Create a picture perfect presence online

Misty Copeland on Instagram
Misty Copeland on Instagram

Digital expert Cat Leaver explores the world of visual social media. Just how do you use photography platforms to capture arts audiences?

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but nobody likes a person who talks too much with little of value to say. Visual social media has escalated rapidly over the last few years and today stands as one of the most powerful tools for promotion, including the meteoric rise of newer, solely imagebased platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

In the first of two parts, here’s the lowdown on how to make your mark on Instagram.

The most recent estimates place the channel as having around 400,000 million users worldwide, over 75 million of whom use the platform every single day.

For arts companies and professionals, Instagram provides an unparalleled opportunity to speak directly to your audience without the necessity of call-to-actions or sales. Its inability to host links on individual posts means personality becomes paramount for success, and it’s the ultimate example of ‘show, don’t sell’.

Organisations, professionals and fans can become part of a wider conversation on the channel, sharing limitless #hashtags, tagging, and commenting, making it an important (and, in my opinion, often underused) tool.

It’s never a one-way conversation: to grow your presence on the channel, regardless of how well known in your industry you might be, you need to engage with other users by liking, commenting, replying and thanking to help build your reach. And, let’s be honest, what industry does better in building a community atmosphere than the arts?

Unlike many channels, Instagram is a place where your image literally does all the talking and requires virtually no writing skills to become popular.

People don’t follow names to see a photo of what they had for dinner (even though nine times out of 10 it’s probably what they’ll get). They follow to get an insight into their life, and feel part of something more, away from the glamorous photoshoots or public work the figure might be associated with in their daily lives.

What’s more, it’s a chance to really express the persona you want your audience to see.

Take actor, comedienne and singer Kristin Chenoweth (@kchenoweth), for example. Known for her ‘cheeky’ personality and humorous roles, she uses Instagram not just as a promotional tool but as a way to fulfil the likes of her key audience.

In amongst the shots of backstage antics and everyday life, she includes funny quotes, memes and images that aren’t her own, but represent the type of personality she wishes to convey, something that resonates with her fans.

And, with over 264,000 followers and thousands of engagements on each of her posts, it’s clearly a strategy that works well for her – but it’s not necessarily an approach that would work for every arts professional.

Misty Copeland (pictured above, rather wittily labelled @mistyonpointe), principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, for example, has over one million followers (736,000 more than the company she works for).

Fans admire her for her strength and enduring talent, and this has become the focus of her account. Incredible images of her performance (both during professional productions and rehearsal) showcase the art of ballet: it’s not so much about her, as what she does, making her channel fascinating for even those with zero interest in ballet.

Like popular photography accounts, users follow to be inspired and to marvel at the work she does. It’s about showcasing her physicality and strength in a way others can admire and appreciate, regardless of the knowledge they have of the art form.

While performers have clear personas to work with (learned fairly quickly from casting call notices and the type of roles they’re invited to audition for), brands need to have an equally clear idea of their personality to really succeed on the channel.

Take Royal Opera House with over 102,000 followers, for example, which covers both the venue itself and the accounts of ROH and Royal Ballet.

Like Misty Copeland, the account is used to inspire and uphold the reputation of the establishments. Its stream showcases extremely professional backstage shots that capture the commitment, dedication and talent of those involved with the organisation.

Shakespeare’s Globe, meanwhile, has the aim of making Shakespeare’s works accessible to all and, as a result, their Instagram posts portray a relaxed tone: sharing fans’ photos of the venue alongside smartphone photos of backstage moments and special moments, all of which allow anyone to become part of what makes the Globe special.