. Pros: It felt good to finally get my Insta profile up-to-scratch and to have the time to evaluate it. I felt prepared with the content plan.
Cons: It made no difference to my following. Did anyone even notice how schmick my profile is looking? Enjoyment: I loved this. I like being organised and having the space to work on my business is always fun.
Reels 08 Jan - 22 Jan
Followers: 1623 to 1696 by the end of the fortnight (+73) (Subsequently threw same videos onto Tik Tok and went from 3 to 35 followers)
The plan was to post at least one reel a day for two weeks, and I did it! I had to learn pretty quickly how to create reels. I listened to a few podcasts and watched a lot of You Tube videos. In the first week the process took up so much brain space and I was creating projects to film which is very time consuming. I chilled out in the second week and thanked my past-self for documenting so much of my past projects. I had a nice little pool of videos and photos to grab to create new reels and do 'throw backs'. Cheering. I also calmed-my-farm a little around creating 'go viral' type reels and just posted random videos that weren't perfectly edited.
Mental Health: This took up SO MUCH brain space I felt very overwhelmed very quickly. There is no way I could keep this up. Yes. I could create reels when I create a new project, but not on the daily. I became pretty obsessed around Instagram too. Checking it way too much and seeing if people liked the reels - this is soooo not me. I did not like this at all. 2 out of 10 for mental health.
Tips: I downloaded CapCut App which helped with editing some videos. I spent a lot of time exploring all the Instagram tools to make awesome videos. I googled a lot. I also love that you can make videos and store them as drafts on your insta account. So I'd get on a bit of a roll editing (mainly at 11pm at night), prep three videos and then I didn't have to think about reels for three days! Pros: It was great to learn a load of new editing tools. I could see a progress in my filming and editing skills. I now know exactly what I need to film when working on a project and can then pull something together in bed that night. I also liked that you could download your own reel and I just threw it up to Tik Tok at the same time to grow that following without any extra work.
Cons: I hated that I cared about social media so much. I joined TikTok. Ick. It took up so much brain space I felt overwhelmed and stressed most of the time. I scrolled socials too much too. I had that grey-sandpaper feeling you get when you've spent too much time on social media. A dirty feeling. Enjoyment: Nope. I was proud of my editing. That's it. I won't ever be this consistent on social media again (let alone just reels).
Outcomes: For only 73 more followers over two weeks it truly isn't worth the time and effort. My top performing video was this one which is a timelapse of a small painting and me talking about the toll reels takes on my mental health. This received 15.7k views and 262 likes, about 10 new follows and many comments. The next most popular video is me peeling paint out of a bucket. This lead to no new followers because... paint...
On a side-note, I have noticed my 8 year old son filming himself drawing. He is great at editing, but I'm now nervous he might fall into the trap of feeling he needs to create amazing work to share with everyone. This has led me to burn out recently. I hope I haven't set a bad example for him. I will keep my eye on it...
Engagement 22 Jan - 05 Feb
Followers: 1696 to 1734 by the end of the fortnight (+38)
The plan for this fortnight was to engage. This means, both myself and my Virtual Assistant spend 3 hours each a week liking, commenting and following other accounts. We were making virtual friends! I brought my assistant on to help with this project because of how much time I was spending on socials (due to reels fortnight) and I was feeling pretty down about things due to this. So to preserve my mental health, we worked as a team. My VA forgot to help the first week, but jumped on board the second week. So I spent about 4 hours in week one, and we spent about 6 hours collectively in week two. Comments and likes and a few following other accounts.
Mental Health: This didn't help my mental health at all. I was burned out when I started this fortnight so I didn't spend as much time as I thought I would engaging. It did help with making me feel a little more connected but rarely did someone follow me after I commented on their photo.
Tips: Engage in small chunks. The day can slip away when you're scrolling. Set a timer. Genuine comments and questions will often result in a response which is nice. Pros: 38 followers without putting too much energy and effort in.
Cons: It felt like I was wasting time and eating away at my own self belief. I kept reminding myself I was looking at others 'highlight reels' but it doesn't help. Enjoyment: Nope. I wouldn't keep doing this for enjoyment. No way.
Go Live 05 Feb- 19 Feb
Followers: 1734 to 1771 (+37)
The plan was to Go Live three times a week for this fortnight. I went live 6 times... but only because I'm including the 'snake incident' at the studio when I went live from the week prior to this experiment section. I found it hard to
1. be switched on and engaging
2. brush my hair and make sure I look like a functioning human
3. have anything relevant to say
4. stop sweating (I sweat when I'm nervous).
I didn't want to be pointless. I'm not here to waste peoples time. I feel like going Live didn't bring any new followers. The additional 37 followers this week are primarily from 1 reel that I posted and the previous reels from a few weeks ago. I also launched a large project at a major shopping centre - so I think that had to do with a small handful of new followers. I also noticed when someone from my gym asked for my instagram to look at my work, I gave it to him and then remembered my last handful of posts are me going live. So I quickly tried to explain it's not normal for me to plaster my face all over my social media and this was an experiment. So I was a little embarrassed. I'm usually really proud when I let my work do the talking for me. Not when my face does the talking for me.
Mental Health: Not too bad. The first day I was meant to go live I was working from home as I had to drug my cat to take her for a mani pedi and my other cat somehow managed to get some of the sedatives too. Her back legs stopped working and I freaked out and thought she was dying (she is 18yo). So I was crying all day, and trying to get some tight mural design deadlines done at the same time. So I was frazzled, tired, under pressure and not in a good space. Not a good day to go live. It didn't cause me to check my phone anymore than usual. Although my daily phone usage stats came in this morning and I was appalled to have spent on average 3 hours a day on my phone. What the? Before this experiment I was on my phone maybe 20mins a day!
Tips: Have something useful to say. Don't give any shits what anyone thinks (easy to give this advice, hard to follow). Pros: I think it showed my personality. The videos gave my boys a good laugh when I showed them. If I can bring joy, then I'm happy and fulfilling one of my values.
Cons: Yet another thing that took away from valuable business work. Mind you - it didn't take that much time. Enjoyment: I didn't mind going live. I liked that friends I hadn't spoken to in a while jumped on and commented and I got to banter with them! So I felt a little connected. I could manage going live regularly, if I had better planned content to deliver. No more than once a week though - unless another snake visits.
Run a Competition/Giveaway 19 Feb- 05 Mar
Followers: 1771 to 1778 (7 new followers)
I guarantee I did not get any new followers from running a comp. I had 37 entires (which was about 10 different people who tagged their mates) for the Limited Edition Giveaway. And nope. No one followed. It was an easy week. I was busy with work, so Buffered all the competition posts beforehand so I didn't have to think about social media while I was out west painting walls. Seems it was a bit of a waste of time. The new followers I did get were from reels I posted about the new mural projects. I posted three reels from the three different projects. Huff. I'm getting so over this experiment...
Mental Health: Didn't affect my mental health at all because I was rarely on socials this past fortnight. The print I gave away I already had in the studio from when I tested my new printer. The bloke who won it goes to my gym, so I just had to drop it off to him when he was in the same class as me next. Easy. With little reward.
Tips: Don't do it. Or better yet, do a comp with a bunch of other businesses so it's bigger and better and get more eyes on you. Pros: I'm excited to make someone else happy with my print! And it was really nice that people wanted the print enough to tag their friends. Confidence boost!
Cons: No return on investment. Enjoyment: Eh...
Cross Promotion 06 Mar - 19 Mar
Followers: 1778 to 1805 (+27)
This fortnight I started to reach out to friends, family and people I fan-girled over to share a post of mine in their stories and I would do the same. A little bit of cross promotion to share followers. I sent out messages to people I felt comfortable asking and everyone - every - single - person said 'sure, lets do it!' One lovely human had to teach me how to share to my stories (tech duffer right here) - Thanks Michelle. Then after I started sharing, and they started sharing, I just realised I loved simply sharing. I didn't care if people shared back. So I just shared people who I thought my followers would love. Often people would re-share the share. Job done!
I loved this fortnight. I know. Crazy. I never thought I would use the 'l' word when referring to social media.
There are a few reasons why I loved it:
- It gave me an excuse to catch up with friends I hadn't spoken to in a while and we spoke about sales and business and all the fun things I love talking about.
- Everyone was so supportive! It gave me energy and a little pep in my step.
- I just loved sharing all the rad people I know. It's like a different version of telling stories about that one-time you were in the lift of a flash hotel in Sydney when you ran into Kanye West and had a chat about roller derby (yes, it really happened). But it was me sharing this amazing persons work because I genuinely admired them. Fun!
- When I had 'influenced' (someone elses' word, not mine) one of my followers to follow someone else it just filled me with joy. And I especially loved the messages saying 'I am now following such-and-such because you influenced me'. Yay!
- When I shared and someone else would message me and say 'oh I have one of their artworks in my home' (yes, you Lara... who did this more than once!). My heart was full.
Mental Health: Simply better for having done this Cross Promotion experiment this week. 10 out of 10. I did get stuck on insta a few times doom scrolling for people to share and a few times I got the 'oh no I'm not good enough' pains or the 'oh I have to work harder and faster' when I saw another muralist releasing a program that I had planned to launch in two months. But my husband talked me down, and I kept going!
Tips: I'd suggest writing a list of amazing people you want to share so you don't have to doom scroll. If you want to reach out first, start with friends first to build up your confidence. Pros: Supporting other creatives and feeling supported by other creatives. Oh can you feel the love? It didn't take up too much time either. Just a little scroll-scroll and two taps to share. Plus 27 new followers is a bonus.
Cons: I couldn't share my Mum's account because it's private. Doom scrolling accidentally. Enjoyment: Next level enjoyment! I'd happily do this every time I log onto Instagram.
Paid Boosted Posts 20 Mar - 02 Apr
Followers: 1805 to 1879 (+74)
This fortnight I boosted a couple of posts. I tried to boost my post about talking about money but it got rejected because it 'didn't comply with ads about social issues, elections and politics.' Arg. I have a lot of bad words to say about that, but that's for another post. So I boosted a post of a cheetah I had digitally drawn and the caption talked about merchandise and my bung hip. It cost $48AUD over 6 days and I got 143 profile visits and 38 new followers. The second boosted post was of me being filmed. I was talking about being in the media in the blurb. I only boosted this because Instagram kept bugging me to boost it. Salesly much? I spent $23.41 on this post over 4 days (even though I only wanted to spend $8 in total). I had 118 profile visits and 10 new follows. I went to a launch event this week and had a flurry of follows from the event - so that should account for the discrepancy in the follower numbers.
Mental Health: Fine. I wasn't on socials much this week. I just set these adverts up and left it to do it's thing. I didn't feel great about paying money to big corp. It was hard choosing a post because I knew more people would see it and I struggled to reflect myself in one picture/caption.
Tips: Don't part with your hard earned money. Pros: I didn't have to do anything except hand over money.
Cons: I hear my overall engagement will likely be very low now. I will have a look-see. Handing money over to money greedy companies. Having to show all of me in one post. Enjoyment: Eh...
Get on 'featured' accounts 03 Apr - 16 Apr
Followers: 1879 to 3488 (+1609)
This is how I had imagine this fortnight going... You know all those message you get on posts that say 'DM this post to @hddjdkdk...'? I was going to contact some and see if they'd feature my posts. I thought my work was good enough that they would want to support me and feature my post. Then I'd get legit followers who liked my work. Nope. They want money. So, for experiments sake, I paid the $12USD to be featured on one account with 155k followers. One post. 1 legit comment on the post. No followers. Should have flushed that money down the toilet - would have had less expectations. Then I tried a 'Women's Small business' page with 997k followers. This one cost $35USD (arg!). I woke up the next day to 1000+ new followers. Huh? My first reaction was 'yeh... I've gone viral'. Then I realised they were likely bots and not true followers that were engaging and interested in my work. Then I felt sad. I was looking forward to celebrating reaching 2k followers because I had worked so damn hard to gain every single follower. Then I felt dirty. Like a fake.
Mental Health: Honestly, I've been feeling pretty deflated about social media. I've dragged myself over the finishing line of this experiment. This final fortnight broke me a little. I didn't earn the new subscribers. Yet I'm still in the 'check my account' hamster wheel of thought. I hate it.
Tips: Don't be naive like me. Hold on to your money. Pros: If you're looking to increase the number of followers simply so when people look at your profile you look more 'legit' then this is an easy way to do it.
Cons: You will get stalked by spam accounts... on all your posts and your inbox will fill up with bots, scammers and just trash. You didn't earn it - you bought it. Enjoyment: Nope. Still feel dirty. And now I have to deal with multiple scam emails a day.
It has been a month since this experiment concluded. It has taken me this long to bring myself to reflect on the experience. In this month I have burnt myself out and had to take a week off. I believe a lot of this burn out has to do with social media. The pressure I was putting on myself to keep up with my content planning, to finish the experiment, to produce quality content, to please people, to make everyone else happy. I was utterly exhausted. It took so much time away from actually socialising with real humans, it took time away from creating and it took my 'free thinking' time to ferment ideas. It broke me.
So here are my thoughts and plans moving forward as a result of this experiment:
I have put a 15 minute social media lock-out timer on my phone so I can't access Instagram, Facebook or TikTok once I have used my daily 15mins on socials. Just enough time to respond to messages and comments and that's it.
I have chilled on the content planner. I put in the essentials for my business plan: one You Tube video a month, one e-newsletter a month, one merchandise design a month, one blog post a month and everything else can float around that. If I have a workshop coming up, I buffer a few posts to remind people but I certainly don't 'create' content for it.
I have realised how much I crave interaction with other artists. I loved the weeks I got to talk to my friends. So I have called a few street art friends to chat. I plan on attending local art events and workshops to see my friends and hopefully 'feel more normal'.
I have 'favorited' the people/accounts on Instagram that I know I love, I learn from, I feel inspired by and they bring me joy. So when I log on to Instagram my feed is filled with joy and then I log off under my 15min time limit.
When I am at home I don't touch my phone. I don't want social media to be part of my sons life for a very long time and for that to happen I believe I have to be a good role model.
I am leaning into my e-newsletter. I'm encouraging people to sign up - even asking people if they'd like me to add them to the mailing list. This is where I will share all the great information. I enjoy creating the newsletter and I feel like I'm sending an email to a close friend. I pick up work from newsletters - I rarely pick up work from social media.
This brings me to my final point. At the end of the day, I'm running a business. I looked at how much work was coming through social media during the experiment. No artwork sales. Two mural enquiries - one I even went out to site to see the wall - both clients ghosted me after I sent a quote through. Six questions about framing prints. Two connections with new people (one of whom I met in person) who I think will be good relationships over time. No workshops booked. 153 people visited my website from Instagram. Less than 15% of my overall website visits.
Any other tips to running a business but balancing social media?