It’s often demonised as the end of genuine appreciation, but when it comes to engaging museum audiences, Instagram is a far better friend than foe
Doing it for the ’gram.
It’s a common feature of modern society and you won’t go far along a busy city street nowadays without catching someone capturing their activities on their phone for the purpose of uploading it to social media. But is this at odds with the behaviour we expect and desire in a museum setting?
For many people, social media platforms like Instagram turn once admired masterpieces into nothing more than prime selfie opportunities. But this doesn’t have to be the case. When used in the right way, Instagram can offer a whole new platform for connection and engagement for museums to discover.
The role of most museums is, of course, to provide a connection to the past. This shouldn’t mean, however, that those traditional values create a disconnect with the present. Social media gives museums the chance to extend their experience to a digital space, bypassing physical walls and creating a stronger sense of community and continual learning.
The power of Instagram
Visual storytelling has always been a big part of what museums offer, and Instagram allows teams to mimic this experience on a much larger scale, creating a new channel of communication that can be carefully curated – just like an exhibition itself.
With more than 400 million daily users, Instagram is one of the most powerful outlets for reaching new audiences, particularly a younger crowd. 16-29 year olds make us the largest demographic of internet users who also use Instagram.
With features like Instagram Stories and IGTV creating even more ways to communicate, museums around the world are already using Instagram as a platform for change and conversation.
Museums and Instagram working together
In the last year alone, many institutions have taken the plunge and begun using Instagram to tell their stories to a larger audience. From objects and artefacts, to spaces, buildings and staff, Instagram lets museums choose how there are perceived.
This surge in cultural users is thanks largely to successful projects like #InstaMuseum. This is an annual campaign organised by Museum140, designed to raise awareness of museums using Instagram. Museums are encouraged to sign up, while other users are asked to share their favourite museum Instagram posts. So far, Museum140 has compiled a list of more than 500 museums on the platform, showing how technology and culture can support each other.
Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum’s mandate is “to build bridges of understanding and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures and precious natural environments.”
By making fantastic use of their Instagram platform, the museum also succeeds in building bridges between the old and the new.
The iconic Crystal that fronts the museum was officially opened in 2007, and is actually encouraged as an Insta-worthy photo opportunity, with pictures of visitors taken in front of the Crystal dotting the museum’s feed. The museum also succeeds in promoting special events on Instagram that appeal particularly to millennials.
Events such as Friday Night Live transforms the museum’s hallowed halls into an event space with drinks, DJs and the chance for prolonged interaction with exhibitions and other guests. Photos from these events translate particularly well to Instagram, engaging a more varied audience than might historically have been the case.
The Tate account on Instagram covers all four iconic UK institutions: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives. It has more than 1.2 million followers and aims to, according to their Instagram bio, “Increase everyone’s enjoyment and understanding of art.”
And their account succeeds in delivering this. A good balance of education, entertainment and art allows the museum quartet to explore the importance of culture in a way that’s accessible and fun.
Visitor reposting is common on the Tate account, and is one of the most direct and successful ways to engage with a large audience of potential visitors. Creative campaigns and hashtags such as #TateWeather – an artistic spin on a weather forecast – boosts the museums’ overall reputations as exciting and educational places to visit.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The LACMA’s Instagram account takes a more direct tactic, displaying plenty of artistic views of the museum’s interior to give the sense that viewers are actually there. The museum makes good use of Instagram’s video functions to give up close and personal views of exhibition pieces, while a dash of celebrity culture helps cement the museum as an LA staple.
Occasionally, the LACMA will also post art submitted by followers related to exhibition pieces. This is a great call to action that provides a unique way to celebrate followers and get them involved.
The Guggenheim lives up to its reputation as an abstract, forward-thinking powerhouse with an Instagram account chockful of dynamic and thought-provoking pieces from its collection.
Regular hashtags and campaigns work to engage followers and create interest, such as #WorkoftheWeek which puts a specific piece from the collection in the spotlight.
More recently, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the museum has used its platform to share the efforts of followers with hashtags like #CultureInQuarantine. This shows people stuck at home recreating famous works of art with objects they can find around the house.
The bottom line
So what do these examples tell us about the power of Instagram when it comes to promoting the museum space? Far from being the enemy of all things cultural, Instagram provides an opportunity for museums to take their culture to the masses. Through Instagram Stories, video content, hashtags, polls, quizzes, questions, discussions, Instagram Live and regular, quality content, museums can engage with their viewers like never before and even show off what’s going on behind the scenes.
Instagram is a tool, and like any tool, its success depends on the effectiveness with which it is implemented. Museums should think of the platform as a digital exhibition – something they can curate to reflect themselves in the way they want to be seen. With a great Instagram account under their control, museums have the opportunity to promote and engage like never before.
Read more on Museums and Instagram here.