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Art on Instagram: Bold, real and engaging

|January 20, 2016
Written by

Ellie Bramah

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of Lena Dunham or her hit HBO show, Girls. I’m not sure why exactly, since I love hyper-realistic TV that’s smart and well produced. Girls just never hooked me. Maybe it’s a generational thing – I suddenly found myself just too old.

But Lena’s done something else recently. Something that’s made me a massive, enormous, monumental fan. Her email newsletter (old school, I know), Lenny. Now a community, blog and e-commerce site, Lenny delivers thoughtful writing on feminism, style, health, politics, friendship, and a ton of other things impacting young women (and men) today. Founded by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, there are loads of awesome women contributors every week, and it’s one of the only emails I open, and spend time diligently reading. Every. Single. Time.

Lenny’s presence in my inbox has given me lots to think about on a regular basis. And there’s one thing that I keep coming back to: the power and success of Instagram art projects and curators. I already follow some of the big art names – the AGO, Moma, the Guggenheim, and locally, our own AGNS – but Lenny has highlighted fascinating (and hugely prominent) art projects I never would’ve been exposed to. Some of my recent favourites:

  • Veteranas and Rucas – a project sharing photos of LA women from the 80s and 90s during the reign of gang violence in the city (over 42k followers)
  • Paris Opera Ballet – a look behind the scenes at photographs of the Paris Opera Ballet (over 83k followers)
  • JiaJia Fei – the director of the digital) accounts for the Guggenheim (over 55k followers)
  • Museum Babes – a project by @okxavwegetit to turn museum goers into art themselves (over 15k followers)

That’s just a few. What always stands out for me is the popularity of these accounts. Thousands of followers, hundreds of likes. Working in creative communications as a writer and content strategist, I have to ask myself, what can we learn from them? Why are they so successful?

For me, there are several things these kinds of accounts do better than anyone, and why Instagram is a channel that’s perfect for curators:

  • They’re hyper cohesive and clear. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. Sometimes they’re limited to a single project or purpose. It gives a cohesiveness to the content that’s aesthetically appealing and helps tell your audience exactly what you’re all about. Half the time, without ever using words.
  • They use hashtags like nobody’s business. I am awed, floored, by some of these accounts and how dedicated they are to tagging each post. But what it tells me is that they know exactly what their audiences are looking for, interested in, and tagging themselves. Curators use tags to get their content to the people who are likely to be interested and engaged.
  • They engage in real conversation with followers. Art is, of course, subjective. It can be provocative, even offensive sometimes, and designed to elicit a response from a viewer. These feeds are no different, but instead of shying away from real conversation or apologizing, they often engage in a thoughtful discussion about the viewers’ reaction. What’s even more interesting? Curators support their viewers to discuss the issues their art raises among themselves.
  • They have a single voice. Branded or corporate accounts can sometimes be so safe that they appear impersonal or bland. These accounts never are. There’s a curator, a person, a personality behind these posts. It makes the voice and perspective clear. It gives posts life and makes viewers feel connected. It makes an account shine and stand out.

So what will I tell my clients who are on Instagram or thinking of diving into it? I believe it’s time to be a little bolder. There’s nothing to gain by editing the life out of posts and photos. If you’re thinking of Instagram, or other community engagement tools or channels, be ready to be real. Because there’s a person on the other side of the great digital divide. It’s up to us to deliver something authentic and something unique.

——— Ellie Bramah is a former Director of Creative Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations