Instagram has become one of the most influential social media platforms for visual artists. For painters, illustrators, sculptors, and photographers the platform acts as a personalised gallery, portfolio, and online storefront. Social media has become integral to connecting artists with galleries and potential buyers.

In an interview with Vogue, artist Ashley Longshore said, ‘I can post a painting and it will sell before the paint is dry’. So how exactly are artists using Instagram as a viable business opportunity? They use one of Instagram’s handiest tools, hashtags.

Hashtags may have originated on Twitter, but they have been popularised by Instagram. When using Instagram for business, hashtags are essential to making sure your posts are seen by your target audience. However, if you just use them every now and then or without any clear direction, they will be ineffective.

That’s why you need a hashtag strategy. This article will give you a step by step guide to crafting an unbeatable hashtag strategy. Additionally, we are offering our members the free download of the VAA’s Artist’s Hashtag Cheat Sheet, with over 250 hashtags to choose from.

1. Stop Repeating Hashtags

Social media platforms like Instagram are known for shadow-banning accounts they see as spam at the drop of a hat. The best way to avoid this is to vary what hashtags you are using.

Don’t worry if you like to use a few hashtags regularly, just try your hardest not to use the same ones on every single post. If you keep things mixed up, you are less likely to be flagged for spam.

A recommended hashtag strategy is creating readily prepared groups of hashtags. There are a few apps out there that make this easier for you, such as Preview. Otherwise, you could do this yourself by creating three groups of hashtags on the notes page on your phone. Here you can copy and paste them into your captions.

Try to make at least three different groups that you can take it in turns using.

2. Vary the Number of Hashtags

No one can seem to agree on how many hashtags are effective. Some people argue that you should use the maximum 30 that Instagram allows, others insist that only the first five are effective. We recommend varying the number of hashtags per post.

This might seem counter-intuitive but hear us out. Instagram’s algorithm tries to catch out any spam. You might have noticed the first time you use all 30 hashtags your post does well, but the second time your post flops. If you keep the number of hashtags per post varied, you are less likely to be flagged a spam account.

So, use five or fewer hashtags for posts that you don’t intend to be top posts. This might be ‘work in progress’ posts, work that you simply don’t like as much, or anything you want to share but don’t actually plan on selling.

3. The Three Tiers of Hashtags

A popular hashtag strategy is the ‘Three-Tier’ strategy. This strategy aims to get your posts seen within popular and more niche hashtags.

To use this strategy the hashtags in your post should be broken down into three categories.

First Tier – Hashtags with over one million posts

When you search a hashtag, it should come up with the number of posts under the said hashtag. If you search something generic like #art, there are millions of posts.

When tagging your post your aim is to land yourself in the top posts under the hashtags you have used.

If you have a small following, it’s unlikely you will achieve this when using popular hashtags. However, it’s still worth using some as they are popular so people might find you through the recent tab.

Second tier – Under one Million

The second tier of hashtags is still fairly popular, but they come in at under 1 million posts per hashtag. These hashtags should be reflecting your niche more. Are you using a particular medium? What is the subject of your work? Does it have a particular aesthetic?

Third Tier – Less than 100,000

Your third tier should be a lot more specific to you as an artist. You should aim to keep these hashtags to ones with under 100,00 posts. When using these hashtags you are more likely to land yourself as a top post, this will get you seen by more users.

However, many hashtags you use per post, make sure that each tier makes up a third of them.

If you’re having trouble finding hashtags to use, don’t worry! Here at VAA, we are offering our members an Artist’s Hashtag Cheat Sheet that will give you a variety of hashtags for different mediums and styles, along with the number of posts under these hashtags.

4. Take Part in Challenges

To keep your account engaging with your community it’s a good idea to take part in challenges. These challenges should be relevant to your role as an artist and the type of work you produce.

Here at the VAA we recently had our own challenge, #VAA30DaysofArt. This was an incredible way to connect with our members and other artists. We hope to host more in the future, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other challenges to get involved with!

A popular challenge in the autumn months is #Inktober. This is incredibly popular, and it helps many artists escape their art slump. This is aimed towards more illustration styles of art, but you can tailor it to your own work too!

If you’re a portrait artist, challenges like #toonme or #100HeadsChallenge will gain you more followers.

Keep an eye on your own favourite creators and see if they take part in or run their own challenges!

5. Track Your Engagement

If you use Instagram for your art you should have it set up as a Business account, or at the very least a Creator account.

If you haven’t done this yet, go do it now! Keeping your business account as a personal one could threaten your account. Read more about social media policies for artists here.

Business and Creator accounts allow the user to view ‘Insights’ into their account. Here you can track which posts have reached audiences better. This way you can keep track of which posts have reached a wider audience. Keeping track of this will help you narrow down which hashtags are most effective for your work.

We know that our members are dedicated to making their art careers successful. This can be extremely time-consuming. That’s why we are providing our members with a Hashtag Cheat Sheet with over 250 hashtags so that you have time to focus on your work!

Download your Artist Hashtag Cheat Sheet today: click here