In many ways, the fundamentals of social media have always been relevant to museums. From creating a one-to-one relationship with audiences to the development of rich and engaging stories, all are natural stomping grounds for museums – and they’re the pillars of a successful social media strategy, too.

Social and other marketing tools offer a unique opportunity for museums of all sizes to engage with audiences. In recent years, most museums have maintained a Facebook page and Twitter account, and have at least some awareness of Instagram, TripAdvisor, and other platforms. However, as a result of the pandemic, the cultural sector has had to adapt and up its social media game, drawing in global audiences by offering them memorable and meaningful content.

With the help of some inventive ideas, many institutions have captured the attention and imagination of potential visitors. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are six of the last year’s most famous social media campaigns run by museums and other cultural organisations.

Black Country Living Museum: West Midlands, UK

When one of the newest and most popular social media platforms, TikTok, saw a surge of users in 2020, the Black Country Living Museum recognised the opportunity to create fun and engaging content. While the open-air museum of rebuilt historic buildings is located in the West Midlands, it found its snappy videos reaching an international audience. Since August 2020, the popular account has amassed almost 600,000 followers.

To what does it owe that success? By using actors in historic dress, the museum produces short clips that entertain and educate at the same time. Its videos are a great example of powerful social media marketing for museums because they effectively translate an immersive in-person experience to the digital world, telling the story of one of the very first industrialised landscapes in Britain. And with 41% of TikTok users falling between the ages of 16 and 24, the museum has been able to tap into a demographic it may not have been able to reach via traditional marketing methods.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, USA

The Met is one of the most renowned museums in the world, but it still has to work hard to build an online following. During the pandemic, it focused its creative social media strategies on building active engagement. The #MetTwinning campaign, which encourages followers to recreate works from the museum’s collection, blew up on social media, with everything from dogs impersonating Vincent van Gogh’s famous self-portraits to women posing as Pre-Raphaelite paintings. (One Instagram post received almost 100,000 likes.)

Another of the museum’s initiatives is Met Sketch Sundays – this scheme invites followers to draw along at home and share their finished pieces on Instagram using #MetSketch. The Met also holds regular virtual events, including livestreamed music performances and discussions about its collections, which are promoted via social media beforehand.

Getty Museum: Los Angeles, USA

Hashtags are a great way to increase engagement for exhibition social media campaigns. Like the Met, the Getty Museum encouraged its followers to get creative by recreating a work of art using three items from their home. After choosing their favourite piece to imitate from Getty’s online collection, followers posted their work using the hashtag #GettyMuseumChallenge.

Since the campaign launched in March 2020, the hashtag has been used more than 50,000 times and yielded some hilarious, original results, like a cat wearing a bonnet in the style of Édouard Manet’s Jeanne. The momentum has continued and a year later, the Getty Museum has published a book containing thousands of recreations, establishing a revenue stream whilst the museum has been closed to visitors.

Musée d’Orsay: Paris, France

Over the last year, the Musée d’Orsay has confirmed its position as a leader in the social media game. At the start of 2020, it launched a campaign that involved weekly posts from its Instagram artist-in-residence, Jean-Philippe Delhomme. Every Monday, the illustrator shares a piece imagining the museum’s artists as if they were alive today. By posting regularly and consistently, the campaign has attracted a dedicated following.

Another of the d’Orsay’s successful social media campaigns is “A week with…,” where it invites influential personalities within the art world to share their opinions about a different artist’s work on Instagram. The campaign has proved especially effective in attracting new audiences – whenever an industry expert shares the post on their own platforms, they introduce their followers to the d’Orsay’s social media content.

Royal Academy of Arts: London, UK

The Royal Academy of Arts is trying to change how people feel about the art world one social media platform at a time. It started a while back on Twitter when the gallery asked: “Who can draw us the best ham?” After countless innovative responses from followers, this lighthearted, modern-day approach was set in stone.

But, during the pandemic, the Royal Academy recognised that people needed more. So tweets set people a creative task to do each day, while Instagram posts encouraged the likes of meditation alongside pictures of relaxing artworks. Steering clear of simply posting images from its collection, the Royal Academy has instead focused on a relatable tone of voice, prompting conversation and laughter among its varied followers.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Washington, USA

In addition to running paid social marketing campaigns, another way of driving engagement is through networking and collaborating with likeminded accounts. For example, when the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was forced to close in March 2020, it was one of the first institutions to kickstart the #MuseumBouquet campaign, offering a way of coming together with other museums online.

The campaign involved museums sending each other virtual bouquets of flowers on Twitter as a show of solidarity during the pandemic. It had a knock-on effect, with many institutions sending images of floral-themed pieces from their collections, along with a message of support.

Get creative

Event creators within any sector can learn a great deal about engaging with new and old audiences and collaborating with like-minded people from these museum marketing campaigns. When used effectively, social media campaigns can make a big difference when it comes to building a community and driving ticket sales.

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