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Launched in 2010, Instagram rapidly became the go-to photo-sharing social media site in the West. Originally developed by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, two Americans who lived and worked in San Francisco, Instagram was famously sold to Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, such had been its early success. These days, the quality of image resolution that the platform offers users is much greater than when it first came out. What’s more, Instagram allows users to upload video content and multiple images at a time, something that was not possible in the early days. From a visual marketing perspective, these facts alone would make the social media app of interest but there is much more to it than that.
What arts organisations need to take onboard about Instagram when considering social media as a part of their audience reach is just how popular it is. Although Facebook’s main social media network may get lots of attention, Instagram is more widely used in certain parts of the world and within some demographic groups. To begin with, Instagram gained one million users within two months of first launching. By September of 2011, it had ten times this number of users and that, of course, is when Facebook began to take interest in what it saw as a rival, potentially threatening its dominance. Just six years later, following its acquisition by Facebook, there were 800 million global Instagram users.
According to numerous studies, Instagram is most widely used on mobile devices. In fact, its design is geared up to smartphone screens as well as tablets, rather than laptops and desktop computers. As such, it has an approximate fifty-fifty split between Android phone users and owners of iPhones. Where there is a more noticeable difference is in the gender divide, however. Instagram is about twice as popular among females as it is with males. It is also more popular among younger people than other platforms. In the United States, for example, over 90 per cent of its subscribers are said to be under the age of 35.
Consequently, arts organisations that wish to reach a tech-savvy, younger audience which is perhaps more urbane in its outlook should not overlook what Instagram has to offer. However, replicating Twitter posts or Facebook content on a ‘me-too’ Instagram account is not likely to work. The social media platform has its own style that its users relate to. So, how do you go about promoting your museum, theatre, gallery, festival or cultural organisation using it? Read on to find out about some of the best techniques and how some arts organisations are already leveraging the power of this social media platform to their advantage.
One of the keys to success on Instagram is to keep everything you share online immediate and visual. This does not mean that you cannot use subtlety to convey messages but it does mean that whatever images you choose to post must have something about them that stands out. Essentially, this will come down to defining what your strategy will be for the platform. Will it, for instance, work to supplement your other marketing activities or will it have its own visual identity that is distinct? Will you choose to show behind-the-scenes activities that offer a greater insight or will you keep your content to finished or polished performances?
Once any arts organisation has decided upon a visual strategy, it is important to stick to it. This does not mean, of course, that you shouldn’t listen to feedback or study the engagement metrics to see what works best. However, jumping around too much with experimental posting will come across as inconsistent and, in the worst cases, needy. Instagram users will appreciate an approach they get to know and understand even if what you are posting varies in terms of content a great deal. In other words, your visual language should be the most consistent aspect of your approach but subject matter can vary.
Seeing your followers becoming more engaged can lead to attempts to post more about similar things. Ideally, you will have a strategy that means Instagram users will get used to how frequently you post. If you suddenly start posting new photos and videos every few hours, then this will become confusing. It is far better to make higher quality posts on a regular basis than to churn content out and overwhelm your followers. They’ll just stop looking if their interest isn’t piqued with new and refreshing content. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC is a good case in point. Although its visual content is varied given the vast number of museums the institution has, its Instagram posts are of a consistently high quality and scheduled to coincide with events in its calendar.
One of the best things about a successful Instagram strategy is that it will allow arts organisations to remain relevant. Let’s say that there is something in the news about a famous painting selling for a record price. Your next post might reference it in some way, perhaps highlighting something related to it in your collection. If there is a week-long campaign devoted to something in the public eye, then try to tap into it with your organisation’s take. Remember to use the relevant hashtag, of course, so that your post is found not just by your current followers but by anyone who is interested in that trend.
Commercial Instagram accounts will make use of the ‘Throwback Thursday’ phenomenon, otherwise known as #tbt, to promote themselves with nostalgia, so why shouldn’t arts organisations? Throwback Thursday provides the perfect opportunity to market yourself through past achievements. What about repurposing old photos of previous theatrical productions or events your organisation has staged? Doing so is not just a great way of reminding your followers of the highlights from yesteryear but it will help to explain to younger audiences that your organisation has a heritage and is built on something more solid than a nascent love for social media. The Art Institute of Chicago has an Instagram strategy that uses this approach so it is well worth checking out for ideas.
Although you might think that the best way of harnessing Instagram within your wider marketing strategy is to focus on the core aspects of your organisation, it is sometimes the little things that garner the most interest. For example, maybe your cultural institution does outreach work in the community that it should highlight? There again, some museums will hire their internal spaces out for a variety of different activities. Anything from children’s parties to yoga classes have been shown by the social media marketing managers in charge of UK-based museum Instagram accounts before, for example. Perhaps you will be able to build interest in these non-core activities and drive up revenue streams as a result? Remember to include relevant links to your website for more information alongside posts of this sort, however.
User-generated content (UGC) is very helpful if you want to drive the friendly nature of your Instagram account. Remember, this is a social media world you are working in, not a broadcasting platform. As such, reposting UGC – or at least commenting on it – should be part of the mix. If someone has been to a performance, viewed one of you galleries or simply spent a nice day out with friends at your institution and been good enough to post their own photos highlighting this, then take the time and effort to appreciate it. This will certainly help to encourage others to do so and increase your presence on the platform.
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.
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