Whether you enjoy using Instagram in your personal life or not, it can’t be denied that entire businesses have been built on the social media platform. Makers can sell directly in the app, livestream to their followers, share video tutorials, and connect with new customers and peers across the world. We asked nine Craft Industry Alliance members to share their tips for growing your Instagram following and getting your work in front of more eyes!
1. Find a way to make posting a joy.
Melissa Quaal, @ahappystitch, sells espadrille shoe kits and shares sewing projects on her account. Quaal shares “My advice for folks working on their Instagram presence is to find a way to make posting a joy. Ignore the advice (except mine!) and latest gizmos (unless you love them!) and find what makes Instagram work for you. Maybe it’s your humor or a quirky passion, your musical taste or love of bad tv. Whatever is your unique style, lean into that. First of all, people can tell if you are radiating joy and they are drawn to that. Second, it makes you WANT to be there and if you want to be there you will naturally share in a more genuine way. The people who visit your grid will be there because they like you and you will be spreading joy! The world is a big, abundant place and your people are out there…you might as well find them!” You can see that positivity reflected both in Quaal’s captions and the comments left by her followers, like on this post where they also became customers!
2. Harness the power of short form video with Instagram Reels.
Kate Ivor, @theconfidentstitch, runs a fabric shop and shares that reels have more than doubled their Instagram followers in the past 18 months. Instagram reels are the short, vertical videos often set to music or audio clips, similar to TikTok. Instagram will often send more traffic to videos using a trending sound – Ivor shares that you can tell if it is trending “because it has an arrow pointing up and to the right next to it instead of a musical note.” You can edit your videos in the app itself or use an app like Inshot or Capcut, which Ivor recommends. Make sure to download your drafts before you publish them; glitches sometimes delete drafts and then you can also repurpose that content elsewhere without a watermark.
Ivor urges to “Just start making Reels … don’t think of Reels as a way to sell things directly. Think of them as a way for people to get to know you and feel comfortable with you. If your Reel resonates with your ideal customers, Instagram will show it to other potential customers for free! Then, you’ll gently move them along the journey to be followers, email subscribers, and then buyers. Reels that help my ideal customers feel seen do the best. It took me a long time to understand what that means. For me, I help my customers feel seen with comedy sketches that illustrate other people’s misconceptions about sewing. I tell inside jokes that only my ideal customers ‘get.’”
Ivor shares how trending sounds can turn into mini exercises in creativity. “I watch a lot of Reels to get ideas. I have favorite creators in lots of different spaces: running, cooking, therapy, knitting, pottery and more. I watch them and then think of how I could use the same sound or how I could write a similar skit that will resonate with my audience.” You can see the high reach on comedic reels on The Confident Stitch account; like this popular recent post.
3. Be consistent and authentic.
Molly Hamilton, @folkwearsewing.patterns, sells paper & PDF sewing patterns “based on historical, folk & traditional garments from around the world” and posts regularly sharing process pictures, customer makes, and product photos.
Hamilton says that the most important part of her Instagram strategy right now is “consistency, authenticity” and recommends making sure to have high quality photos before sharing. You can see that consistency by being able to tell what Folkwear Sewing Patterns sells at a glance, and it is easy for customers to click on the specific pattern hashtag and see what other makers have made with it, like on this hashtag.
4. Connect with swaps, monthly prompt challenges, & community projects.
Elaine Luther, @elaine_luther, is a multi-medium artist sharing her work on Instagram.
Luther talks about a community project that is in-progress: “I post about a public participation art project I run, Clocking in for Unpaid Labor, where people send me a SASE and I send them a time card. They make art on the card and send it back. There have been two exhibitions of the time cards. This again involves tagging people and they share their posts in Stories or with Repost…”. See an example of Luther’s project in this post; also keep an eye out for relevant monthly prompt challenges like #mendmarch or #inktober
5. Let readers and customers sing your praises.
Kate Gilbert, @kategi, runs a program that “makes social media less stressful for entrepreneurs by refining their messaging and content creation systems” and shares social media tips and reviews from previous group members.
Gilbert says that getting people to talk about you is an effective way to grow your following. “One of the easiest ways for me has been from other people talking about me. Several people who have been through my group program have posted about the results they’ve had and thanked me. Each time I get a bump. So I guess the short answer is: be excited for others and then let your super fans send you people.” You can see where Gilbert posted a group member’s positive words on her own feed as well, in this post; don’t hesitate to ask current followers and past customers to share their thoughts with their own audience and tag you!
6. Know your audience.
Trixi Symonds, @sewasoftie, shares kid sewing tutorials and inspiration on her account, also promoting her patterns and books. She underscores the importance of the platform to her business, sharing: “I have to say, without Insta, I don’t think I would have been able to grow Sew a Softie as much as I have. And I love my Instagram followers. And I’ve met amazing friends on Insta who I’ve met up with in real life.”
Symonds warns “Don’t get swept away with the latest Instagram trends and fads. Knowing your audience is crucial. My audience loves seeing tips and short, simple how-to reels on sewing with kids. I make a lot of reels that aim to help the audience I am catering for to organize, simplify and creatively develop their sewing sessions or classes with kids.” Instagram has built-in analytics for your posts to get to know your followers quantitatively or Symonds shares a qualitative approach, suggesting that you can “Check out the feed of people leaving comments on people that you follow.” You can see the rewards of knowing your audience with her posts like these, that have lots of interaction.
7. Share the process, not just the finished product.
Anne Oliver, @lolliandgrace, hosts popular stitch-alongs following her hand embroidery patterns, as well as selling kits and supplies. Oliver encourages to share the process of making things and behind-the-scenes peeks instead of just finished projects, warning: “What not to do – post zero photos of a new item until it’s in your shop. Then post one photo of your item/creation/pattern/whatever and have the caption say, “Here’s the newest __________. It’s available in my Etsy shop.”
Oliver instead suggests that “What to do – post reels/photos of the entire process (inspiration, sketches, color palette, process, behind the scenes, sneak peeks, failures/mistakes, “Almost done!” And then the final reveal. In the captions for all those reels/posts, talk about what’s going on, silly things that happened while you made it, etc. Ask for opinions – “Should I add purple or not?” “What should I call this one?” All of this provides you with loads of continuous content, and engages your audience so they feel like you’re a real human, and that they are indeed part of your community. They are invested.” You can see examples of both a progress reel and conversational questions in the caption of this post.
8. Focus on building community
Lauren Rad, @abeeinthebonnet, shares knitting projects and her pattern designs and emphasized the importance of focusing on building community on Instagram, a sentiment that was also echoed by almost every single other maker quoted in this article
Rad says, “For me, growth is rooted in community-building. When I engage with others, leave genuine comments on their content, respond to their comments on mine, and open up my DMs for conversation, I find that growth happens as a natural result. Others see us engaging with each other and the Instagram algorithm boosts content/accounts with more engagement. You can use CTAs and eye-catching ledes all you want, but in my experience, nothing beats a genuinely interested audience that is just continuing an ongoing conversation.” You can see some of that community conversation in the feedback on this post, including Rad replying back to comments.
9. Use hashtags.
Lou Orth, @louorthdesigns, is a modern quilter sharing what she’s making and selling sewing patterns. Echoing other suggestions about creating community, Orth shares “Get in there and start chatting! Comment on other people’s posts and write back to each comment you get on your posts. Relevant hashtags are a great way to meet new people and start building a community.” Orth uses fabric manufacturer hashtags as well as sewing-specific ones, changing them to personalize each post in her feed, as you can see in this post.
Once you have community-building worked into your social media routine and followers start to rack up, Orth reminds folks to make sure it’s easy to guide those followers to other platforms, too. “I see it mainly as a way to connect with people, but I use it to shout about what I’m selling too. Instagram is quite useful for adding links to direct people to buy. I use Linktree as my link in bio and keep my latest pattern at the top of that link. Links in stories are also a great way to direct people to where you are selling as well as that all important newsletter sign up!”
In order to test any of these tips, you have to dive in! There’s no shortage of social media advice online but you can’t grow until you start posting! Share in the comments if you have any other advice for building a strong Instagram audience.
I loved reading everyone’s (wonderful) ideas about how they make Instagram a fun and successful part of their business. So much to use here!
I agree with the community focus. I try to respond to likes or messages by using the person’s name if I know it. It doesn’t take long to develop a group of named friends who follow each other’s pages.
Also using relevant #s are a great way to expand the audience.
I’m @janetsquilts_etc Not a business, just a quilter having fun!
Enjoyed the article. Great advice and great introduction to some new (to me) makers and entrepreneurs.
I am @stonehousestudiothreadandcloth