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User Generated Content to Connect an International Audience

Image: Emilia Ramos / Supplied by International Center of Photography

MuseumNext delves into the world of user generated content with Anna Selle and Kim Cabrera from the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. They explain how making art a participatory event can drive engagement, grow audiences and create rich content.

Starting in the summer of 2022, the International Center of Photography’s digital marketing team successfully launched and implemented three user-generated content campaigns to great effect. Through #ICPShareTheStreet, #HauntedICP, #ICPFaceToFace and most recently, #LoveAtICP, Instagram was utilised to showcase a range of contributions from photographers around the world.

Anna Selle, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at ICP, says, “We have a very broad and diverse audience of people on our social media channels – many of whom will likely never visit us in the Lower East Side. As part of our drive to engage those people we wanted to run campaigns that emphasised our role as a ‘center’ of photography and a place where photographers of all ages and levels of expertise are catered to.

“Social media is an obvious place to connect people from across different cultures and geographies, so the idea for our user generated campaign was to create something that tapped into our network.”

ICP already had some experience with this type of initiative. Having launched a campaign called “ICP From Anywhere” during the height of the pandemic to connect with audiences trapped at home, Anna and Digital Marketing Coordinator, Kim Cabrera, were confident that the project could have genuine impact.

Kim says, “I think we wanted to provide a dedicated space that could showcase work that might not be traditional exhibition material. There’s only a small percentage of photography that we can feature on-site at ICP. But we have a much greater ability to shine a light on other works online.”

Taking an iterative approach to user generated campaigns

As the owner of digital strategy, Anna first brought the idea for a user generated content campaign to the ICP team during its summer blockbuster exhibition: William Klein: YES. Anna says,

“I think this served as a solid pilot for the strategy. We leveraged an on-site exhibition that gained a lot of attention – in this case Willian Klein’s street photography – to get our social audience to share their own images.”

Kim adds, “It’s important to use a physical exhibition as a hook because it helps to spark interest and gather ideas. But it also serves to help us promote the exhibition and drive footfall among more local audiences. That’s where #ICPShareTheStreet came from.”

Image: Amy Touchette / Supplied by International Center of Photography

From this first experiment, the team have grown and developed the user generated content initiative, making it a recurring fixture in the institution’s social media calendar. Over time, additions such as competitions have been built into the strategy in order to maximise engagement, while the timings for campaigns have been refined to optimise promotional support for the on-site exhibition.

However, Anna notes, “To be honest we found that incentives such as winning tickets to the museum or being sent ICP swag weren’t the main drivers of engagement. They helped, of course, but it seems to us that the idea of users’ work being shared and amplified is more important.

“At this point in time, the core of the campaigns is really resharing content from ICP’s Instagram account, which has nearly 400,000 followers right now.”

Analysing the results

Speaking of social statistics, it’s been clear that these user generated content campaigns have a marked effect on the ICP’s social metrics. The team have seen the Instagram rate of audience growth increase 300% year-over-year since the start of the user-generated campaigns.

Campaigns also served to convert a healthy percentage of the online, social audience into exhibition visitors. Kim says, “The street photography campaign in particular was hugely impactful and saw our audience and engagement metrics shoot up.

“But just as important as the individual metrics is the insight it gives us. It helps us to establish what we should be focusing on in the future. Social media is so flexible and the data we get from campaigns is so immediate that we have the freedom to try new ideas. Not everything will work out but we can have the confidence to experiment a little bit because it’s easy to test and pivot all the time – even with a small marketing team.”

Anna adds, “It’s important to note that the user generated content isn’t a one-time thing. If we’ve shared content and built a campaign, we essentially have an archive of really impactful and interesting material that can be revisited in the future. Even though photos may not be part of our own collection, the nature of Instagram and other social media platforms enables us to share and support content from image makers more than once.”

Image: Bego Amaré / Supplied by International Center of Photography

In order to maximise reach and engagement, Anna says, that strategic boosting of posts was also important – particularly early in each campaign when the marketing team was trying to build interest.

“Using social media advertising is certainly a quick and cost-effective way to get the word out. We didn’t have a large budget for advertising, so this has been a great tool for us.”

Asked finally, for their advice to other museums looking to launch their own user-generated campaigns, Anna says, “The in-built tools of social media platforms like Instagram really make it easy to both drive interest in our exhibitions and also monitor that success. So, as part of our user generated campaigns, we’ve included links through to the exhibition pages on our website, which enables us to see how many link clicks and ticket sales are generated.

“These metrics are obviously just as relevant as audience size and engagement figures. In fact, they were imperative for our senior managers and our executive director to see.”

Kim adds, “I would add that it’s important to understand how you want to use social media when starting out with this kind of campaign. It’s crucial to consider how you want to promote awareness, be inclusive and work towards the institution’s broader goals. Social media is fun, it’s a little bit more casual, it’s a way to be nimbler but it’s also an institutional platform. We still always want to be aware of who or what we are amplifying when we engage with user-generated content.”

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