Why the art world should invest in social media

21 Feb 2019
Holly Chan

The importance of a digital footprint for arts organisations

Social media is categorically one of the most effective tools available to galleries looking to enhance visibility in the digitalised world, and most galleries, museums, platforms and fairs have now adopted at least one social platform. However, many arts organisations appear to be relying on the inherently visual nature of their social platforms; posting updates rather than developing and implementing specific strategies aimed at fulfilling long term business and communications objectives. In order to compete in an increasingly globalised and competitive market, the development of these strategies will be crucial in order to harness social platforms as a strategic marketing tool to reach specific target audience segments, rather than acting as just another digital platform requiring time-consuming updates.

Data indicates that as far back as 2016, over 80% of all Generation Y consumers looked to purchase fine art through online channels, with almost 50% using social media for art-related purposes. Yet, the art world has been reluctant to properly invest in social strategy, either because of limited resources, budgets, or in many cases, both. A small number of galleries moved early to invest based on these figures, with David Zwirner Gallery launching its online viewing room to popular demand in January 2017 and Gagosian launching swiftly after. These digital offerings, while costly initial investments, are highly strategic in their long-term feasibility for galleries, enabling them to sell more than physical space allows, broaden audiences (37% of all online viewing room inquiries at David Zwirner have come from new clients), offer a rare glimpse of price transparency and occupy a third space between the gallery and the art fair.

Once resources have been allocated, a creative, professional and properly implemented social strategy can create boundless benefits for arts organisations, including:


Reaching the right demographic

Social platforms, whilst once the perfect way to target ‘millennials’, are now accessed by people across the demographic spectrum.. The essential part of leveraging a social platform is the ability to transform data into insights that when actioned can help to better target and connect with the people who could be your supporters. Whilst it may not be able to drive direct sales through social channels, we can create audience ‘lookalike segments’ in social advertising. These target segments allow us to take a current audience and then expand our reach to matching demographics, facilitating outreach to people whose behaviours are similar to those you already connect with. Recent developments also allow affinity segmentation not just limited to a city, but specifically honed in on specific districts and locations further within that – an ideal tool for organisations wishing to reach a certain income level associated with one area, or families with young children associated with another.


Finding New Audiences

Additionally, the most obvious advantage of properly executed social platforms is their ability to help an organisations reach brand new audiences globally with relatively little effort or the need to open brick-and-mortar spaces: the open nature of these platforms means that you can reach out to people that you may never traditionally be able to connect with. Through activations on social platforms, new audiences can then be segmented based on specific behaviours or interactions. Using something as simple as a questionnaire can capture more information about followers, which can then be used to further support and develop business strategy.


Access to global markets

One of the key benefits of using social platforms is the access they can grant to global markets. This can, however, have limitations. Whilst there are users of Facebook and Instagram all over the world, China uses WeChat, Weibo and a host of more recent channels including Douyin (Tik Tok). While setting up a WeChat account as a foreign entity was previously considered unchartered territory, processes have now been officially formalised, facilitating access to Chinese audiences for foreign brands. The benefits of a good China social media strategy are numerous: not only has the art market in the region grown rapidly, but the art-loving audience there tends to be younger than in other parts of the world, decidedly cool, well-educated and more likely to travel overseas. Similarly, for institutions in Greater China, platforms like Instagram, popular the world-over, and Facebook, thriving across South East Asia, are essential for enhancing international perceptions and fully demonstrating to Western audiences the complexity and integrity of the cultural landscape here.



One of the major advantages of implementing and maintaining a strategic social media plan is the potential impact on sales. According to the latest Artsy report, galleries that invest more in their digital marketing efforts are seeing higher returns. This positive correlation indicates that if brands spend wisely, then the rewards reaped can be lucrative as the next generation of collectors are more willing to spend money online. This affinity for online spending can be seen across Instagram, with the platform integrating shopping functions for brands and those purchases are not limited to low priced items. Additionally, the WeChat platform has proven a popular platform for art sales, with accounts like ArtJeff running art auctions exclusively through the platform as well as other channels allowing consumers to buy pieces directly through a WeChat shop. By harnessing the power of a social community, it’s possible to build up a user base of potential buyers on social channels and directly market and sell your pieces to that community.


There are a myriad of opportunities when it comes to utilising digital channels as an arts organisation, with each platform offering differing opportunities to drive action. Whether a museum or institution is looking to drive more traffic to their location or a gallery looking to reach new potential buyers, a correctly implemented and managed social media strategy can be a key driver of success, providing excellent return on investment if delivered properly.

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