With a multitude of dedicated followers, Virginia-based lettering artist Elizabeth Gray has had ample experience with the platform’s highs and lows. By trial and error, she’s built up a thick skin for social media disappointment. She reminds us of the hidden mechanisms, tricks and processes that determine the nature and extent of Instagram engagement.
“I actually have Instagram to thank – or rather, the art and lettering community on Instagram – for introducing me to the wonderful world of lettering. I’m a self-taught artist, and the app was and is a place for me to experiment, get loads of constructive feedback, and make friends in the world of design. It’s one of my portfolios and a place where 80% of my clients have found me. It’s brought more opportunities than I ever imagined when I was starting out. But it hasn’t been easy, and sometimes I still get frustrated when a post isn’t getting the reach I think it deserves.
“If something performs the way I wanted it to, I take a step back and analyse it objectively, not personally. ‘Create, fail, learn, repeat’ is a little mantra that keeps me going when times get tough. But sometimes I think the problem is our attitude towards the algorithm, and not the algorithm itself.
“I’ve had my account since before the Instagram algorithm changed, and my entire time on the platform has been a cycle of trying new things, failing much more than I've succeeded, trying not to take the failures personally, and trying again. And again. And again.”
“Some say you shouldn’t create work just for algorithms, and while I partly agree with that, I also think that if you want to grow on a platform, you have to understand how it works, then adjust your content accordingly. Your post’s performance isn’t always based on the quality of your artwork – there are so many other things to consider, such as posting when your audience is the most active, creating context within a caption, photographic storytelling, and the overall presentation of your work.
“If you want to succeed with something like Instagram, you’ve got to put in the work, be ok with being wrong sometimes, and understand that it isn’t always 100% your fault when a post ‘fails’, so to speak. But it isn't always 100% the algorithm's fault either.”