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How to fail at building a following on the Web

aka. making friends on the Internet is hard

May 3, 2021📔 4 min readAuthor: Shaun

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In 2019 I tried to build a following on Instagram and it failed. Hard!

To set the scene, in December of 2018 I decided I wanted to work on my art, and work towards making a living off of it.

"OK, but what do you mean it failed?"

When I say it failed, I don't mean that I only gained 5 followers, or that I didn't learn a lot along the way. I learned a huge amount about self-marketing, advertising, social media in general, and a plethora of other things. I also found a couple hundred friends who were interested in following my journey.

The failure was the wasted effort (and money) I had to spend to make any sort of progress.

"But Shaun, what do you mean wasted effort and money?!"

I'll start with the effort. I was spending every waking moment on Instagram (and I mean every waking moment, I was waking up in the morning and the first thing I would do was grab my phone) commenting on other people's art and trying to connect with others. The problem is that I wasn't connecting with others on any sort of meaningful level. All of the guides on how to build a following (and yes, I read tonnes of guides like a real nerd 😂), would say to comment on a certain number of posts a day and you were guaranteed to gain followers over time.

That was complete bull honky!

Forcing myself to comment on as many posts as I could to fit a quota just resulted in me sending variations of the same kind of comments. I'd try to make original comments, but the problem with art is that you can either ask what tool they used, comment on the art itself, or try to think up something witty about it. All 3 options don't really give you anywhere to go.

I also wouldn't get any comments on my art so I couldn't really start a conversation from there either.

In hindsight, the problem was because I was trying to follow the style of the bigger art accounts, where all they post is their art. This is a horrible way to grow an audience unless you have spectacular art! There's just so much competition out there, and unless you're really fundamentally changing art as we know it, you're not going to get much visibility.

"Ok, so if your problem was visibility, could you use advertising to get it in front of more people?"

This brings me to my second point about wasted money. I'll get straight to it - I spent over $500 over a few months on advertising to try and drive some sales of my stickers and to get some more followers.

All of that advertising didn't result in a single sale.

I talk about it in my podcast episode here if you want to hear me talk about it in depth...

...But the gist of it is that just because something can get likes on Instagram definitely doesn't transfer to people following your account, let alone buying your products - even if you've done your research and you're targeting exactly the right audience who would potentially buy them.

"Ok sum it up for me!"

So in order to fail on Instagram, you want to make sure to be singularly focussed and form superficial relationships with others. You should spend lots on advertising and double down when it's not returning results.

But if you want to succeed on Instagram, or most other places on the web for that matter, you want to bring your whole self to the picture. Sure, post consistently about your art or your code, but also share about your process. Share about your influences, or your favourite place to paint/code in your house. Have something you want to achieve with your presence in social media, but also make sure to bring some fun into it.

Especially make sure to help others on their journey, provide tips and support others!