Why I Stopped Focusing on Instagram (and Why You Shouldn't) – Marianne Vander Dussen

Why I Stopped Focusing on Instagram (and Why You Shouldn't)

This post is for all you artists who are hoping to gain some traction on Instagram, and to offer an explanation for any artist who feels like their own growth has stalled.

Last year, I felt pretty confident on Instagram. I understood what elements were required for a good reel, and typically had strong engagement on my posts. I felt like I had it all figured out.

Until I didn’t anymore. 

In Spring 2024, Meta announced that they were changing their Instagram algorithm to be more similar to that of TikTok. The changes immediately slashed engagement on larger accounts, and boosted engagement on smaller. 

How the Instagram algorithm works (the ultra simplified version):

  • The old algorithm would show your reel to 7-10% of your following, and would carefully monitor how they interacted with it. Each interaction (like, post, share) would give it some fuel, as would the view time (the longer, the better). 
  • If it was performing well with that small sample size, they would widen the reach, almost like ripples on a pond. If it was performing poorly, they would limit its reach, and even your own followers would be less likely to see it.
  • Trending audio meant it was more likely to be shown in the reels feed, particularly if engagement was high within your followers sample.

Here’s the tweak: Instagram now shows your reel to a mixed sampling of followers AND non-followers, based on what it thinks your non-followers would like.

You may have even noticed that you don’t recognize a number of posts or reels that have suddenly appeared in your feed…because you don’t actually follow them. That’s the new algorithm at work. 

For smaller creators, this is actually great news. It means that you get the opportunity to immediately have your work be shown to a wider pool of potential new followers. In fact, this is the reason that Instagram decided to make such a pivotal shift to their algorithm; because larger accounts automatically benefited from having their following pour proverbial gasoline on their reels, ensuring that they would take off. The change was made to level the playing field. 

I personally found the shift a little disorienting. Before when I scrolled, I would see paintings of artists I admire. Now, I mostly see sketch comedy from accounts I don’t even follow. 

As a result, I actually took a break from Instagram, and mostly use it to post stories now. I’ll likely start posting reels again in the fall, but for now, I’m enjoying being able to focus exclusively on YouTube videos and creating new work. After all: social media should serve us, and not the other way around. 

The moral of the story is: if you are a smaller account trying to grow on Instagram, now is a fantastic time to focus on reels. 

But remember: quality over quantity. If you pick up a random following from all over the world, but only sell your art at local art fairs and aren’t prepared to ship your work to a different hemisphere, then having a high number of followers is somewhat irrelevant 

BUT if you’re looking for some short tips for how to grow your account, I've got you covered. 

Quick Tips for Getting Started on Instagram as an artist

Remember that the algorithm is perpetually shifting in response to group behaviour and Meta’s goals for its users, so my suggestions here are based on what I currently know and could change at any moment.  

The short and simple: If you want to grow your following, focus on reels. If you want to maintain your audience, focus on carousels. If you want your post to disappear into obscurity, post a single image.

Remember: attention is the currency of social media. The longer your audience spends watching something, the more likely it will be dispersed to a larger following. 

Some quick tips for reels showcasing your art:

  • Always, always, always use trending audio. You’ll know if it’s trending because it has a little upward arrow beside it. If you’re looking for a trending audio, head into the reels feed, scroll through until you find one you like, then tap on the audio. You’ll be able to save it by bookmarking it, and then you can use it when you create a new reel.
  • Aim for 15-90 seconds. I’ve found the sweet spot to be between 18 and 30 seconds long. 
  • Keep your edits short and fast. I usually make each clip shorter than 2 seconds. Anything longer and people will swipe away.
  • When you sequence your reel, make sure you’re telling a story. I like to tease the final painting in the first clip before doubling back and showing how I made it through a series of short clips. 
  • Try to use natural lighting, set the scene with candles, plants or paints, and make every shot count
  • Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes when you’re working, then shoot a few seconds of real time footage. Since my paintings often take 10+ hours, that gives me about 20 clips of a piece coming together. My biggest challenge for reels is that I often forget to film because I’m too lost in the work…the timer helps prevent this.

For maintaining your audience, you’ll want to try carousels. Carousels is the term for when you post multiple images and/or videos at once, and the reason that Instagram favours them is because you’ll spend more time flipping through multiple images vs. a single static shot. 

Here are some tips for posting carousels:

  • Make sure your shots are in a vertical 5:4 aspect ratio wherever possible. There are tutorials available for this online. It fills up more of the screen.
  • You’ll need to make sure all of your content is cropped to the same size, so bear that in mind.
  • Label and number each image in the caption, and treat it like a window into your studio life, almost like a visual diary. You could caption the sequence, “spend a week with me in my studio,” then underneath have the pictures identified (Here’s an example: 1. Starting a new painting, can you guess what it is? 2. Out for a much needed coffee break 3. Mixing up a set of blues for the mountains, I love working with these colours, etc.)
  • Mix up the media, have a combination of videos and images
  • Make sure you have at least five pieces of media to keep your audience’s attention as long as possible

I should note that despite knowing all of this about Instagram, I don’t always follow it. Ideally, I should consistently be posting 1-2 reels per week, 1 carousel per week, and 3-4 story sequences per week. 

But I often don’t...mostly because I’m too busy, and so much of my work now involves me sitting in front of my computer working on YouTube videos. It’s not nearly as glamorous or photogenic as painting all day long, especially since I am usually pounding coffee to help get through it all. So I do what I can, and maybe one day I’ll have the capacity to post regularly to the ‘gram again. 

I hope you found this helpful, and let me know if you have any questions! Happy painting! 


  • Peggy

    This is amazing. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your knowledge and experience

  • Lindy Smith

    Marianne, thank you so much for being so generous in sharing this information. How did you find all this out? I don’t think I ever would have found all this information. That being said, putting it in practise is another thing! I think I will need a private secretary!
    Marianne Vander Dussen replied:
    Hi Lindy! So I am actually a member of an invitation only group of creators on Meta, where they laid out in detail what the changes were going to be so that we could pivot accordingly. But here’s the irony: that group hasn’t been active since the end of May, because even the Meta employees found it difficult to keep up with their own posting schedule!

  • Winny

    Thank you! It is very helpful. Love to read this.

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