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In the 21st century, social media is an essential tool that can be used to promote a brand or business and create and foster a community. This is especially true for the art world, which is often accused of being too elitist and out of reach. What if social media — specifically, hashtags and TikTok videos — were the key to making art institutions more widely accessible? And how can entrepreneurs and startups use these tactics to their advantage?
1. Create your own unique thematic hashtag and invite your audience to contribute
Some institutions are ahead of the game regarding social media tactics and generating engagement online. You’ve probably seen the #mygirlwithapearl hashtag floating around. This campaign was created by the Mauritshuis in The Hague when its most famous artwork, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, left for an eight-week exhibit in Amsterdam. The concept is pretty simple: the museum is soliciting new versions of the painting from the public, which will be exhibited as a stand-in for the famed painting. It’s open to everyone, and all materials are permitted. This creative opportunity has attracted over 4900 entries skyrocketing in terms of reach.
The museum cleverly took advantage of a less-than-ideal situation (its most famous painting being absent for two months) and used it to generate engagement and publicity. If they can, so can you.
2. Make those videos and make them short, sweet, and fun
Another museum generating tons of engagement on social media is the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Despite being one of the most respected art institutions in the United Kingdom, the museum doesn’t take itself seriously on social media, especially on TikTok. The V&A’s social media team has adopted a daring, hilarious and irreverent approach to its collections, sharing short, informal videos perfectly packaged for the Gen Z sense of humor.
One video is notoriously entitled “Bums of the V&A” and takes viewers through the museum, showcasing the best bums of the institution’s numerous statues. This specific video has almost 40k likes. The museum’s TikTok account has a staggering 81k followers and over 2.3 million likes in total.
3. Maximize your content opportunities: Show behind the scenes!
Similarly, the Prado in Madrid has over 400k followers on TikTok. The museum mostly posts behind-the-scenes videos, as well as short educational clips. It has amassed over 3.8 million likes. Museum staff, such as curators and conservators, appear in videos, answering questions or simply showcasing their skills. The fact that the museum has managed to create such a huge community and generate so much engagement is incredible, especially since its videos are mainly in Spanish. This proves the power of social media when it comes to connecting a museum with its public, and the same for any business.
4. Create memes and post more pets (Yes, it works on business accounts too!)
There aren’t that many museums taking advantage of the power of social media. When they do, however, the numbers are incredible. Take the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), for example. The museum launched a #DogsOfLACMA campaign, which features pictures of visitors and their dogs in the museum’s outdoor areas. This has prompted visitors to submit their own pictures by adding the hashtag, generating great engagement for the museum.
LACMA currently has 873k followers on Instagram, and the #DogsOfLACMA hashtag has been used over 1,400 times. The LACMA social media accounts are also notable for using memes featuring artworks housed in the museum. One Instagram post, which reads “me risking my whole career and future for 5 more minutes of sleep” over Mallet’s Venus and a Sleeping Cupid (1810), has amassed over 12k likes. Their “meme” posts are more liked than the more regular photographs featuring works from their collection – by far.
5. Make those reels!
A final example is New York City’s MOMA, the world’s most-followed museum on social media, with over 5 million followers on Instagram alone. This number is rather staggering. However, the MOMA’s engagement rate is actually pretty low. Likes stagnate in the low thousands, which is not much for an account with over 5 million followers. The posts that generate the most engagement tend to be reels. This shows that the more personal your posts are, the more engagement you will have. This goes for any industry or business. Posting sterile color-coded pictures might look great on your feed but will not drive engagement and build a community. To actually start connecting with people on social media, letting your personality, originality, and sense of humor shine through is the way to go.
Perhaps it is controversial for official art institutions like the V&A and LACMA to post art memes, but these tactics work. Memes are relatable, funny and more likely to be reshared than other posts. The best way for museums to create engagement on social media platforms is to adopt an informal tone to become relevant while remaining educational. Similar to those historical institutions, new companies in the cultural field need to try out being more creative and less traditional on social to stay authentic and connected to their audiences.